Basketball Blog: Weekend preview/AL predictions SLOTTED
Mar. 30, 2007 | feedback
Are you ready for one of the all-time greatest sports weekends? A quick preview
Friday: The "Who can tank the most egregiously for Oden and Durant?" contest begins in earnest with Philly hosting the Celtics (playing without Paul Pierce); Charlotte hosting Milwaukee (or as you can start calling the Bucks through April, "The Washington Generals"); and Memphis playing against a Seattle team that's having its tanking efforts thwarted by an unabashed contract push from Rashard Lewis (buyers beware!). If gambling were legal, I'd be wagering against the Celtics and Bucks for the rest of the season. But it's not.
Bill Simmons joins NBA Insider Chad Ford and shares his thoughts on the Final Four, Celtics and more.
Saturday: Dominated by the most anticipated Final Four since C-Webb was wearing baggy Michigan shorts (more on this in a second), as well as Mr. Fuji's emotional WWE Hall of Fame induction. As long as they show a clip of "Fuji Vice" and he throws salt in somebody's face, I'm happy.
Sunday: Features the Mavs-Suns rematch, WrestleMania XXIII, the start of the 2007 baseball season and the first of at least 250 billion Tony La Russa jokes from baseball fans watching a Cardinals game. And if that's not enough, I'm having a 10-hour draft for my AL-only fantasy league (aka "The League of Dorks") all day Sunday. Just hope and pray that I make it to Monday without the words "trial separation" being involved.
Anyway, I wanted to offer an apology: For the past two weeks, I had been planning on writing an American League preview for today and never pulled it off -- not because I didn't want to write it, but because I couldn't bang out the proper amount of research to make it interesting. And multiple people share the blame:
I blame the Sports Gal for being sick on Wednesday and Thursday and thrusting "Unexpected Parent Duty" on me. I blame my kid for inexplicably getting up at 6:45 every morning. I blame the five-hour baseball draft I participated in Thursday night. I blame the pollen that's been floating around lately, which forced me to pop some allergy pills that made me drowsy. I blame one of our cars for having to go into the shop for a new smog filter. I blame the three Basketball Blog posts that I banged out this week. I blame all the sports that have been on lately. I blame you guys for sending me 4,500 e-mails in four days. I blame my Uncle Bob (a '71 Holy Cross alum) for keeping me on the phone for 30 minutes on Wednesday while repeatedly screaming, "Finally, somebody spoke up!" I blame the Celtics for putting me in a surly mood by eking out a double-OT game when I planned on doing research. I blame "Lost" for gearing an entire show around Nikki and Paolo and flustering me for the rest of the night. I blame "The Best Damn Sports Show" for running a 50 Greatest Shots show and putting Jeff Malone's falling-out-of-bounds 3-pointer at No. 27, putting me in a bad mood for the rest of Thursday night.
Most of all, I blame my wife. Last Sunday, I planned on doing research all night and taking a ton of notes. So she comes home from Blockbuster with two movies: "The Guardian" and "Casino Royale." And I'm begging her to watch "Casino Royale" because I've already seen it -- very entertaining movie, although Tim Hardaway would hate the guy who plays Bond -- but no, she has to watch "The Guardian" because she loves Ashton Kutcher and Kevin Costner, even though she knew there was no way I'd be able to resist a movie that looked as atrociously entertaining as "The Guardian."
So she pops it in and I'm thinking, "Well, maybe I can do research and watch this crappy movie at the same time." Nope. Within five minutes, we were slowing the movie down frame by frame to figure out if Costner had gotten hair plugs or not. (My answer: An unequivocal "yes.") Then Kutcher showed up and reeled me in with his hopeless attempt to pull off Maverick's cocky routine from "Top Gun." In fact, this whole movie was a "Top Gun" ripoff -- like "Top Gun" crossed with "Baywatch." It's horrible. They couldn't even find a smoking-hot female for Kutcher's girlfriend, although the Sports Gal was convinced that Demi Moore vetoed every choice until they got to No. 256 on the list of "Available Pretty Actresses." She's probably right.
Did I mention that the movie was two and a half hours long? By the time this thing ended, it was almost 10 p.m. and "The Apprentice" was coming on. Well, I had to watch "The Apprentice." As I mentioned a few weeks ago, Tim (one of the potential Apprentices) is a longtime reader dating back to my old Web site. Normally I would have TiVo'ed the show and watched it later, but something terrible has been happening with Tim lately: he fell for one of the female contestants and slowly turned into a slightly less whipped version of Cheyne in "Maui Fever." In Sunday night's show, the project manager from his group was forced to send someone over to the competing group, so he dumped Tim's lady who, of course, blamed Tim for not sticking up for her. And even though the correct reaction would have been, "Hey, remember, we're all here to become the Apprentice, get over it," Tim was completely frazzled, eventually caved and gave her inside info about the boardroom and she STILL busted his chops afterward. The lesson, as always: Women are evil, pure and simple.
By the time the show ended, I was more frazzled than Tim. How could he disgrace Sports Guy readers like that? If this week's episode doesn't end with him making out with Trump's secretary to get back at his pseudo-girlfriend, I'm disowning him. Anyway, it took me about 30 minutes to recover from this and stop complaining about it. Then, George Michael's final "Sports Machine" show came on. I always admired this show because it created a specific format back in the mid-'80s (a national sports highlights show with interviews and bloopers), then steadfastly refused to change the format even as ESPN and the Internet changed everything about the way sports news and sports highlights are processed. There's a chance that Michael never found out that the Internet exists, or that there's something called cable TV. Regardless, I always enjoyed the time-warp aspect of the show and thought I was alone until Adam Carolla confessed once that he isn't just a weekly "Sports Machine" fan, he actually TiVo'ed the show and was furious that they stuck George with a peppy female co-host.
As far as I know, we were the only two people who watched "Sports Machine." Maybe that's why it folded up shop. But I had to watch the last show. Needless to say, no research got done on Sunday night. And within about two seconds, it was Thursday afternoon and I realized there was no chance for me to write that preview. So I'm giving you five predictions:
Prediction No. 1: On the morning of May 21, heading to New York for a three-game series with the Yankees, the Red Sox will have the best start-of-the-season record in the history of the franchise: something like 35-8 or 34-9. And you'll be reading stories and watching features with "Best Red Sox Team Ever?" angles.
Why do I think this? Because of Dice-K (who will be unhittable his first time around the league) and because they're starting the season healthy and when this team is healthy, it's going to be nearly unbeatable. Remember, this is a team with a $160 million payroll. They have no real holes except for second base and the set-up guys, unless you want to include Jason Varitek's bat (his .107 average in spring training doesn't even begin to describe how slow his bat looked). Unfortunately, they have too many "Well, if he can stay healthy" guys -- J.D. Drew, Wily Mo Pena, Curt Schilling, Mike Timlin, Coco Crisp, Varitek, Manny, Tim Wakefield, Brendan Donnelly -- which will unquestionably end up becoming a problem in the summer. But if they can build enough of a lead in those first seven weeks, it might not matter.
Prediction No. 2: Vlad Guerrero for MVP, Big Papi second, Travis Hafner third, A-Rod fourth, Carl Crawford fifth.
Prediction No. 3: Roy Halladay for Cy Young, Johan Santana second, Dice-K third, C.C. Sabathia fourth, Jon Papelbon fifth.
Prediction No. 4: Career years from Crawford, Bobby Abreu, Danny Haren, Erik Bedard, Craig Monroe, Nick Swisher, Felix Hernandez and Mark Teixeira. Bounce-back years from Garret Anderson, Ichiro (who was already good), A.J. Burnett, Josh Beckett, Mike Piazza, Adrian Beltre (already started after last year's All-Star break). Breakout years for Alex Gordon (unanimous Rookie of the Year), Dice-K, Andrew Miller (when he comes up), Casey Kotchman, Nick Markakis, Fausto Carmona, Howie Kendrick, Joel Zumaya (as the eventual closer), Ervin Santana (as a legit No. 2), Jeremy Sowers (as an 18-game winner), Zack Greinke, Ryan Shealy and Mike MacDougal. Bust years from Eric Gagne, Frank Thomas, Carl Pavano, Jim Thome, Corey Patterson, Huston Street, Rich Harden (who should never, EVER be trusted), Rocco Baldelli (ditto), Gary Matthews Jr., Kenny Rogers, Casey Blake, Vernon Wells, Coco Crisp, Jorge Cantu (a sequel to last year's bust year), Scott Kazmir, Miggy Tejada and Justin Verlander.
Prediction No. 5: Boston, New York, Cleveland and the Angels as the four playoff teams. That's as far as I'm going -- I can't pick against the Sox and couldn't possibly tell you who's emerging from the Artist Formerly Known as Quadruple-A. As for everything else, at least I'm on the record.
A few more housecleaning items:
• You can stop e-mailing me that "Hurt" was originally a Nine Inch Nails song. When I linked to that Kermit video yesterday, the point was that Kermit was doing a parody of Johnny Cash's version of the song. It's one of the 10 most memorable songs of the grunge era; everyone KNOWS it's a Nine Inch Nails song. You didn't need to remind me of this. All right? OK? The song was what I thought it was. OK? All right? If you want to crown Johnny Cash, then crown his ass. THE SONG WAS WHAT I THOUGHT IT WAS!
• Ian Thomsen's SI.com article (scroll to the bottom) about possible NBA GM candidates absolutely floored me at first. Kiki Vandeweghe? Chris Wallace? Bob Whitsitt? Jim Paxson? John Gabriel? Then he wrote the following paragraph about Jim Paxson that made me realize the column was an elaborate joke: "Now a consultant to his younger brother (GM John) in Chicago, Paxson isn't afraid to make bold moves. He laid the groundwork for Cleveland's current success, and he's far better prepared for his next opportunity than when the Cavaliers rushed him into the GM chair in 1999."
(Well done, Ian Thomsen. Well done. You almost had me. That's one of the better satirical columns in recent memory. Kudos.)
• My Final Four picks: Georgetown over OSU in an all-time classic; Florida over UCLA in a blowout. Can you ever remember someone's draft stock being more directly tied to one game than Roy Hibbert's stock in the OSU game? If he handles Oden, he quickly becomes a top-seven pick. If he flops against Oden, he drops into the low-teens. Meanwhile, Oden can lock up the No. 1 spot with two monster games on Saturday and Monday. (It's just like the Bryant Reeves-George Zidek battle in '95, only the exact opposite.) Throw in Jeff Green, Jonathan Wallace, Mike Conley, Ron Lewis, the possibility of a Thad Matta brainfart down the stretch as Doc Rivers looks on from the stands. I mean, I am LEGITIMATELY excited for this game. Can't wait. As for the UCLA game, it's hard to fathom a streaky-shooting team beating Kansas, Florida and Georgetown/OSU back-to-back-to-back, which makes me think Bruins fans are better off with a 20-point loss and Arron Afflalo going 2 for 20, then Afflalo, Collison and everyone else returning to play with Kevin Love next season. Assuming Durant and Oden come out, that smells like an undefeated season to me. Or damned close.
• Finally, if you're enjoying the Basketball Blog and want to peruse some of the other posts, just click on any linked date on the calendar that's sitting on the top right of this page. Hold your mouse over any of those links and you can actually see the title of that day's post. Also, as of this week, you can access every "Sports Guy" column since 2001 without being an Insider subscriber. Everything I've ever written can be reached in the complete archives. If you head over to the subject archive page, every relevant column from April '01 through January '07 has been broken down by category. And even though it hasn't been updated since last year, the Glossary links to columns with some specific theories and ideas from the past six years.
And on that note, I don't even need to tell you this but enjoy the weekend.
Basketball Blog: Questions and links SLOTTED
Mar. 27, 2007 | feedback
Wanted to clarify something from yesterday's blog: Some readers wondered why I'd praise this year's NCAA Tournament (which has featured few upsets and a Final Four with two No. 1 seeds and two No. 2 seeds) and dismiss last year's tournament (which featured a ton of upsets and a Cinderella making the Final Four).
The answer is simple: I like watching good basketball.
That was the underlying theme of yesterday's blog -- for the first time in years, the quality of play has matched the excitement of the tournament itself. Because the elite teams were so weak over the past few years, college basketball had degenerated into a 3-point shooting contest -- really, anyone could beat anyone else if they made 3s, so the style of play transformed into a slash-and-kick game with guys launching 23-footers (and there never seemed to be a Plan B). As a basketball fan, I just didn't think it was an interesting evolution and had trouble watching that crap. (And that's what it was: crap. Maybe it was exciting, but it was still crap.) The reason I loved Sunday's Georgetown-UNC game was because it was an up-and-down game that featured low-post offense, ball movement, coaching strategy, fast breaks, guys killing themselves to protect the rim and everything else you'd ever want from a college basketball game. That 2005-06 George Mason team would have gotten blown out of the building by either of those teams. I'm telling you.
So I guess it comes down to what you're looking for in a college hoops game. I don't think there's a right answer or a wrong answer -- some people like upsets and Cinderella stories, some people like good basketball. Ideally, you'd like to have both at the same time. But if I had a choice between the two, I'm going with quality basketball over upsets and Cinderella stories. And if you're not with me, just remember, last year's Final Four ended up being completely unwatchable because the basketball was so horrendous. This year's Final Four will be VERY watchable. At worst.
Some housecleaning before we get to some relevant links
• Two corrections from the paragraph about college point guards in yesterday's blog: I mistakenly left out Virginia's Sean Singletary, and Indiana super-stud recruit Eric Gordon is apparently a shooting guard (I thought he was a point guard because of the nonstop Oscar Robertson comparisons). We do have an elite point guard entering college next year: Chicago's Derrick Rose, who's headed to the University of Memphis. I like both of those names. Eric Gordon and Derrick Rose. Just SOUNDS like they'll be good.
• Yesterday's blog elicited a few e-mails along the lines of this one from Mark Jacobs in New York: "I was very offended by your comments about last year's season being such a disaster that 'two white guys' were indisputably the best players in college basketball. Basketball doesn't require a non-white gene to be played well. You ought to look up Larry Bird or Pete Maravich. Did you write that the last football season was a disaster because two African-American coaches were in the Super Bowl? Didn't think so. Keep your comments to sports and athletics and stay out of the social arena."
Um, I was trying to be funny I just forgot that we live in a world where you can't joke about anything. This nation is tighter than Meg Ryan's face right now. Loosen up. It's not a crime to joke about the fact that last year's college hoops season sucked so much that the best two players were white. See, basketball has been a predominantly black sport for about 40 years now, a blessing because the game evolved in a vertical direction and became infinitely more entertaining than the product from the late '50s. If you wrote down the best NBA players from the last three decades, you'd probably notice that all of them were black except for Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Steve Nash, Chris Mullin, Dirk Nowitzki and John Stockton.
Now, if last year's best college players were on the level of Bird, Nash and Stockton, it would be one thing. But J.J. Redick and Adam Morrison both flamed out in the tournament and look like potential busts as pros. Hence, my joke in yesterday's blog. For anyone who was offended, I'm sorry not for the joke, but for the bug up your ass.
• If you missed it last night, HBO's documentary about the Wooden dynasty was absolutely terrific. I loved it. Couldn't recommend it more highly.
• One more note before we get to an impromptu batch of links: ESPN.com and ABC.com somehow talked the Sports Gal into writing a weekly recap of "The Bachelor," which debuts its new season Monday night on ABC. The recaps will run every Tuesday on ABC.com and the SGW Page (we're giving her a box); they're mailing her the DVDs in advance and she's aiming for four paragraphs per recap. So alert your girlfriends, wives, mistresses and platonic female friends that you're secretly trying to sleep with -- on April 2, the Sports Gal returns. In the words of Pete Carroll, I'm as shocked as you guys.
All right, here are some links I enjoyed from the past few days. Thanks to everyone who keeps sending in suggestions:
1. The Portland Tribune has the dirt on Zach Randolph's bereavement leave, which will almost definitely be the name of my fantasy hoops team next year (Zach Randolph's Bereavement Leave). This story feels like NBA Mad Libs -- just plug in a player who's known to have bad judgment, a shooting, a cousin, a strip joint and the overriding theme that NBA teams can't discipline players because of the players' union, no matter what they do.
2. Received a ton of e-mails about Dan Shaughnessy making fun of Curt Schilling's new blog in Monday's Boston Globe, along with Schilling's quick response. This has a chance to be the best athlete-writer feud ever. I have high hopes. Both guys just don't give a crap at this point. By the way, I made up the nickname "CHB" for Shaughnessy in 2001 -- happened right after Carl Everett derisively referred to him as the "Curly Haired Boyfriend." It remains one of my top 20 career achievements.
3. Thought this LA Times feature on "Lost" about John Locke's character (and the actor who plays him) was really interesting. Also, Rex from Anchorage has an answer for my question in Friday's mailbag about how much money Jack Bauer makes: "Like Jack, I am a federal wage slave. Here's the pay table for him. He's likely a GS13 or 14, probably step 7-10, so you were high on your prediction."
4. Rhode Island's Joe Almonte asks, "What about Jim Calhoun of UConn publicly calling for the players on the end of his bench to transfer ('there will be a couple of changes to the roster mandated by our performance, mandated by our inadequacies, mandated by some kids who probably deserve to get a chance maybe at a different level ') so he can clear scholarships? Should Congress hold hearings on this abuse of student-athletes, and if so, do you think they will subpeona Robby Benson to testify?"
(Note to Joe: How dare you make the obvious "One On One" joke before I did!)
5. Got a ton of feedback about Jemele Hill's "Kobe over MJ" column yesterday. Look, the whole point of a sports column is to take an angle, then argue the hell out of it. That's what she did. I wish more people would do this. Anyway, I didn't agree with the column for two reasons:
A. Kobe's scoring took off only after they changed the hand-checking rules and made it impossible for anyone to play defense. That's why Kobe scored 50-plus points in four straight games, that's why Steve Nash has a chance to win three straight MVPs, and that's why guys routinely score 50-60 points these days. If the 1987-93 MJ played in the current era, he would have obliterated every non-Wilt scoring record there was. That had to be mentioned.
B. MJ played in the most competitive era in the history of the league (1987-93) and emerged with three titles from 1991-93. Jemele argued that Kobe's current competition is tougher than the teams from 1991-93, which is just plain wrong. There's no comparison. The league sucks right now. Back in the early '90s, you had Magic's Lakers, Drexler's Blazers, Riley's Knicks, Isiah's Pistons, Price's Cavs, Hakeem's Rockets, Robinson's Spurs, Malone's Jazz, the TMC trio in Golden State, some underrated Celtics teams (they averaged 52 wins a year during Reggie Lewis' prime), some great Suns teams (including a 62-win team in 1992-93 with Barkley) and a Sonics team that was just taking off with GP and Kemp. It was a top-heavy league back then, unlike now, when 80 percent of the teams are mediocre and there are only four good teams (Dallas, Phoenix, San Antonio and Detroit).
6. Last week, I predicted that Kevin Durant could be looking at a $70 million-$75 million shoe deal if he entered this year's draft. Old colleague Darren Rovell argues that the deal would be closer to $30 million ($6 million a year) and lists Kobe's contract ($8 million a year) and Carmelo's contract ($3 million a year) as the barometers (meaning Durant would fall somewhere in between those guys). I disagree because the last two players who entered the NBA with as much hype as Durant will get (MJ in '85 and LeBron in '03) both signed Nike contracts for way more money than anyone expected, and that's before you factor in how much he could mean to adidas or Reebok. We will see.
7. Brian from Boise suggests, "In your blog, you called out Holy Cross fans for being a bunch of 'soccer moms.' I think 'soccer moms' is played out, and should be replaced with 'Colorado football moms.'"
8. John from Ann Arbor sends a fantastic YouTube clip along: "Not sure if you've seen this video yet, but somebody made a compilation of clips from the old Sega Madden game back when a player would get injured and they'd send out the ambulance to scoop them off the field and wipe out the rest of the offensive line in the process."
(Note: Now somebody needs to make a compilation of intentional injuries from either the '94 or '95 game when you could blow out somebody's knee after the whistle, followed by Pat Summerall saying, "Uh-oh there's a man down." Let's get on this, people. I don't ask for much. By the way, my old roommate Geoff and I actually had to pass a "No late hits rule" because we spent more time going for cheap hits than playing the game.)
9. Roughly a kajillion readers sent this link to me this week, and with reason: Apparently Tony Parker is trying to obliterate the Unintentional Comedy Scale. Between this video and the gushing Sports Illustrated feature about Tony and Eva's relationship (which should have been headlined, "The Day Sports Illustrated Officially Died"), I think Tony needs an intervention. And soon. I keep picturing a grim Gregg Popovich and an equally grim Tim Duncan taking him to dinner right before the playoffs, making small talk for about 45 minutes, then one of them saying, "Look, Tony, we need to talk "
10. In case you missed it over the weekend, Billy Packer became involved in another March Madness controversy, ripping UNC's Reyshawn Terry and provoking an angry response from Terry. Of course, Billy ended up announcing the UNC-Georgetown game on Sunday. Great.
(Note: I'm working on some special "Mute Billy Packer" iPod mixes for this weekend but they aren't done yet. Hopefully we'll have the links on Thursday.)
11. A few readers from back home passed along one of the 10 most disturbing sports photos ever released. I want to release a coffee table book of photos like this one that's called "I Will Now Light Myself On Fire."
12. I watched the YouTube clip of Eddie Griffin's Ferrari accident at least 50 times this morning -- maybe my favorite clip since Rick Fox and Doug Christie were fighting and cameras captured Jackie Christie wading into the pile and swinging her purse. Anyway, I hope you caught the story on our Web site with the picture of Eddie posing next to the mangled car -- it looks like he's posing next to a deer that he just killed. Highest of high comedy. I love Eddie Griffin. If only he had rammed the Ferrari into Tony Potts.
13. Brennan in New York passed along an incredible soccer clip that involves the team I'm supposed to be following: "I hope you're still following Tottenham closely enough to know that Paul Robinson, the goalkeeper, scored on a free kick from 88 yards out last weekend. The best shot is at about the 45 second mark. Enjoy."
14. This well-done Chicago Tribune magazine feature about a 12-year-old boxing prodigy gave a couple of readers flashbacks to Seasons 3 and 4 of "The Wire." I'd say the story has a chance to make "The Best American Sports Writing" book, but the kid isn't dying or missing any limbs. So that's too bad.
15. Josh from Boston passed along a CNN story entitled, "ACL injuries growing problem for young female athletes." I thought this was funny, because back when I wrote the "Daily Links" for my old Web site during 1999-2001, one of the running jokes was about female athletes blowing out their ACLs. Every time one of them blew out a knee, I'd link to the story with a sarcastic joke like, "You're not gonna believe this, but LSU's best women's basketball player blew out her knee." So how can this be a "growing problem"? I swear, somebody writes this article every year and just changes the names.
16. Finally, a few Holy Cross alums passed along the Southern Illinois recap in Ralph Willard's Web site in which he inadvertently proves the point of my upcoming magazine column:
"As a coach I want to win every game, and have a mind-set that every game can be won. I am never satisfied with losing any game. However, as a coach and as a realist recognizing our limited resources, facilities, exposure, and support, what is even more important to me is how we go about trying to obtain that objective. I want our kids to get better mentally and physically as they go through this program. I want them [to] give their best effort no matter what the venue or who the opponent is. I want them to care about how they represent themselves, their families and our school. I want them to understand the selflessness of making the whole better than the sum of the parts. I want them to learn lessons that will serve them in their after school life, and I want them to believe they can always do better.
"Basically I want them to have an 'overachieve mind-set,' that helps shape who they are. We don't have the most heavily recruited players in our program and rarely any with exceptional natural ability. We have no innate advantages over the rest of the programs in Div. I, and some real physical and fiscal disadvantages. What we do have is young men who work very hard every day to define how the Holy Cross program competes. That to me is what I ultimately care about. That to me is what is really important. That is the tradition of this program this group lived up to and helped carry on."
Look, I agree with everything in those two paragraphs. He's approaching a thankless job the right way. He's a good man and a good coach. Everyone agrees.
I just have two questions
Why should Holy Cross basketball have a degree of difficulty every season? Who decided this was a good idea? "We don't have the most heavily recruited players in our program and rarely any with exceptional natural ability. We have no innate advantages over the rest of the programs in Div. I, and some real physical and fiscal disadvantages." Why? Why is this an acceptable reality? I keep getting e-mails from Holy Cross students imploring me to be more supportive of our program. Really? I should be more supportive of a situation in which the coach openly admits that he's trying to win with subpar recruits and some legitimate physical and fiscal disadvantages? That's an acceptable direction?
Anyway, we're running my magazine column tomorrow. Just keep in mind -- my problem isn't with the players, the coach, or the character/resolve/dignity of the team. My problem is the situation itself. Back in the '80s, when the Jesuits inexplicably decided to cripple sports at Holy Cross and kill our famous rivalry with BC, their explanation was that we needed to raise the school's profile as an academic/athletic institution. So we left the MAAC and joined the Patriot League, which was originally envisioned as a Division I version of the NESCAC (like a poor man's Ivy League with better sports). Well, guess what? That idea bombed. They should just change the name of the league to No-Man's-Land.
You know why I know this? Because the head coach of my basketball team just told me, "We don't have the most heavily recruited players in our program and rarely any with exceptional natural ability. We have no innate advantages over the rest of the programs in Div. I, and some real physical and fiscal disadvantages."
This isn't a new thing, either. When I was attending school there from 1988 to '92, nobody understood what was happening with the Patriot League move and our curious decision to scale back sports when the football and basketball teams were such an enormous part of the Holy Cross experience. At the time, the direction was sweepingly unpopular. I even wrote a newspaper column or two for the Crusader about it -- they were crippling our football and basketball programs for reasons that didn't make sense to anyone. Nearly two decades later, the reasons STILL don't make sense. It's the equivalent of a triathlete intentionally amputating his left leg, then continuing to compete while telling you, "Look at me, look at me. I'm doing this with one leg!" Admittedly, it's impressive and takes a ton of heart and courage. At the same time, HE STILL CHOPPED OFF HIS LEFT LEG FOR NO REASON. There's a difference between courage and abject stupidity.
That's where we are with Holy Cross sports right now. More to come tomorrow, when everything will finally make sense.
Basketball Blog: NCAA renaissance SLOTTED
Mar. 27, 2007 | feedback
I keep hearing the same points from readers over and over again:
• I can't remember enjoying March Madness as much as I've enjoyed it this year.
• Are the games particularly good this year or is it just me?
• I can't remember enjoying college hoops this much since the early '90s.
Look, I'm with you. I bailed on college hoops once high schoolers started jumping to the NBA and every All-American seemed to be fleeing for the NBA one year too early. When I was growing up, college teams stayed together for three-four years (like Georgetown and St. John's in the mid-'80s, or Duke and UNLV in the early '90s). Once that continuity was removed, the quality of the product declined and bottomed out with a disaster of a 2005-06 season that featured two astounding realities:
1. Two white guys (Adam Morrison and J.J. Redick) were indisputably the two best college basketball players alive.
2. George Mason made the Final Four.
One year later? Everything's OK. The quality of play has been remarkable, culminating in Sunday's Georgetown-UNC classic, an electric game that also happened to be exceptionally well played (at least until UNC fell apart near the end). If you love basketball, you were legitimately thrilled like me. Which raises the question ... what's happening here? Is the 2006-07 season an aberration or something more?
The answer: It's a little of both. Follow me through the maze here:
• Everything started with the NBA's decision to ban high schoolers from its draft. If that didn't happen, Kevin Durant and Greg Oden would have skipped college and so many casual fans wouldn't have been sucked in. The sport just FELT bigger because of them. Even though Durant's Texas team got knocked out in Round 2, you can't understate Oden's impact over this past week -- not just the block at the end of the Tennessee game, or the way he decimated Memphis over the last 10 minutes on Saturday, but the palpable excitement (already in motion and it's only Monday) for his battle against Georgetown's Roy Hibbert next weekend. None of this happens without the NBA passing that rule.
• The Florida guys (specifically Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Corey Brewer) decided to return to defend their title. This just wasn't happening over the past 10 years -- teams would win a title and their best guys would flee to the pros. Sure, Florida features three lottery picks, but they're fun to watch because they trust each other, they have an extra gear and they enjoy playing with one another. Those three traits only manifest themselves over time. On a lesser scale, you could say the same about UCLA -- from last year's NCAA runner-up, only Jordan Farmar jumped to the pros and everyone else stuck around (including its best player, Arron Afflalo). Was that one of the reasons they threw the basketball equivalent of a perfect game at a more talented Kansas team on Saturday? Actually, yeah. That and the coaching matchup.
• The one fluke of this season: An inordinate number of good point guards. I mention this every February when they screw up the NBA All-Star Game rosters, but it's worth mentioning again here: Basketball games are only as good as the guys running the game, whether it's the NBA or NCAA, high school, intramurals, pickup, playground, you name it. For whatever reason, we were blessed with an overflow of quality point guards this season, including ...
OSU's Mike Conley Jr. (one of the 10 best college players in the country right now), UCLA's Darren Collison (its most underrated player), UNC's Ty Lawson (the fastest guy in college), Texas A&M's Acie Law IV (the lefty Cassell), Texas' D.J. Augustin (hit-or-miss, but always interesting), Oregon's Aaron Brooks (an explosive 6-footer), Georgetown's Jessie Sapp (a natural 2-guard who learned how to run that Hoyas offense), Kansas' Mario Chalmers and BC's Tyrese Rice (two shoot-first point guards who knew how to push the pace), USC's Gabriel Pruitt and Florida's Taurean Green (not superstars, but guys who know what they're doing), and VCU's Eric Maynor (the sleeper of the bunch who made a name for himself in the Duke upset).
Is there an explanation for the previous paragraph? Other than luck, no. But it's worth mentioning that seven of those guys played in the Elite Eight this weekend. It's also worth mentioning that, other than Brooks and Law (both seniors), there's a decent chance that everyone in the previous paragraph could return to college next season. This is a good thing. We're also getting Eric Gordon, Indiana's superstar recruit who's already drawing comparisons to Oscar Robertson. Anyway, I think we're in good shape next season, even without Oden and Durant.
• Along those same lines, I'm make the following bold statement: The more talent you have in a sport, the better that sport will be.
We'll always remember that UNC-Georgetown game from 1982 not just because of the last 30 seconds, but because Patrick Ewing, Sleepy Floyd, Sam Perkins, James Worthy AND Michael Jordan were involved. Maybe there wasn't as much star power in the 2007 rematch, but Jeff Green, Roy Hibbert, Ty Lawson and Brandan Wright could end up being top-12 picks three months from now; Tyler Hansbrough should crack the top 20; and we're not even mentioning Wayne Ellington (one year away from being a prime-time player) or the three Georgetown perimeter guys (Sapp, Wallace and Summers) who shot a combined 19-for-30 on Sunday. With the exception of Wright (who probably would have entered last year's NBA draft under the old rules), that's just good fortune to have so many quality players in the same Elite Eight game. And over everything else, that's why you'll be flicking channels 35 years from now and stumbling across that game on ESPN Classic. You know, assuming it's one of the three days of the year they aren't showing a 24-hour poker marathon.
Anyway, with two No. 1 seeds and two No. 2 seeds staying alive in a loaded college basketball season, we're headed for the most exciting Final Four since '99 with UConn (Rip Hamilton, Jake Voskuhl and Khalid El-Amin), Duke (Shane Battier, Corey Maggette, Elton Brand, Trajan Langdon), Ohio State (Scoonie Penn and Michael Redd) and Michigan State (Mateen Cleaves and Mo Peterson). From a talent standpoint, there's no comparison between then and now: This year's quartet features a future No. 1 pick and franchise center (Oden), six future lottery picks (Oden, Conley, Noah, Horford, Brewer, Green and Hibbert), two more potential first rounders (Afflalo and Collison), two elite college players with a knack for coming up big when it matters (Georgetown's Wallace and OSU's Ron Lewis), three superb coaches (Thompson, Florida's Billy Donovan and UCLA's Ben Howland, who pulled Bill Self's pants down on Saturday) and quality point guards on all four teams. You'd have to travel back to '93 (when three No. 1 seeds and a No. 2 seed made it, including Michigan's Fab Five team) to find this much talent and this many subplots in the Final Four.
So to answer the original question: I'd say it's half luck (an inordinate number of good players for whatever reason), one-quarter circumstance (a high number of good players staying in school) and one-quarter the NBA (banning high schoolers from the draft). But you can't discount good luck. You just can't. For instance, in a two-year span from 1984 to 1985, the following rookies entered the NBA: Hakeem Olajuwon, Michael Jordan, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Chris Mullin, Sam Perkins, Detlef Schrempf, Xavier McDaniel, Charles Oakley, Joe Dumars, Alvin Robertson, Otis Thorpe, Kevin Willis, A.C. Green, Wayman Tisdale, Jerome Kersey and Terry Porter. There was no rhyme or reason to this. It just happened. You could say the same about what's happening in college basketball right now.
All I know is this: Saturday's games (Florida-UCLA and OSU-Georgetown) are appointment viewing for anyone who ever gave a crap about basketball. When's the last time you could say something like that about the Final Four? I'm giddy.
And on that note, let's hand it over to the readers:
Kyle H., Herrin, Ill.: "Can we get Fox to do a March Madness special edition of 'Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?' Get Rick Barnes, Bill Self, Thad Matta, Paul Hewitt, Roy Williams. Ask them basic coaching questions, like, 'Do you foul under 10 seconds when you are up three?' or 'Do you call a timeout between free throw shots of your own player?' My money is on the fifth graders."
Brandon in L.A.: "Hey Bill, you more than anyone do a great job of calling out coaches that are killing their teams. So along those lines, how has Bill Self gone under the radar all year with you and ESPN? This should be the running subplot of this tourney. He almost single-handedly blew their chances on Thursday. Everyone knew what type of team Southern Illinois is and yet he has no counter to them and his teams are always ill-prepared. How do you not spread things out and isolate your quicker guards who also have a size advantage? And read his postgame quotes -- he says that Southern Illinois is a team you can't run plays against. What??? As you would agree (and I've been preaching all year), Kansas is by far the most talented team in this tourney. Hands down. Yet Bill Self is terrible at game planning and preparation. Look at his past tourney flameouts at Illinois and Kansas with ridiculous talent. If Howland were coaching them, they'd be destroying everyone. UCLA has half the talent as Kansas and yet will probably win Saturday because of game plan and execution. This topic has to start being covered and you are the man to do that."
(Important note: We received this e-mail on Friday. Thought that was funny. By the way, I will always be outraged that Kansas didn't make the Final Four with THAT much talent. It's absurd. Remind me never to pick Bill Self to win a title ever again.)
Justin in Brooklyn, N.Y.: "After watching Oden refuse to even crack a smile after OSU's incredible comeback on Thursday, I finally figured out how to best describe his temperament: he's like a less jovial Tim Duncan."
Chris S. in Albany, N.Y.: "I am convinced the DJ from the Bada Bing killed the guy who usually DJs the NCAA Tournament and took over for the games in New Jersey. I am watching the Georgetown vs. Vanderbilt game here and Buck Cherry's 'Crazy Bitch' was just the song that took us to commercial."
Edsel in L.A.: "How can Billy Packer possibly say that Taj Gibson's fifth foul wasn't a questionable call? He's right that it wasn't questionable if he meant that it was unquestionably terrible and incorrect. You don't make that call EVER, especially not with a minute left to foul a team's go-to guy out. Granted, the officials didn't make SC go completely dead when Taj went out with his fourth, but at least there was a chance to make it interesting. Add that to the Jeff Green travel, the Greg Oden intentional, and the three points they took away from SIU against Kansas with the shot-clock violation and the goaltending. Didn't completely determine the outcome of each game, but it just seems a little fishy to me."
(Put it this way: There were an inordinate amount of bad calls over the past few days, but the second half of the USC-UNC game took the cake. When Packer excoriated Tim Floyd for getting a technical in the final minute on Friday night after the Gibson call, I was thinking the opposite -- I felt like Floyd didn't go far enough. He should have taken off his clothes and thrown them on the court. That was ridiculous. Did we ever figure out why UNC got so many calls this month? How could a physical game like Georgetown-UNC feature a 25-5 FT disparity at one point? That's impossible!)
Swim from Youngstown, Ohio: "Do you think that during commercial breaks, Len Elmore just stares at James Brown in disbelief for two minutes?"
Tom from Medfield: "I'm a huge Georgetown fan and had to put the mute on CBS during the Georgetown/Vanderbilt game tonight because of Billy Packer's relentless negativity. He's like a real life Debbie Downer. I guess my question is -- what would be your choice of music to watch college basketball to with Billy Packer on mute? Are there good albums for this purpose? Or an iTunes playlist? I need to know for this weekend."
(Tom, we're addressing this tomorrow.)
From T. Koutlas in Iraq: "Currently I am a surgeon at the 399th Combat Support Hospital in Tikrit, Iraq. I read your recent links to some O.J. Mayo stories and had to comment. See, I meet American kids O.J. Mayo's age every day here. I take care of them at the hospital here after they have been injured. I see them in the dining facility before they go out on a mission. I pass them at the gym. They are, without fail, polite and respectful. They go out every day and get shot at or have their vehicles blown up by IEDs. They don't get paid millions -- they volunteered to be here, like we all did. They make me feel very good about the future of our country. Then I read the story of O.J. Mayo's 'recruitment' by USC and am utterly disgusted. Trust me, I love sports, so do all the soldiers over here. But it gets to a point you have to ask yourself, what are these athletes doing to really earn all the money and respect they crave? When throwing a basketball off the backboard and dunking against a bunch of high school kids is the highlight of your life, you don't deserve honor and respect. You deserve pity."
Thaddeus in San Diego: "Isn't the college basketball rule of not having the opportunity to advance the ball with a timeout in the last few seconds the stupidest rule ever? For every Christian Laettner there's 500 games like the end of regulation in the Georgetown-UNC game today. Can we change this please?
Jared in Arizona: "I am a firm believer that Thad Matta intentionally designed his offense specifically so Greg Oden wouldn't develop his game and thus he stays for a year, maybe more. Think about it. The only time that Oden has been involved this year is on the offensive glass. He'll either go out and set the high pick and then roll, looking for the offensive rebound, or he will have single coverage on the block and won't get the ball. He'll just try and get the offensive rebound after another 3-point shot. Greg Oden has even said he's not ready to make the jump because he can't post up as good as he thinks he should. Well how is he going to improve when nobody's giving him the ball? This is what Matta wanted to happen and Greg Oden has paid the price for it. Actually we all paid the price for it. How does Thad Matta explain not giving the ball to Greg Oden when he's being guarded by one 6-7 guy? Thad Matta has lost serious karma points for this ingenious trick he has put on Oden."
Jon in Michigan: "Apparently after regulation of the Georgetown game, Roy Williams took a crash course in the Rick Barnes School of Coaching. Someone should tell Roy that they give him extra timeouts in overtime and that he is allowed to use them when the other team goes on a run and your team can't hit anything."
Annette B. in Ann Arbor, Mich.: "I am not a huge basketball fan, but I was watching the UNC/Georgetown game with my husband. I confidently predicted that UNC would lose after I saw their uniforms. You know how I knew? They have writing on their butts. Seriously, look at them. What is this, the women's tournament? Are they in a sorority? What gives? Did Jordan have writing on his butt? There's no way."
Robert F. in Florida: "Is John Thompson III the first son of a legendary coach to be clearly superior to his father? Usually, the results are embarrassing, like David and Mike Shula or Ray Meyer's kid. But this G-town team has an efficient half-court offense and shows great poise at crunch time. The coaching mismatch in yesterday's Gtown-UNC game may have been the most glaring in a big game since Guy Lewis/Valvano. It's looking more and more like a complete fluke that UNC ever won a championship with a mouth-breathing yokel sitting on the bench and watching the crucial moments of the game fly past him by like an off-duty cabbie who's late for happy hour at the VFW. Not that I'm bitter."
Patrick in Chicago: "If there was a game that demanded a Gus Johnson closer moment, it was the D-II championship game. The Barton kid pulling a Reggie Miller to beat a team that hasn't lost in 50+ games. Damn, that was great ending for two teams I will completely forget in a couple of minutes, but an ending for the ages. If that happens on the D-I level, it goes down as one of the greatest games ever."
(Important note: This was the real-life ending of Robby Benson's outburst at the end of "One on One" 30 years ago. Click on this link and scroll down to the box that says "NCAA Division II Championship" for the highlights. Just do it. You have to believe me.)
And one last e-mail from an anonymous reader in North Carolina ...
"I wanted to write you without my name or anything, just as a student of UNC. Our loss last night was tough -- some might say heartbreaking. But what's worse is that it may overshadow the death of a true Tar Heel. Jason Ray, our mascot, died this morning. He was the very first person I met at UNC. He was helping freshmen move into the dorms as a part of Intervarsity (a Christian ministry on campus). The elevators were all jammed up, so he helped me cart a refrigerator, futon, and all my other stuff (and girls have a lot of stuff) up NINE floors in the 100-degree heat. And he did it happily. We became friends and I spent a lot of time around him. He let me wear the ram head one time because I thought it'd be funny (even though I'm sure he wasn't supposed to). You've probably gotten a lot of e-mails about yesterday's game, but could you maybe mention Jason in your article, if only for a second. The world deserves to know who this person was. I don't just want him to be a 'UNC mascot dies' blurb on ESPN.com. He was such a good person. A true friend. What every Tar Heel should aspire to be."
Basketball Blog: Hoops housecleaning SLOTTED1
Mar. 22, 2007 | feedback
Five quick updates on the Greg Oden-Kevin Durant Sweepstakes before we get to some housecleaning:
1. Let the tanking begin! After Milwaukee (25 wins) suspiciously announced that both Andrew Bogut AND Charlie Villanueva would miss the rest of the season, the Celtics (20 wins) tanked last night's game against Charlotte (26 wins) about as egregiously as you can tank a game. Here was their crunch-time lineup as a double-digit lead dissipated and eventually blew away: Sebastian Telfair (headed for a Greek professional league in two years), Gerald Green (right now, the worst player in the league who plays more than 15 minutes a game), Allan Ray (an NBDL veteran), Ryan Gomes (the only decent player in this group) and Leon Powe (an undersized power forward playing center, which made him an under-undersized center).
Telfair, Green, Ray, Gomes and Powe. This was a tank job that was so blatant, a stammering Doc Rivers tried to pretend afterward that he was teaching his bench guys a lesson. And what was that lesson?
For any of our bench guys who are complaining that they aren't getting enough playing time, I'm going to leave you in for the entire fourth quarter as we blow an 18-point lead at home to a lottery team playing without three of its best guys.
Does the "lesson" make any sense? Of course not. They tanked. I watched the game. And you know what? I didn't feel good about what was happening. As you know from any of my Vegas columns, I'm a big believer in the whole karma thing. The Celtics had been approaching this season admirably since mid-December -- they were trying to win every game and competing hard every night, only they kept getting betrayed by inexperience, injuries and shaky crunch-time coaching. Maybe they were on pace to lose 55-60 games, but it was an honest 55-60 losses: No chicanery, no tanking, no B.S. along the lines of Mark Madsen jacking up seven 3-pointers in Minny's final game of the 2006 season. Last night against the Bobcats, they crossed the line. And it made me feel a little dirty.
Well, for about 10 seconds.
Then I looked at the Reverse Standings online and didn't feel dirty anymore. The C's are pretty much locked into No. 2 right now. This is a good thing. I just hope we didn't lose any points in the karma department in the process.
2. Another underrated perk for the tanking teams: This year's draft is ridiculously deep, to the degree that guys who would have been top-20 picks in last year's draft (Arron Afflalo, Brandon Rush, Jared Dudley, Alando Tucker, Nick Fazekas, maybe even Tyler Hansbrough) could conceivably drop out of this year's first round. So those picks in the 31-33 range have real value, especially since you only have to guarantee one year of the contract. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to stare at the NBADraft.net and Draft Express board for another 10 minutes.
(Request: On the NBADraft.net board, could they change "D.J. White" at No. 32 to "Big Fat Huge Mistake?" Thanks. I don't want the Celtics to get any ideas.)
3. Forgot to mention this in Tuesday's blog, so I'll turn it over to Tyler in Tuscaloosa: "Anyone who would take Oden with the No. 1 pick in the draft after seeing how he reacted to the Ohio State buzzer beater is clinically insane. The entire bench erupts and where's Oden? Quietly clapping in the background. Your team just hit a shot to prolong your college career and that's all you got? No fire. No passion. Give me KD all day."
(To be fair, it's hard to imagine Oden getting excited in any scenario; he's like a cross between Robert Parish and Silent Bob. In fact, that would be a fun game show: "Try To Get Greg Oden Excited." But I agree with your basic point ... the No. 1 pick in the 2007 draft should seem a little more excited after a teammate just prolonged his college career with a last-second 3-pointer.)
4. For anyone "wondering" if Durant does come out, please keep this in mind: it would be one thing if he was just passing up NBA money to stay in school. The second pick in last year's draft (LaMarcus Aldridge) made about $4 million this season. Sure, that's a lot of money, but not THAT much money. You could easily get insured for that amount and go back to school for another season. But passing up the shoe contract money ... that's another story. Nike gave LeBron $90 million when he was coming out a few years ago. Wouldn't you say Durant is good for $70-75 million from them coming out of the gate? You really think he's passing that money up?
5. Apparently Rick Pitino appeared on "PTI" last week and said that he'd take Oden over Durant. As Brad from Andover jokes, "If there was any doubt left that the Celtics should go for Durant, it's gone." Agreed.
Time for some links and follow-ups on a Thursday afternoon:
1. In Tuesday's blog, I wondered if the NCAA and NBA passed a secret rule that no team with a three-point lead is allowed to foul in the final 10 seconds of a game? As countless readers pointed out, Bruce Pearl Productions blatantly ignored the memo, fouling with a three-point lead and six seconds to play on Sunday. Regretfully, I watched that entire game until Chris Lofton's free throws gave Tennessee a four-point lead with 19 seconds left; at that point, I figured the game was over and flicked channels, so I missed Virginia's ensuing 3, two more free throws from Lofton and Pearl's decision to foul and prevent a game-tying 3. By the way, it worked -- Tennessee won the game. We'll see if Pearl gets fined by the NCAA.
2. Greg in Oregon argues, "You can dismiss all of us 'Pac-10 doesn't suck' posters but even if Kansas and Texas A&M played in the final, that doesn't NECESSARILY mean the Big 12 is better. It could mean they have two excellent teams ... and maybe 10 bad ones. Best league (to me) means best teams top to bottom, with at least a few making a deep tournament run. Washington finished seventh in the Pac-10, a very good team this year. Six others made the tourney and three into the Sweet 16. That's a good league (at least it doesn't deserve 'Pac-10 sucks!') in any book."
That's an excellent point. You're right, under that definition, the Pac-10 definitely doesn't suck. And the fact that USC (the fourth-best team in the Pac-10) crushed Texas (the third-best team in the Big 12) killed my long-standing argument that the Big 12 was definitively better than the Pac-10. So you know what? I'm waving the white flag on this one. Yes, WSU was overrated, Stanford and Arizona weren't worth a damn and nobody else in the conference mattered -- but UCLA and Oregon were good all year, and the fact that USC came together in the tournament submarined my argument.
Upon further review, the Pac-10 didn't suck this season. I will swallow my pride and admit being wrong ... as long as we can all agree that the Big Ten royally sucked. Thank you.
3. If you ever wanted to hear Gus Johnson calling an exciting boxing match, here's your chance. Clearly, the man deserves to be ringside for every big pay-per-view. Either we have to draw straws to see who pulls a Shane Stant on Jim Lampley's larynx or the UFC has to step up with a seven-figure offer for him.
Also, Michael E. in Harrison, N.Y.: "If you haven't yet seen the replay, check out YouTube for Gus' blow-by-blow call of the John Duddy/Luis Ramon Campas fight covered on MSG last September. The fight was the runner-up for Fight of the Year on many boxing publications so you know Gus had ample opportunity to unleash his excitement. I think it's his single greatest announcing achievement to date and scores very high on both the unintentional comedy scale and the my-head-is-about-to-explode excitement scale. Plus, his two color guys were absolutely awful so he had to bring his A+ game to pick up the slack."
And C.D. from Louisville writes: "I was in Lexington last weekend for the NCAA subregional, sitting at the press table right behind Johnson and Dan Bonner. During the break before the Ohio State/Xavier OT, he was just standing and clapping excitedly like a little kid waiting for the soda jerk to put the cherry on his hot fudge sundae."
4. Note to any readers from Holy Cross who admonished me for being "embarrassed" that the Crusaders stunk out the joint in the NCAAs: When our school shoots 14-for-42 for the game, our best two players combine to go 1-for-19 when the game's still in doubt, a backup forward's career night (6-for-6) keeps us from dipping under 40 points for the game and we play like a team that didn't deserve to be a 13-seed in the NIT, much less the NCAAs ... sorry, I find this to be embarrassing. We haven't won an NCAA game in 30 years, we've been bounced in the first round four times this decade, and the only reason we even get invited is because they were dumb enough to give the putrid Patriot League an automatic bid every year. I'm supposed to feel good about this? Whatever happened to Holy Cross becoming the "Gonzaga of the East Coast?" What's the estimated year for that happening ... 2035? Have expectations really been lowered to the point that we're supposed to take solace in the fact that we have good kids and a good graduation rate every time we stink out the joint in March Madness? Since when did the campus turn into a bunch of soccer moms? I want to throw up. More on this next week.
5. From Darrick in Boston: "Saw your reference to the Hanes commercial with MJ and Kevin Bacon and totally agree with your comments that it looked as though they are dating. But you missed talking about the fact that they quite obviously filmed this commercial at separate times. In defense of MJ maybe he thought he was making this commercial with Jessica Simpson instead of Kevin Bacon. Watch it again. They never appear together in the same frame until the end, when it is clear that the fine folks at Hanes merged the two films to get them together. Once you notice it, it will drive you nuts. The only thing that drives me more nuts is during a reality show ("Survivor," "The Amazing Race," "The Apprentice") when the host is talking to the contestants and you can hear them dub in lines that were not said during the filming. Even reality TV isn't real."
(Also, Jamie in Chicago argues: "That wasn't Jordan in the Hanes ad -- it was John Amaechi.")
6. Ever since LeBron James decided to start breaking a sweat after the All-Star break, the Cavaliers fans have been sending me these "LeBron is shoving it in your face!" e-mails. Look, I'm GLAD he's playing hard. My original point was that, if he kept going at his pre-All-Star pace and didn't start giving a crap, the whole "What's wrong with LeBron?" subplot would have become the dominant story of the season. And yesterday's well-done ESPN.com feature by Brian Windhorst tackles that very point. The fact remains, the Global Icon was on cruise control for three months of a six-month season. I don't know how this is a good thing.
7. My joke about Rick Pitino calling a timeout to diagram a 30-footer at the end of the Aggies-Cards game elicited some defenses by Louisville fans, including this one from Jason in Louisville: "For what it's worth, Pat Forde reported that the play Pitino diagrammed at the end of the Louisville/Texas A&M game was supposed to be for Jerry Smith to be the first option, coming off of a double screen. Terrance Williams was supposed to pop out on the opposite side of the court, as option No. 2. If the play completely broke down, Edgar Sosa was told to take the ball to the hole with five seconds left on the clock. The desperation 3-pointer with plenty of time left was the result of a young player panicking, more than it was a result of bad play-calling on Pitino's part. Pitino is certainly guilty of some questionable moves, but it doesn't seem that this one was as bad as you might have thought."
Hold on, hold on. A couple of counterpoints ...
• Teams practice end-of-the-game situations ALL THE TIME. It's not like Pitino drew this play up in the dirt on the playground. Blaming your point guard for panicking is unacceptable -- it's like a military unit training a group of soldiers for a year, then blaming one of them for screwing up in a battle. If they were trained properly, they wouldn't have screwed up. Plus, how does it help Sosa's future at Louisville for everyone to know that he screwed up the final play of the 2007 season? Who gained from that information being revealed other than the Ricktator?
• Last time I checked, Sosa was a freshman. Isn't that asking a lot of your freshman PG to run a play with your season on the line that has three options? It's not like the kid was Steve Nash -- he's 19 years old. Why complicate things when he's already nervous and playing with a ton of adrenaline?
• Take it from a longtime Celtics fan who grew accustomed to the Ricktator throwing young players under the bus to make himself look better: if you didn't think he was pushing one of his players down the proverbial stairs after that loss, you're crazy. (If you don't believe me, read this game story for Pitino's classic "look, I don't want you to think that I'm blaming my players, but hold onto your seats as I blame my players!" move.) That's why Paul Pierce, Antoine Walker and everyone else quit on him during the '99 season and continued to quit on him until he resigned two years later ... and as soon as he left, they finished the rest of the season over. 500 and made the Eastern Conference finals 15 months later. In college, the players can't quit on him because they never stick around long enough to see through his me-first B.S. These are the facts. He has absolutely no problem making his players look bad over taking the bullets for them. That's how it played out in Boston, and that's how it played out last weekend.
8. This isn't a follow-up, more of an FYI: If you're a fantasy baseball junkie, make sure you check out USA Today Sports Weekly's preview this week for their suggested auction prices for every player in both leagues. Valuable stuff. This seems like a good time to mention that my 10-hour auction draft for the League of Dorks is happening on April 1, the same weekend as the Final Four, Opening Day and Wrestlemania. Does it get any better than that?
(Important note: The Sports Gal just announced plans to drown herself in our bathtub.)
• Hope you caught the bizarre New York Times mini-feature about USC's recruitment of O.J. Mayo. It's indescribably indescribable. As Jacob from Baltimore writes, "What a nutjob. And we're handing the NBA over to this guy?"
Also, SKizzle in New York passes this along: "Did you see OJ Mayo's last play as a high schooler? He threw a sick pass to himself off the backboard, dunked it home and threw the ball into the stands in celebration IN THE MIDDLE OF THE GAME (well, a minute to go). He's lucky George Teague wasn't around. I'm torn between it being sick and ridiculous."
(One thing's for sure: I think we finally found the athlete who's going to make Skip Bayless's head explode on live TV.)
• My buddy House called this the crowning achievement of his life.
• A few days ago, the L.A. Times reported that Time Warner fired the head of its regional office in Southern California after "an avalanche of complaints about Internet and e-mail outages, TV channel lineup changes and pressure to sign up for digital service. Customers were most annoyed by maddeningly long -- and sometimes futile -- waits to reach a human by phone." See, it wasn't just me.
• You might remember my magazine column about creating an Us Weekly Fantasy League for my wife last spring. Well, we don't have a link for this, but if you're killing time at a newsstand, check out Page 54 of this month's issue of Esquire for a writer who ripped off that idea (right down to the "I'm a baseball fantasy junkie who needed a league that wouldn't drive my wife crazy" angle) and pretended it was his own. Love when that happens.
• In case you had your doubts about Greg Oden's birth certificate, check out this Washington Post story. You know what? Screw it, I still have my doubts.
• I don't know if this "Real World" news is a relief or a bitter disappointment. Maybe they realized that they couldn't top the debauchery, lunacy and sluttiness of this year's RW Denver cast.
• This New York Post article mentions my favorite part of Antoine Wright's interview on "Costas Now" -- the fact that Texas A&M offers a class called "Poultry Science." Sorry, guys, I can't go out tonight, I have to write a mid-term paper about Chicken McNuggets.
• Hey, here's a question: Why does everyone keep talking about Gary Matthews Jr., but everyone was perfectly willing to forget this story?
• Jimmy from Shanghai, China, writes, "I've read your column for the last couple years, but have yet to send you an e-mail. I believe I've found something worthy here, though. It's a YouTube clip of a guy named Ronald Jenkees doing a remix of the "Rocky" anthem "Gonna Fly Now." If I've judged your tastes correctly, it's the perfect clip to appeal to both your love for the inane and your love for the "Rocky" series. Ronald himself seems to have strong SNL-related influences, ranging from his Marty Culp-esque mastery of the keyboard, to Wayne and Garth's crude home-video style filming, to the intermittent "hoooo" a la Adam Sandler's The Excited Southerner."
(Jimmy, you know me too well. Don't ask me why, but I watched it five times yesterday. And I might go back for No. 6 as soon as I hand in this blog.)
• Finally, my Sweet 16 picks: Texas A&M by 6; Kansas by 20; UCLA by 1; Tennessee upsetting OSU; Georgetown by 3; UNC by 3; UNLV upsetting Oregon; Florida by 25 over Butler; and Gus Johnson by 30 over James Brown.
Basketball Blog: NCAA weekend SLOTTED
Mar. 20, 2007 | feedback
The Gus Johnson Question has turned into one of the defining sports questions in life. Where you stand says more about you than you'd think, just like it's telling if you hated "Field of Dreams" or started rooting for Duke during the early '90s because you liked watching Christian Laettner and Bobby Hurley. If somebody tells me they don't like Gus, I'm not even sure how to react. They might as well tell me, "Yeah, sometimes I like to save dogs from the pound, then murder them with my bare hands."
I look at it this way: If March Madness was a cheeseburger, and everyone's office pools were the fries, then Gus would be like ranch dressing -- not a complete necessity, but a luxury that pushes everything else over the top. Does he go a little overboard? Absolutely. Does he veer into the high 90s on the Unintentional Comedy Scale at times? No question. Would he have been the greatest WWE announcer of all time? Undoubtedly. Does he make every event he covers more exciting? You betcha.
Other than Marv Albert, Gus is the only play-by-play guy who sucks me into watching games I wouldn't normally care about. Sometimes he's assigned to Knicks home games on MSG and I immediately go on Gus Patrol, monitoring the game for the next two hours and making sure it doesn't come down to the wire, just in case there's a chance that Gus could lose his mind for a few seconds. For instance, I happened to be watching the memorable Bobcats-Knicks overtime game earlier this season when David Lee tipped in the alley-oop at the buzzer and Gus' voice reached a frequency that only dogs could hear. You know why I stuck with a meaningless game between two crappy teams? Because of Gus. Just in case.
Now, it would be one thing if this was an act -- if he were doing this as a shtick, like Tony Schiavone flipping out during every dreadful WCW pay-per-view in the mid-'90s or something. But that's the great thing about Gus: He's one of those rare announcers who can't just help himself during exciting sporting events.
And when you think about it, isn't that why an announcer is there? To tell us what's happening and to get us more fired up than we already were? I've written this before, but ABC should throw a gigantic offer at Gus and hand over their "Wide World of Sports" series to him -- the man should be calling motorcycle jumps, cliff dives, stock car races and everything else of that ilk, then dabbling in some of ABC's other big events (the Triple Crown, the Indy 500, etc.). HBO should be wooing him for every major boxing event; he's the only play-by-play guy who could get a rise out of Larry Merchant at this point. The UFC should be overpaying him to announce its pay-per-views. CBS should stick him on the 16th hole of the Masters every year. TNT should borrow him for the slam dunk contest. MTV should hand over the "Real World/Road Rules Inferno" franchise to him. Hell, he might be the one guy who could save the WNBA. We need more Gus Johnson in our lives, not less.
Which brings me to the bigger issue: Over the past week or so, there's been an outpouring of affection for Gus in my reader mailbox. It started last week when I mentioned how CBS was bumping Gus from the tournament after Round 2, then continued when my buddies and I joked in Day One of the Madness Diary about the desperation in Gus' voice as it became more and more apparent that he might not call a close game. As you know by now, Gus finally got a close game (Xavier-OSU) on Saturday and banged it out of the park (scroll down to the second OSU-Xavier link for the real-time CBS highlights and Gus getting progressively crazier and crazier). Not only did that turn out to be the best game of the first two rounds, you wouldn't have wanted anyone else announcing it. Just watch the YouTube clip of Ron Lewis' game-tying 3-pointerand tell me if ...
A. You didn't get goose bumps.
B. You didn't love his throw to commercial with the Vince McMahon cackle and the one-word sentences.
C. You would have wanted anyone other than Gus at that game.
Here's what shocked me: I wouldn't call my readers impartial by any means, but when we're getting a large sample of reaction on any major topic, we always get e-mails from readers going against the grain on any topic except Barry Bonds. With Gus? Everybody loves him. Coincidentally, when I poked fun at Billy Packer after the UNC-Duke game two weeks ago, I received 1,200-1,300 Packer e-mails over the next 72 hours and was shocked that nobody took the time to defend him. Maybe people love Gus for the same reasons they're tired of Packer; we want somebody announcing these NCAA games who sounds just as excited as we are. Maybe you wouldn't want Gus announcing slower sports like baseball or golf, but he's the perfect March Madness announcer. That's why he's featured in more YouTube clips right now than every other sports announcer combined.
These four e-mails summed it up:
Daniel in Lawrence: "In deciding which game to watch during tournament days, I think all games should be evaluated by their Gus Johnson Explosion Potential (GJEP), which is the likelihood that Gus Johnson would literally explode at some point if he were calling the game. If a game promises to be really good, there'd be a high GJEP. If the game is actually going to be called by Gus, the GJEP is automatically doubled. With seven minutes left in this OSU/Xavier game, the GJEP for the remainder of the half is off the charts."
CKJ in Lexington: "I was at the OSU-XU game yesterday and I have to admit, as exciting as it was in person, I couldn't wait to get home to hear Gus Johnson's call of the last three minutes in regulation. As good as Gus is on air, you should see this man in action calling a game. After Ron Lewis' shot, I looked up and Dan Bonner was picking him up off the floor."
Mike in Chicago (writing during the OSU-Xavier game): "This is the first time I have ever rooted for a team to come back so I can hear how excited the announcer would get. Gus did not disappoint but I thought he would have enough energy this year to turn into The Incredible Hulk."
Zack from Austin (we ran this last week but I'm running it again): "I'm sitting here wondering why CBS has Gus Johnson calling this Louisville blowout when an idea hit me. You know how CBS switches mercifully throughout the first four days of March Madness to the most exciting games, especially possible last-second upsets? Why can't they use Gus Johnson as the closer? Whenever there is a tight, one-point game with two minutes left (or a similar nail-biting situation), just switch the coverage to that game, kill the audio feed of whoever is announcing and let Gus Johnson call it solo until the end. And, in keeping with the closer theme, he could use Mariano Rivera's entrance music. Who wouldn't drop everything and run in from the kitchen or whip their head up from the computer when they heard that music?"
Look, I'm not saying Gus is perfect. During that OSU-Xavier game, he clammed up during Oden's intentional-but-we're-not-calling-it-intentional foul near the end of regulation, which could end up being the biggest non-call of the tournament when everything's said and done. (My take: Gus was too busy feeling relieved because the door remained open for him to call a potential game-tying 3.) And I can see how some of the traditional media critics (translation: uptight stiffs) prefer a more professional approach. At the same time, there isn't a better match than Gus Johnson and the NCAA Tournament. The man was created to announce college basketball in the last two weeks of March.
Now here's the frustrating thing: As detailed in this New York Daily News article, CBS callously bumped Gus from the Sweet 16 for James Brown, who agreed to jump from Fox's NFL studio show to CBS's NFL studio show if they gave him one of the top four March Madness spots as well. This turned out to be a double murder for fans because (A) Gus ended up getting the shaft, and (B) Brown hadn't done play-by-play since the late 1980s and was hopelessly rusty in the first two rounds. There's a certain rhythm to calling a basketball game (learned over time) that networks keep discounting, which is why NBA fans suffered through the Bob Costas/Al Michaels eras and NCAA fans are suffering through the James Brown era right now.
If I wanted someone to host my studio show, I'd pick JB over Gus in a heartbeat. If I wanted someone for a basketball game? No contest. In my opinion, the best pure basketball play-by-play guys alive are Marv Albert, Mike Breen, Sean McDonough, Dan Shulman, Gus Johnson, Mike Tirico and Kevin Harlan. You could give those guys a women's NIT game and they'd make it passable. All of them intrinsically understand how to announce a basketball game and make it more exciting.
Well, here's how many of those guys are calling the next two rounds of March Madness: Zero.
You figure it out.
In the meantime, it's time to bid a premature farewell to the great Gus Johnson. The tournament won't be the same without him. College basketball. CBS Sports. This ... is March Madness. But not totally.
Whether they wanted to admit it or not, everyone who followed the 2007 Texas Longhorns knew the Rick Barnes-D.J. Augustin duo would submarine their chances this month ... but in Round 2? Barnes basically had his pants pulled down by USC coach Tim Floyd, whose defensive plan hinged on Durant's teammates taking terrible shots, Augustin falling apart and Durant's coach refusing to figure out simple ways to get Durant the ball. (Like, here's an idea -- they could have just given him the ball at midcourt and spread everyone else out. Nope. Floyd smartly defended Durant with smaller, quicker players who played him tight and took away his dribble-penetration moves, banking that Barnes wouldn't be smart enough to start posting Durant up in the block to take advantage of the size mismatch. And he wasn't.) Check out the play-by-play transcript in the second half from "USC 34-30" to "USC 51-33" -- USC goes on a 17-3 run over a four-minute span as the game slips away, Durant shoots the ball twice and Barnes waits until it's 50-33 to call his first timeout of the half. Seriously, it's all right there. They blew the game in less than four minutes and you could see it slip away as it happened. The USC kids wanted it more and they had a better coach.
Still, it needs to be mentioned that Augustin played so poorly that he even spawned a few comparisons to Tony in "Blue Chips" from my readers. He missed seven of eight shots, turned the ball over six times, couldn't get Durant the ball in a reasonable scoring position, mangled every high screen and fouled out with four minutes to play. You couldn't have played the point guard position any worse than this. On the other end, USC's freshman point guard, Daniel Hackett, quadrupled his scoring average with 20 points, including the first 15 with Augustin in the game. (Check out Hackett's game log and explain to me where that 20-point game came from.) That's why I feel like this game was a little more random than it seemed -- because Augustin laid an egg for Texas and Hackett played the game of his life for USC. At the same time, Floyd is one of the best in-the-game coaches in college and Barnes is one of the worst. Over anything else, that's why we don't get to see Kevin Durant play UNC this week.
(One more note: You can keep sending me those "admit you were wrong about the Pac-10!" e-mails, but I'm not admitting anything until we see how many Pac-10 teams make the final eight. I believed last week and continue to believe that Kansas and Texas A&M are better than anyone in the Pac-10. We will see.)
Six things I loved from the weekend other than Gus Johnson and the grittiness of the USC kids:
1. Texas A&M: Prevailed in a ferocious battle over Louisville (70 free throws combined!) in what amounted to a road game since it was played in Lexington. I'm more convinced than ever that A&M is beating Ohio State and making the Final Four. What about Acie Law IV going 13-of-15 from the line? And what about Acie Law III looking like a dead ringer for Snoop Dogg?
2. Tyler Hansbrough: I'm reconsidering my prediction that he'll end up being a more polished version of Mark Madsen in the pros ... although I still can't see him guarding the likes of Al Jefferson and Jermaine O'Neal at the next level. But let's say he goes to a team like the Rockets. Could you give him Juwan Howard's minutes, flank him with a shotblocker and good help defenders and not lose anything, then post him up on the other end? Yeah, probably. So it will probably depend on the team. But he's a competitive, hard-nosed dude (no pun intended) who always seems to be around the ball. You'd certainly rather go into battle with him over Josh McRoberts, that's for sure.
3. Jeff Green: Some inspired play in the BC game moved him up to No. 9 on Chad Ford's top 100 list this week! Although he's still trailing Spencer Hawes. Come on, Chad. I refuse to live in a world where Spencer Hawes is considered a better bet to succeed in the NBA than Jeff Green. I don't care how stupid NBA teams are. Move him up one spot so I can sleep tonight.
4. Mike Conley and Ty Lawson: Leapfrogged Augustin and Darren Collison as the leading contenders to play point for my Under-22 Olympic Team (still a work in progress). Conley has shown a knack for getting better in big moments (including his underrated handoff/pick that set up Lewis' game-tying three against Xavier), and Lawson improved over the last two months more than any other big-time player. We could potentially see them battling in one of the Final Four games, by the way.
5. Kevin Kruger: Shed the Saul Smith/nepotism jokes by carrying UNLV down the stretch of the Wisconsin pseudo-upset that wasn't really an upset because the Badgers shouldn't have been a No. 2 seed. Was there a cooler clip all weekend than the one of little Kevin sitting on Florida's bench during the 1994 Final Four? I can't wait to get burned out on that angle over the next two weeks if UNLV somehow makes this year's Final Four.
6. The Big Ten: Did I tell you or did I tell you? If that foul was called on Oden, there would have been ZERO Big Ten teams in the Sweet 16. I love being right. It happens so rarely. Anyway, don't fret, Big Ten fans -- you can still get your fix of defense and fundamentals by watching the women's tournament.
Six things I didn't love from the weekend, other than D.J. Augustin and Rick Barnes:
1. Thad Matta: I mean, you have the best anchor for a 2-3 college zone since Mutombo ... and you switch to man-to-man? And then it's not working, and you stick with it? I'm continually stunned by the terrible coaching at the college level -- for every Tim Floyd, Billy Gillispie or Tom Izzo, there seem to be 25 Thad Mattas and Rick Barneses. No wonder these guys keep jumping to the NBA and bombing miserably. How much of the success of these college coaches depends on recruiting? Ninety percent? Ninety-five percent?
2. Alando Tucker: On second thought, let's cancel that Hummer order.
3. Rick Pitino: Calls timeout at the end of the Cards-Aggies game to set up a game-winning shot ... and it turns out to be a 30-foot heave by Edgar Sosa. Now that's the Pitino I knew and loved in Boston!
4. The Hanes commercial featuring MJ and Kevin Bacon: Somehow I did a running diary for all of Thursday and half of Friday without stumbling across this ad once. Then Friday night rolled around and it was on constantly. Um ... what the hell is going on in this commercial? Why these two guys? What do they have in common? Why does the ad kinda make it seem like they're dating? More importantly, when did Jordan reach the point of his career where he had to slum it in underwear ads with the dude from "Footloose"? Doesn't he have enough money? I'll be honest: This commercial freaks me out.
5. Holy Cross hoops: Honestly? I'm embarrassed. That was a disgrace. The Cross is now going on 30 years without an NCAA win. And you know what? I've had enough. Somebody needs to save our basketball program and it's going to have to be me. Details to come this spring.
6. The NCAA refs: Between the crippling D.J. Strawberry "charge" in the Maryland-Butler game and Oden's "non-intentional" foul against Xavier, it was refreshing to know that the officiating can be just as catastrophic in college hoops as it is in the NBA. I don't think Butler was better than Maryland, and I don't think OSU was better than Xavier. Although Xavier STILL gave that game away by not making free throws and not fouling in the final six seconds.
Which reminds me ...
I'm convinced that the NBA and NCAA passed a secret rule that no team leading by three with less than 10 seconds to play can intentionally foul. Why? Because it would kill the excitement of those last 10 seconds. After all, you have a 1-in-3 chance of making a game-tying 3, but you have a 1-in-50 chance of making one free throw, then intentionally missing the second one and having it ricochet right to a teammate for the game-tying putback. (Note: I can remember most of the times in my life that I've ever seen this happen. The last time was with Kobe and the Lakers a few years ago.) So you're telling me that every team with a three-point lead willingly opts to give their opponent a one-in-three probability of tying the game over a one-in-50 probability? Yeah, right. They passed a secret rule and nobody can tell me differently.
Basketball Blog: The Sports Gal's picks
Mar. 14, 2007 | feedback
Before we get to the Sports Gal's picks, here are some relevant links and e-mails from the past week:
• Remember when I joked that ESPN should have assigned me to the Holy Cross-Bucknell game so I could have been the first announcer ever ejected from a basketball game for screaming at the refs? Well, this happened to Blazers announcer Mike Rice in 1994 and Cincy announcer Chuck Machock during a Gonzaga game in 2003. Thanks to everyone who e-mailed us about this.
• Multiple readers sent along the definitive Gus Johnson broadcast: the last 40 seconds of the UCLA-Gonzaga game from last year's tournament. It's a tour de force -- everyone remembers Morrison crying, but nobody remembers Gus turning into Rob Schneider as the Orgasm Guy. I'm still distraught that we're losing Gus after the first two rounds this year. We might need to kidnap James Brown or Verne Lundquist.
• Multiple readers sent along information on Charles Oakley's new car wash (a link that originally came from Hoops Hype). This sounds like the ideal venue for his first action movie when he becomes the next Shaft -- there's a murder at his car wash and Oak has to find the killer. I think this could work.
• In my Celtics-Rockets diary, I made a joke about Dikembe Mutombo's finger-wave getting grandfather-claused. Well, guess what? According to Kwame in Queens, "I'm not sure if you were being sarcastic or not but when the taunting rule was being introduced, the NBA specifically said Mutombo could do the finger wave as long as he didn't direct the finger at a player and just did it to the crowd. How this is different from throat-slashing gesture is beyond me but that's the rule."
• FYI: Friday's blog never ran because I called an audible and turned it into a magazine column for this week's issue of ESPN The Magazine. We're not running it on the Web site until next week, so if you want to read it before then, check out the magazine when it comes out later this week. The topic? Mr. Billy Packer.
• This cracked me up: The Columbia students are protesting because Matthew Fox was named this year's commencement speaker. I made fun of my buddy Hopper (a Columbia grad) about this and he replied, "I think its awesome! I hope there's a huge student protest and they throw eggs and hardback editions of Boccaccio's 'Decameron' at him."
• I'll link to anything that ties together Kobe and the Macho Man.
• From Indy reader Tony A.: "John Gasaway of the Big Ten Wonk blog tracked the speed of games played by the power conferences. He measures speed in terms of 'possessions per 40 minutes.' It will come as no surprise to you that the Big Ten plays at a significantly slower rate than any other conference and that most of the slowest teams in any power conference come from the Big Ten.
• I'm linking to this only so people will stop sending me the link: Not only does Curt Schilling have his own blog, but he's thrown himself into it and there's some legitimately insightful/interesting stuff in there. (I loved the section about Keith Foulke in the March 11 posting. Couldn't agree more.) Between Schilling's blog and Gilbert Arenas' hilarious blog on NBA.com, I like the direction we're heading here. Everyone thought this would happen in the late-'90s -- players bypassing the media to communicate with fans directly -- only we didn't have the right players to pull it off and all of the player blogs were dreadfully boring. Then Paul Shirley came out of nowhere two years ago and broke the door open. Now we have Schilling and Arenas taking it to another level because of their visibility. Excellent.
• You'll be happy to know that Time Warner sent not one but TWO technicians over Tuesday to fix our cable problem in our bedroom. Sure, it took four days, but everything's working. Would this have happened if I didn't write a column for the most-read sports Web site on the planet? I don't know.
• This gets my vote for "Best March Madness Time Waster" -- this year's Name of the Year ballot.
• After I called Nike's "Second Coming" commercial my favorite hoops commercial of the decade, Alex K. from Minneapolis made a good point: "The best b-ball commercial of the decade? No way. It might be sappy, nostalgic, and sure there's no horrid overacting by perennial all-stars, but you can't tell me this one doesn't give you chills every time you see it." Agreed.
• A couple of readers sent along this YouTube montage of buzzer beaters from the Basketball Jesus. Good times.
• To answer the two most common NBA questions from the past week -- yes, there is some serious Ewing Theory potential with the Sixers right now, and no, I can't even fathom how Isiah got an extension when his team is five games under .500 in a crappy conference with a $120 million payroll and no lottery pick in 2007.
• Finally, check out this article about the graduation rates among the teams in this year's NCAA Tournament and pay special attention to the school with the highest graduation rate.
All right, time to turn things over to the Sports Gal ...
The Sports Gal speaks ...
Bill offered me a chance to pick March Madness even though I don't know anything about college basketball. Then again, I didn't know anything about the NFL and still managed to beat his football picks. Now he's back for more humiliation. I don't care if I sound like I'm rubbing it in because Bill beats me in everything we play and even cheats sometimes. The first time we played Scrabble, he flipped one of his letters over and played it as a blank -- I didn't even realize what happened until there were suddenly three blanks on the board. I couldn't believe it. We'd only been dating for six months. He claimed it was an accident. He also talks trash, which is a problem because I'm super-competitive -- one time, he made me so mad that I flipped over the board and stormed off. He's so happy when he's winning, it's really annoying. The minute he takes the lead in any game, he makes little digs even though he knows I'll get mad -- stuff like, "How many points will you get if you spell L-O-S-E-R?"
That's why I loved beating him in NFL picks so much. Here's how I did it: After he e-mailed me the spreads each week, I chose each team based on my connection with them. Like, if my friend Teresa was going to Cincinnati for business that week, then I'd pick the Bengals. I always tried to pick the Giants (my dad is a Giants fan), the Cowboys (my friend V loves Drew Bledsoe) and the Patriots (for obvious reasons), and I always picked against Chicago because the city isn't as cute and quaint as Boston and not as glamorous as New York -- I'm not sure why anyone would live in Chicago unless they wanted to live near deep-dish pizza. If that's your reason, I accept it. Also, when I was picking the games, I never took more than two favorites in a row and tried to zig-zag between the favorites and underdogs. That was my system. Feel free to use it next season.
But wait, before we get to my NCAA picks, we have to discuss Britney. Everything unraveled for her right after I stopped writing my rants. I can't say I was surprised -- I've seen this coming since "Chaotic." Everyone keeps saying she hit rock bottom when she shaved her head and attacked a paparazzi car with an umbrella, but I think it happened the day before she went into rehab, when she tried to check into the Mondrian but they wouldn't give her a room because she didn't have any credit cards, then she ended up shaving her legs in the Mondrian pool's bathroom, then she borrowed a bathing suit from two friends she met at the pool. I am still in shock over this whole thing. She could have filmed a sex tape with the entire Clippers team, including Chris Kaman, and I wouldn't have been as disgusted. How do you shave your legs in a public bathroom? How could she borrow a bathing suit from a complete stranger? That's just gross! I warned everyone what would happen to someone who made friends with Paris Hilton and nobody believed me.
The other big thing that happened since I stopped writing was the Anna Nicole saga, but I'm abstaining from comment because I didn't care about her when she was alive. We should make a rule that nobody is allowed to lead "Entertainment Tonight" or appear on the cover of US Magazine if they haven't been responsible for a single redeeming moment in their entire life. The world would be a better place.
Here are my tournament picks:
Sweet 16: Florida over Zona ... Maryland over Butler ... ND over Oregon ... UNLV over Wisconsin ... Kansas over Nova ... V-Tech over HC ... Duke over Pitt ... UCLA over Gonzaga ... UNC over Marquette ... Texas over USC ... WSU over GW ... Georgetown over BC ... OSU over BYU ... Virginia over Long Beach ... Louisville over Penn ... Memphis over Creighton.
Final Four: Florida over UNLV ... UCLA over Kansas ... Texas over Georgetown ... Ohio State over Louisville.
Championship game: Texas over Florida.
My explanation: Bill is totally obsessed with this Kevin Durant guy and I've watched 5-6 Texas games. Well, I haven't exactly watched them -- I'm usually reading a magazine or something while Bill's watching them. But I have to admit, he's fun to watch and seems like a nice person. Even his mom seems sweet. So that's the only team I know and that's why I'm picking them.
The bigger problem is that Bill says we're moving back East if the Celtics pick Durant in the lottery. I wanted to move back East for two years and he wouldn't move back. ... Now I actually like living in California and we'd have to move back only if the Celtics get a specific basketball player? Isn't this grounds for divorce? At first, I thought Bill was joking, but he keeps saying, "I can't live 3,000 miles away if this guy is playing for the Celtics. I can't live 3,000 miles away if this guy is playing for the Celtics." Now I hope the Celtics lose the lottery. Sorry.
Basketball Blog: Weekend awards
Mar. 13, 2007 | feedback
We'll get to the March Madness predictions Tuesday. In the meantime, some awards from the weekend from someone who watched an insane amount of college basketball over the past four days.
Player of the weekend: Georgetown's Jeff Green, a silky-smooth 6-foot-8 forward who might be the best all-around player in college hoops. Green carried the Hoyas on Friday night against Notre Dame (30 points, 12 boards, 12-for-14 free throws, the game-clinching three-point play), then tossed up a 21-5 against an overmatched Pitt team in the finals. He's one of those Battier-like "glue guys" who can affect games without putting up huge numbers and always seems to be involved in the 2-3 biggest plays of the game. Two things to note here:
1. Originally, I left him off my Under-22 Olympic Team (still a work in progress) because the team already had enough size and I wanted more shooting, but after watching him in that Notre Dame game, I can't leave him off. That was the best performance in a college game I've watched this year that didn't involve the words "Kevin" or "Durant." And every Olympic team needs a glue guy. So I'm making room for him.
2. Chad Ford's latest Top 100 draft list has Green ranked 14th behind four other small forwards or shooting guards: Thaddeus Young (10), Al Thornton (11), Chase Budinger (12) and Corey Brewer (13). The next three weeks should shake out that group, but you could make a case for each of those guys getting that 10th spot. Young has the most raw talent. Thornton is already 23, which makes him the best bet to make an impact right away. Budinger is the most intriguing of the group, a phenomenal athlete with a sweet shooting stroke, almost like an evolutionary Brent Barry (and like Barry, he sucks on D). Brewer wins points because he has the most defined NBA position (he's a shooting guard with size), although he's my least favorite player in this group. And Green is the best all-around player and a winner. Needless to say, I like him the most out of that group.
(One other player who's growing on me: Kansas' Brandon Rush, another one of those glue guys who can affect games in a variety of ways. He did a great job on Durant in the second half Sunday, even though Texas could have neutralized his quickness by posting up Durant to take advantage of the height difference ... but Rick Barnes decided against it because it would have made too much sense.)
Funniest live shot: Danny Ainge sitting next to Durant's mother and grandmother during Saturday's Texas-Oklahoma State game with one of those "I swear, this was just a coincidence!" looks on his face. That was like a deleted scene from the "Blue Chips" DVD.
(By the way, instead of scouting top prospects and buttering up their families, Ainge should be back in Boston convincing Paul Pierce that it's OK to pretend he has plantar fasciitis for the next five weeks.)
Funniest random moment: The "ESPN GameDay" producers deciding it would be a good idea to have Karl Ravech and Rick Majerus step away from the desk so Majerus could describe how he'd defend Alando Tucker (played by Ravech) ... and Majerus running out of breath in about two seconds. Even Hugo Hurley is in better shape than Rick Majerus.
Dumbest idea: Right before the NBA playoffs, imagine if the NBA had the Eastern and Western conferences play tournaments at neutral sites, then LeBron and the Cavs ended up playing Friday night and Saturday afternoon, then capped things off with an overtime game on Sunday afternoon in the finals. And then we started the playoffs on Thursday. Everyone agrees that would be ridiculous, right?
Well, that's what happened to Texas this weekend. The Longhorns were a No. 3 seed in the Big 12 tournament and played the late game against Baylor on Friday night -- a game in which they trailed by 20 in the second half, then made a phenomenal comeback by pressing full court and riding Durant (24 of his 29 in the second half). Eighteen hours later, they were battling a backs-to-the-wall Oklahoma State team that needed a win to make the NCAA Tournament ... and they pulled out a hard-fought win on Durant's 3-pointer in the final minute. Less than 24 hours later, they jumped to a 19-point cushion against Kansas in the championship game before an exhausted Durant hit the wall and they blew the lead in about five seconds (ultimately losing the game in OT). So Texas ended up playing two hard-fought games AND an overtime game in the span of 42 hours.
And this makes sense ... how?
(Note: Don't even get me started about barely .500 NC State team winning three games in three days and turning themselves into a legitimate Cinderella story before running out of gas in the ACC finals against North Carolina. Four games in four days? That's acceptable? Why not stagger the games on Wednesday-Thursday and Saturday-Sunday? I feel like NC State could have taken UNC if the Wolfpack weren't dead in the first half. More importantly, we were robbed of a chance to see Sidney Lowe unleash his gigantic red sports coat on March Madness. Did he borrow that thing from Suge Knight or Cedric the Entertainer?)
Most annoying story: Tyler Hansbrough's broken-nose mask (or as I like to call it, "the Schnozzaroo"). Not even Jennifer Aniston's nose got this much attention in 2007.
Funniest exit stage right: To Duke for losing to NC State in the ACC quarterfinals ... and legitimately, I might add. Nice work, fellas. I can't wait to see Coach K fighting back tears during the tail end of the inevitable VCU loss on Thursday after Eric Maynor strips Greg Paulus for the game-clinching layup. It's gonna be great. I'm already giddy.
Best controversy that never ended up being a controversy: During the Kansas-Texas game, Kansas was up by three (63-60) with six minutes left in the second half. Mario Chalmers drove to the basket, made the hoop but got called for a charge on D.J. Augustin, who shot two free throws on the other end to apparently make it 63-62 ... only Chalmers' basket was counted as well. If you don't believe me, check out the play-by-play. Did the announcers mention this or explain it? Of course not. I'm still confused. And apparently, so are my readers, because I received 200 e-mails about it.
Most overrated conference: A tie between the Pac-10 and the Big Ten. So hard to choose between these two. When you're watching dozens of games over the course of five days, it's impossible not to notice the varying quality of play from game to game. For instance, I watched the Patriot League final on Friday and jumped right into the Oklahoma State/Texas A&M game ... it was like going from the "rookie" level to "All-Madden." There's just no comparison.
Anyway, watching all these games and comparing the conferences to one another, I don't see how anyone who knows anything about basketball could argue that the Pac-10 and Big Ten are better than the Big East, ACC or even the Big 12 (my vote for "most underrated conference"). UCLA, Oregon and Ohio State are all good. After that? It's a suckfest. I watched the USC-Stanford overtime game on Thursday night because I wanted to see Brook Lopez -- by the way, he needs between three and 15 more years of seasoning in college before I'm willing to accept him as a top-10 pick -- and found myself thinking, "Wow, this feels like a possible preview of the NIT finals ... and if that's the case, I think I'll be skipping the NIT finals."
So what happened? USC won the game, reached the Pac-10 finals and earned a 5-seed in the NCAAs; Stanford somehow cracked the NCAAs as a 11-seed with an 18-12 record; and if that's not enough, Washington State earned a 3-seed in the same regional where Texas received a 4-seed. ARE YOU KIDDING ME???? It will never happen because Washington State won't beat 2-seed Georgetown in a million years, but I sincerely hope Texas (15-to-1 odds to win the championship) and Washington State (40-to-1 odds) play in the regional finals, just so everyone in the Tournament Committee will feel like an idiot because the No. 4 seed is laying five points to the No. 3 seed. Well done, fellas.
As for the Big Ten, its second-best team (Wisconsin) isn't as good as Kansas, Texas or Texas A&M, and I wasn't even remotely impressed by Purdue (a No. 9 seed), Indiana (No. 7) or Illinois (No. 12), although I do think Michigan State (No. 11) has a chance to crack the Sweet 16 because of Tom Izzo and Drew Neitzel. Regardless, how did the Big Ten send six teams to the tournament when most of its games had the same disjointed, scrappy, uncomfortable flow of a woman's basketball game? Did you ever watch a Big Ten game that didn't involve OSU and think to yourself, "Wow, this is some high-caliber hoops!" Oklahoma State would have been the third-best team in that conference and it's headed to the NIT. Same for Kansas State. And Syracuse.
Final note: Anyone who toggled between the OSU-Wisconsin and Texas-Kansas games knows which conference was better this season. That Texas-Kansas game was the most hard-fought basketball game I've seen since the Heat-Mavs NBA Finals last June ... and Texas was running on fumes. Meanwhile, OSU and Wisconsin were having the basketball equivalent of a rock fight on CBS. Gimme a break. The Big Ten is awful. Don't say I didn't warn you.
Worst performance: A three-way tie between Duke, UCLA and the cable technician who hooked up an HD box to our bedroom TV on Saturday, couldn't get any of the channels to work and realized after an hour that the signal coming from our cable wire wasn't strong enough to get the box working, then decided that he needed to go under our house to fix the wire, only he had to go to another job, so he promised he'd return later in the afternoon. Did he return? Of course not. We never saw him again.
So to recap: He replaced our WORKING digital box with an HD box that did NOT work, never switched them back, left us without TV reception in our bedroom for two days for no real reason, inadvertently caused us to miss the two-hour season finale of "Maui Fever" and caused the Sports Gal to flip out to the point that her head actually did a 360 Sunday night when she realized that "Maui Fever" didn't record. I wouldn't even describe her phone call as "angry" to Time Warner today -- it was more like "homicidal." We've had more problems with the company over the past year than the Kings had with Ron Artest. You couldn't do a worse job. It's not possible. I'm spending the next four months trying to short its stock.
Best performance: Kevin Durant. I know, I know ... everything's been said. But you had to watch him for three straight games to truly appreciate what happened.
On Friday night, he started out 0-for-12 against Baylor, spotted Baylor a 20-point lead in the second half, then rallied Texas back by dropping 24 points, hitting every conceivable shot AND anchoring the front of the full-court press. He just wouldn't be denied. It was an MJ-esque performance. On Saturday, he sprung for 26 against a hungry Oklahoma State team and drained the deciding 3, which was significant because it came off an offensive rebound in the final minute and ruined Rick Barnes' quest to freeze out his best player for the last five minutes of the game. On Sunday, Durant destroyed Kansas in the first half (21 points in the first 13 minutes) before hitting the wall, then rallying at the three-minute mark with a game-saving offensive rebound and putback (with Texas down five), then a ridiculous three-point play when he got fouled on a jumper to tie the game. By the time OT rolled around, he was cooked.
Still, it's impossible to believe that this kid is 18 years old. He's the best college player I've ever seen. Ever. And while we're on the subject, Durant has that same MJ/Kobe-like quality in which he can start a game hot and get you immediately thinking, "Wow, he might score 60 right now, I wonder if I should alert my friends?"
(Note: This seems like a good time to mention that Texas nearly won the Big 12 tournament despite the fact that the Longhorns played three tough games in 42 hours; they have a coach who has no idea how to get his best player the ball; D.J. Augustin shot 8-for-33 in three games and made about 475 bad decisions; and A.J. Abrams shot 10-for-32 the last two games. When you can compete at a high level when you're not playing well, that's pretty good. Remember this when you're filling out your bracket this week.)
Best quest to fill up my e-mail box: To Rick Barnes, who generated more "what the hell is this guy doing?" e-mails than anyone in recent memory.
This was my favorite one, courtesy of Eric in Boston on Saturday: "As a favor to the Texas Longhorns' fan base, someone needs to do a public service announcement for the Texas AD letting him know that coach Barnes is KILLING their chances of winning a title. I just watched Barnes inexplicitly keep the ball out of Durant's hands the entire second half, and then on the big 3-pointer he hit at the end (note Durant only got the chance to shoot because it was a scramble for the loose ball) Barnes was telling him to pull back out and reset!!! Are you serious? This is one of the worst coaching jobs I have EVER seen. I am shaking with anger and I am not even a fan of Texas."
(OK, one more, courtesy of Adam in Indy: "With about 6 minutes left in the second half of the Texas-Kansas game it hit me. Rick Barnes is the Art Shell of college basketball. Blank stare ... check. Inability to react to flow of game ... check.")
Best jinx: To my friend Lewis, a diehard UCLA fan who asked me for help getting him Pac-10 championship game tickets last week (I had a connection), leading to an incriminating chain of e-mails with me, Lewis and my connection in which Lewis never wrote anything like, "By the way, I don't want you guys to think that I feel like UCLA is a mortal lock to make the finals, because I don't feel that way at all ... but if they do, I'd sure love to be there for the final game." So what happened? UCLA got bounced on Thursday and we made fun of him for the rest of the day for single-handedly altering the course of the Pac-10 tournament, culminating with Lewis writing, "I just puked in my office." I think he was serious. You have to love sports sometimes.
Best sign that the 2007 NBA Lottery is officially driving me crazy: When George Washington (Red Auerbach's alma mater) won its tournament and snuck into the NCAAs as an 11-seed, I wondered to a friend if we needed GW to make the Sweet 16, because that would mean Red was helping it out in the karma department, and if that was the case, he'd definitely help the Celts out with the ping-pong balls on May 22. Now I'm on the GW bandwagon so this sick scenario has a chance to play out. I need professional help.
Best quest to give me a heart attack: To Holy Cross for blowing an 18-point lead at home against Bucknell before squeaking out an eight-point win. I didn't even remotely enjoy the second half of this game and never want to discuss it again. At least we made it. But how far can we go? Can the Cross make the Sweet 16? Also, when will Rick Barnes finally kill Texas' season? Can the Pac-10 send more than one team to the Sweet 16? Other than dunking, is there a noticeable difference between a game involving two Big Ten schools and a high-caliber women's basketball game? What does the Sports Gal's bracket look like? How will Lewis jinx UCLA in the tournament? Who's the biggest sleeper of the double-digit seeds? Is Greg Oden alive? Was Florida playing possum all along? Can anyone beat Kansas?
We'll answer these questions Tuesday and Wednesday.
Basketball Blog: Get ready for the ride
Mar. 9, 2007 | feedback
Quick note for Friday, March 9: I spent the morning (and part of last night) writing a blog posting for today, but the piece turned out to be more complicated than I thought, so we decided to hold it until next week. You'll understand why when you read it.
Sadly, I have nothing new for you to read until Monday's mammoth recap from the weekend. (If you missed any of the previous Basketball Blog entries, click on the links from March and February on the calendar that's sitting on the top right of this page.) And since we didn't want to leave today's space empty, we're re-running a March Madness column from March 2002 that will (hopefully) get you in the mood for the next three weeks.
During the first few minutes, you're hoping they stay close. It's like watching an overmatched buddy trying to work the best-looking girl in a bar ... you're only hoping they make it out alive. Painful as hell. Almost excruciating.
But then they survive that first wave.
You start searching for signs. The other guys seem a little flat. Good sign. We seem to be working harder on the boards. Good sign. Too many turnovers for us. Bad sign. They're missing their shots. Good sign. Everything's black and white. Us/them. Good/bad. Happy/scared. You're afraid to put any more thought into it than that.
You check the clock. Ten minutes gone and we're still tied. One-fourth of the game. Not bad. You don't want to believe, not yet ... but you're intrigued. You fight off the urge to call one of your friends. Can't jinx it. Not yet.
You notice the television cameras keep showing the raucous rooting section for your school, those same familiar colors that you wore once upon a time. Your school. Makes you jealous. You wish you were there. You should have gone. You feel left out. But maybe if you had ventured to the game, they wouldn't be playing this well. You start thinking about weird stuff like that.
Now you're glancing at the clock incessantly. As long as the score remains close, you want that clock moving at warp speed. Faster. Faster.
Your team hits a few more shots. Hanging in. The crowd starts to get behind them; you hear that special buzz starting to build in the stands, that "Something's Happening Here" buzz that makes sports so great. The 3s are falling. Good sign. You need the 3s. Can't pull off an NCAA upset without 3s.
You're not getting any ideas though. Not yet. Every few minutes, something happens that makes you remember the glaring difference in raw athletic ability between both teams -- two guys chasing down a loose ball, somebody gliding through the lane like a knife through butter, an awkward turnover, a rim-shattering dunk -- just so you don't get too excited. It's like a phylum thing. They're in a different athletic phylum than your guys. So be it.
Now the phone starts ringing, the first wave of "Hey, we're hangin' in there!" phone calls. You make the requisite "Hoosiers" jokes -- And then David took the stone out of his bag, and aimed it at the Philistine and I wanna win for Coach, he's the one who got us here -- and they never really get old. And you're laughing and having fun, but you never take your eyes off the TV screen. Not once.
The Bad Guys finally make their predictable run near the end of the half; you suddenly find yourself trailing by nine at the break. Still in striking distance. Now the phone calls start pouring in. Yeah, we looked good. Yeah, we're hanging in there. Yeah, we're not out of it. Can you imagine if ...? You have the same conversation six times in 20 minutes, and it doesn't faze you one bit.
The second half starts. You know 90 percent of these games are decided in the first five minutes of the second half, when the High Seed says, "OK, we're done messing around" and proceeds to blow the Low Seed out of the building. It's coming. You know it. It's definitely coming. You've seen it too many times.
(Your guys are still making 3s ...)
(The bad guys aren't making a run ...)
That dreaded five-minute mark passes. Still hanging around. Three-point game. Moves up to five, to seven, down to four, up to six, down to three ... always seems to settle at three. Your team can't get over that three-point hump; the bad guys can't put them away. The play-by-play guy uses the phrase "hanging around," and for the first time, his voice rises a notch. The crowd greets every one of your team's baskets with a growing roar.
You keep glancing at the clock. Ten minutes to play and we're still in this! Your team seems to play better if you're sitting back with your feet on the coffee table, so you remain in that position indefinitely, even though your right big toe feels like it might curl into a ball. Ten minutes. Still there. If you can stay close for a few more minutes, anything can happen. Anything. Anything. Anything ...
Suddenly the bad guys rip off a quick run -- 7-0 -- and the lead bulges to 10. One of your friends gives you the "It's over" phone call and you hate them for it. You decide not to answer the phone anymore. It's slipping away.
Or is it? There's a 3. There's another 3.
Turnover by the bad guys. Your guys bring the ball down ...
Another basket! Two point-game!
Now CBS is showing the "Guys jumping up and down and going bonkers on the bench" shot -- maybe the best camera angle in sports other than the "Guys jumping out of the dugout to see if the homer went over the fence" shot -- and it's your bench! Your guys make another defensive stop, eventually getting fouled and going to the line ... swish and swish.
The play-by-play announcer's voice cracks as they head to commercial. You feel like hugging him. Your guys dance over to their bench, their teammates skipping over and practically tackling them. The phone starts ringing again. You're too excited to talk to anybody. You can't speak. Your heart feels like it might pound out of your chest. You keep pumping your fist, even though nobody else is in the room. You're a mess. This can't be happening.
1. Six minutes left.
2. Tie game.
3. Anything can happen.
4. You believe.
And that's March Madness for you.
Most people aren't fortunate enough to attend colleges with strong basketball programs; even if your school features a decent hoops team, your entire post-graduation life might pass without your school reaching that hallowed "Hoosiers" point.
Me? I was buried in No Man's Land. I graduated from the College of the Holy Cross in '92. We haven't fielded a team that seriously threatened someone in an NCAA Tournament game since the Reagan presidency was kicking off. After awhile, you learn to live with it. It's like dealing with asthma or rooting for the Red Sox. You learn to live with it.
Last March, everything changed. My school made it to the "Guys jumping up and down and going bonkers on the bench late in the second half" point. We fought the good fight. We pulled a Maximus and won the crowd. We had announcers screaming. We had random bandwagon fans high-fiving in bars all over the country. We played well enough that Kentucky -- 20-point favorites, the No. 2 seed in the East, the recent two-time champion, a veritable basketball institution, for God's sake, Kentucky -- was forced to execute three high-caliber plays down the stretch just to maintain their lead. As amazing as this sounds, if Holy Cross had gotten one or two breaks, they could have advanced to Round Two.
Yup, as far as moral victories in sports are concerned, "Kentucky 72, Holy Cross 68" ranked right up there. But that's not even the point. I finally experienced the special side of March Madness, the sacred side, the only side. Six minutes left. Tie game. Anything could happen. And I believed. For a die-hard sports fan, it's the most addictive roller-coaster ride you can imagine.
And here's the best thing: I just bought another ticket. Thursday night, Round One, Midwest Regional, St. Louis, No. 16 Holy Cross vs. No. 1 Kansas. Time to climb back on, strap myself in and get ready for another ride.
And then David took the stone out of his bag, and aimed it at the Philistine ...
Basketball Blog: Running with the Celtics
Mar. 8, 2007 | feedback
After the Celtics inexplicably rolled off a four-game win streak and fell two games behind Memphis for pole position in the Durant/Oden Sweepstakes, I thought about flying back to Boston to kidnap Al Jefferson and stick Paul Pierce with a mononucleosis-infected needle. Instead, I decided to stay home, watch the Rockets-Celts game and jinx the streak with a running diary. Here's what transpired:
7:37 p.m. ET -- Time for tonight's pregame interview with Doc Rivers, or as I like to call the segment, "Dead Man Walking." I actually feel bad for Doc at this point -- for about three months, he's had the same look on his face that Antonella Barba's parents probably had when they Googled her last week.
7:41 -- Tonight's announcers for FSN New England: the veteran crew of Mike Gorman and Tommy Heinsohn. I'd tell you more, but I'm too delighted to see that Jeff Van Gundy finally shaved those five scraggly hairs on his bald spot and went with the Ed Harris look. Do you think it was a personal decision, or did his wife talk him into it? Let's give Mrs. Van Gundy a Tommy Point just to be safe.
7:43 -- Well, I'm positive the Celts are tanking this one because Brian Scalabrine is guarding Tracy McGrady to start the game. "That's a speed mismatch for McGrady," Heinsohn tells us. I think it's more of a speed catastrophe.
7:45 -- Five straight points to start the game for Paul Pierce. Here's what it's like to be a Celtics fan right now: Earlier today, I had a conversation with a friend about the best possible injury for Pierce that would (A) help our Oden-Durant chances, and (B) not damage Pierce long-term in any way. The answer? A broken left hand. So if anyone in Boston has a chance to accidentally break Pierce's left hand the next few weeks by accidentally slamming it with a door, please, feel free. It's for the best.
7:45 -- Shane Battier nails a 3-pointer. He's playing with Roy Firestone's hairline tonight.
7:52 -- Hey, here's a question: Instead of running ticket commercials featuring Jefferson, Pierce and Gerald Green, why don't the Celtics spring for some CGI and run doctored highlights of Oden or Durant lighting it up in a Celtics uniform, with the tagline, "Celtics basketball: There's a 50 percent chance you won't want to miss us next season!"
7:54 -- Delonte West challenges Yao on a wild drive for the second time. The results? A blocked shot and a line-drive layup that richocheted so hard off the backboard that it nearly killed Chuck Hayes. On the bright side, he took over the unofficial league lead in tattoos last week.
7:56 -- Good times so far: Not only are the Rockets leading by 10, but Tommy just compared T-Mac's sleepy expression to the one Willie Naulls used to have. This seems like a good time to mention that Willie retired 41 years ago. Not one, not two, but THREE generations of viewers didn't get that reference. I'm giving him a Billy Point for that one.
7:58 -- Has any athlete changed less over the past 15 years than Juwan Howard? He just drained a 15-footer -- throw some baggy shorts and a box haircut on him and I'd feel like we were watching the '93 NCAA Tournament. Remind me to find a place for him on the Tony La Russa All-Stars this year.
8:02 -- Jefferson swishes a turnaround over Dikembe Mutombo, who's almost as old as Willie Naulls and somehow slaps up these crazy 22-rebound games every once in a while. If he were a baseball player having a similar resurgence, we'd assume steroids or HGH were involved and make jokes about him constantly. With Dikembe? It's being treated like a statistical miracle. Seriously, did you ever think you'd see someone snatch Mutombo off your fantasy waiver wire again in this lifetime? What were the odds on that: 100,000-1?
8:06 -- Just a beautiful, driving bank shot by T-Mac in traffic to end the first quarter (Rockets 30, Celtics 22). Nobody makes it look easier than T-Mac. He's the Carlos Beltran of the NBA. By the way, tonight's game is presented by Tweeter in high definition. I wouldn't know this because only the hometown viewers in New England can access this feature on a special channel; it's not part of my DirecTV NBA League Pass even though I'm paying $180 for it. I mean, there are HDTV cameras there ... I have an HDTV tuner ... why can't I watch this game on HDTV? Does this make any sense?
8:10 -- Our first Rajon Rondo sighting. This is where you make a "You idiot, remember when you predicted him as a fantasy sleeper" joke. In the words of Mark McGwire, I'm not here to talk about the past. Or Dikembe Mutombo's present.
(Just kidding, Dikembe's not on steroids. No, really. I do not believe this to be true. It's all for comedy. You have to believe me.)
8:12 -- This is turning into the Mutombo Show. He just blocked a Gerald Green shot and quickly wagged his finger toward the stands like it was 1994. And that doesn't violate the taunting rules ... how??? I think he got grandfather-claused. Literally.
8:14 -- You know, it's strangely fun to watch Juwan Howard (an aging, undersized power forward) defend Ryan Gomes (an up-and-coming, undersized power forward). During breaks in the game, I wonder whether he'll sidle over to Gomes and tell him, "Just keep playing hard, somebody is going to wildly overpay you in a few years, just be patient ..."
8:16 -- Well, the Celts are losing by 18 and we don't have a single guy on the floor who's older than 22. This is the most relaxed I've felt during a Celtics game in two weeks. Let's pull my dad out of the stands and have him guard T-Mac for the second half to really bring this baby home.
8:27 -- Jefferson's numbers halfway through the second quarter: 13 points, 7 rebounds, 3 fouls drawn on Yao. Tommy sums it up best: "Nicely done by Al. He's getting all those little herky-jerky moves now." Exactly. Took Al nearly 27 months to embrace the power of the upfake and get those McHale-esque herky-jerky moves down. Now every team in the league has to double-team him at all times. And if you don't think he's cracking the top 40 in my annual "Trade Value" column this summer, you're crazy. Check out his splits compared with Dwight Howard's splits the past 10 weeks. No, really, check 'em out. I dare you.
8:29 -- Hey, you know who's one of the most underrated guys in the league? Chuck Hayes, that's who. Bangs the boards, solid defender, makes 3-4 hustle plays a game, doesn't do anything he can't do and his name makes him sound like the star of an ABC legal drama. Just a lot to like.
8:33 -- Funny replay of Gomes (who just twisted his foot) getting feedback on the injury from Wally Szczerbiak, who's really become the league's premier authority on knee, foot and ankle sprains over the years. That was like watching video of a young actress asking Paris Hilton why it hurts every time she pees.
8:35 -- A three-possession sequence for the ages: T-Mac easily beats Scalabrine off the dribble, drives to the basket, draws a foul and hits the shot ... Scalabrine launches an air ball ... Scal fouls T-Mac again on the other end. "Scal does so many good things for this ballclub," Tommy reassures us. He left out, "I just can't think of any right now."
8:39 -- Al's success (18 points, nine rebounds) leads to Tommy's first Dave Cowens story of the night. I had Sam Jones in the ESPN.com office pool.
8:42 -- Our halftime score: Rockets 62, Celtics 49. I'd be much more excited if the Grizzlies weren't getting trounced in Toronto right now.
Which reminds me: Has anyone investigated the Tony Barone hiring yet? Really, that was the best guy for the job -- a former college coach with no NBA head-coaching experience who hadn't been a head coach in eight years? If you're trying to tank the season, why be so blatantly obvious about it? And if you're going to be so blatantly obvious about it, why not go all the way with it and make him dress like Elvis for every home game?
8:50 -- The Sports Gal comes home with a coffee for me and says angrily, "I almost ran over Michael Rapaport again. It's gonna happen one of these times, I'm telling you."
(Should I explain this?)
(Yeah, screw it.)
Rapaport lives in our neighborhood and somehow morphed into the Sports Gal's ongoing archnemesis. Why? Because of his inability to look up while crossing streets because he's too busy talking on his cell phone and acting like "he's a hot s---" (her words). Throw in his general douchey demeanor and his New York roots and he's about three more "not looking when he's walking" moments away from getting pancaked by my PMS-ing wife. I'm not making this up. And yes, these are the things she'd be ranting about if she still had a place to rant. Let's give her a Tommy Point anyway.
8:55 -- My random halftime question: Did anyone else notice that Kobe has taken cheap shots at two foreigners (Marko Jaric and Manu Ginobili) and Mike Miller (who really SHOULD be a foreigner and probably could pull it off at parties) in the past calendar year? I'm waiting for Kobe to pull a Hardaway in an interview and tell Dan Le Batard, "Look, I hate foreigners. I hate them. I just do." Just remember we had this discussion when he knocks two of Carlos Delfino's teeth out in a couple of weeks.
8:58 -- Starting the second half, Houston quickly extends its lead to 20 ... you can almost see Pierce thinking to himself, "That's it, if we don't get Durant or Oden, I'm demanding a trade this summer." By the way, Yao is NOT moving well and is lugging around a knee brace that's the size of Verne Troyer. Don't rush to Vegas to slap down money on Houston's title odds just yet.
9:00 -- T-Mac shifts into "Screw it, we have this game, I'm not driving to the hoop anymore -- I don't want to get knocked over by this klutzy redheaded dude" mode. Probably the right move.
9:04 -- Seven straight from Pierce cuts Houston's lead to 12. Could somebody shoot him with a BB gun or something?
9:11 -- FSN comes out of a commercial with a "Gerald Green vs. Tracy McGrady for the first 90 games of their careers" graphic ... and wouldn't you know it? The stats are "remarkably similar" (Gorman's words), although they don't account for the fact that T-Mac was always an excellent defensive player for Toronto and Gerald is currently an atrocious defensive player. "I think Gerald is gonna be a replica of McGrady," Tommy reassures us. If you don't think Tommy has any qualms about comparing struggling Boston players to six-time All-Stars at the drop of a hat, obviously you're not familiar enough with his work. That's why we love him.
9:16 -- Seems like a good time to mention that Battier is 5-for-12 on 3s and Hayes has seven offensive rebounds already. Stick this one in the loss column. The only thing keeping me going? I'm waiting for one good Celtics play, followed by a cut courtside to Celtics superfans Mike Rotondi and Marty Joyce standing and cheering at midcourt and eventually exchanging one of those awkward white-guy high fives like the ones Phil Mickelson has with his caddie after a big putt. Those always kill me. They're like the Larry Bird and Fred Roberts of the courtside fans.
9:20 -- More bad (or is it good?) news for the C's: Not only are we trailing by 25, we lost Gomes (sprained foot) and Delonte (groggy from an errant Mutombo elbow) for the night. If I can cause two harmless injuries with every running diary, I might have to keep this going for the rest of the season! When's the next game?
(Random request: Somebody needs to launch a Web site listing everyone Mutombo has ever maimed, injured or knocked out with an elbow. ... It could be like the Web site that keeps track of everyone Jack Bauer ever killed.)
9:22 -- Tonight's Legal Sea Foods trivia question: Who's the only person who won consecutive MVPs playing for two different teams? That's easy: Moses Malone. I own the Legal Sea Foods question. Which reminds me, what about Henry Abbott leaving Moses off his top-10 centers ballot on ESPN.com this week and inadvertently setting the blog movement back 10 years? I know I abstained, but regardless of the scoring system, no Moses in the top 10???? Is there an explanation forthcoming? I'm deleting True Hoop from my favorite places until we get one.(Note: You can read Moses' angry response to Henry on Moses's blog at www.mmmbdgshhbshhmmmmvsbbsmm.com.)
9:23 -- Leon Powe hits a jump hook to cut Houston's lead to 25, followed by Tommy telling us, "He's such a nice kid, Leon." It's been that kind of season.
9:29 -- 9:29 -- The fourth quarter kicks off with a Sebastian Telfair cameo. It's like seeing Locke randomly appear out of nowhere on "Lost" this season. ... You don't even notice him anymore for a few minutes until you remember, "Wait, I thought he was supposed to be one of the stars of the show?" Just for my own sanity, let's look at Telfair's post All-Star splits compared with Brandon Roy, who was obtained by Portland with Boston's pick (No. 7) in the Telfair trade last summer:
• Roy: 7 games, 36.6 minutes, 16.6 points, 7.1 assists, 3.7 rebounds, 51.1 percent shooting.
• Telfair: 6 games, 13.5 minutes, 3.5 points, 2.0 assists, 0.7 rebounds, 27.5 percent shooting.
(Note: These are the things that happen when you deal with a team that initiates trade talks by sending you a DVD of "Through the Fire" with a note that says, "PLAY ME.")
9:32 -- With the Rockets leading by 29 in the final 10 minutes, Powe accidentally tumbles into Mutombo's knees; poor Dikembe goes down in a heap and can't get up. See, this is why I'm not allowed to announce NBA games -- I'd be talking in the Cookie Monster voice right now:
Ahhhhhhhhhh ... my knee hurts ... ahhhhhhhhhhhhh ... me don't like when my knee hurts ...
9:35 -- Boston's five right now: Rondo, Telfair, Green, Powe and Michael Olowokandi. Now that's the look of a team that's about to win the lottery! May 22, here we come! You can't stop us!
9:41 -- I know you've been waiting on my thoughts on the new Nike "Second Coming" commercial for weeks on end. Well, here they are ...
I love it.
Can't get enough of it.
Love the music, love the ridiculous shot of them walking down the airport runway, love the white jogging outfits, love how every guy has to get shown at least once so nobody's ego gets bruised, love Rasheed Wallace's "I can't believe I'm in a Nike commercial!" expression, love the contrived game action, and over everything else, LOVE the ultra-serious closeup of Kobe with the pursed lips. You can almost hear the director telling him, "All right, Kobe, need you to look serious here. Pretend you're walking out of that Eagle, Colo., courthouse. ... And ... ACTION!" My favorite basketball commercial of the decade. Hands down.
9:42 -- Coming out of commercial, we see a replay of Yao's finger getting bent back on a rebound and Yao screaming in pain, followed by Gorman reporting that Yao went to the locker room to get it checked out, then Tommy joking, "That was his chopstick finger, too, he may not be able to eat anymore!" and Gorman changing the subject as fast as humanly possible.
(The lesson, as always: It's never dull when anyone older than 70 is allowed near a microphone during a sporting event.)
9:46 -- After Rondo drains a jumper, Tommy tells us, "I wanna tell you, if Rondo starts making these shots, he is gonna be an All-Star player," keeping alive his streak of making that comment after every made Rondo jumper this season. All 12 of them.
(One of the funny subplots of the season: Tommy's unabashed devotion to Rondo's unselfish game and his thinly disguised loathing of Telfair's shoot-first game. It's been like listening to a father constantly raving about his son at Harvard and grunting every time someone asks about his son who ended up at Bunker Hill Community College. Thank god for Tommy -- he's made the most depressing Celtics season of all time at least 35 percent more entertaining, even during the times when he didn't mean it.)
9:52 -- Still trailing by 25 with three minutes to play, Tommy launches into his "Well, maybe we're getting killed tonight, but we have a good nucleus of good kids here and things are gonna turn around soon and we're in the right hands with Danny Ainge" speech, as contractually obligated by FSN and the Boston Celtics.
9:54 -- Wow! Tommy's still going. He's genuinely ticked at Sports Illustrated for slamming Danny and the direction of the franchise recently, even hissing, "I ... don't ... like ... Sports Illustrated!" Hey Tommy, it could have been worse: You could have eaten the shrimp at their Swimsuit Issue party last month.
9:55 -- After Green misses an off-balance jumper to finish with an ugly 1-for-14 shooting line, the FSN graphics guy quickly sends that T-Mac/Green graphic to the recycle bin of his computer.
9:56 -- Our final score: Houston 111, Boston 80. In other words ... mission accomplished. We're back on track, baby!
Does this mean I need to do a running diary for every Celtics game to make sure we keep losing and get pole position for the 2007 lottery? Nahhhhhhhhh. As my dad said last week, "If it happens, it happens ... you can't go crazy thinking about it." Words to live by. I think he deserves a Tommy Point.
Basketball Blog: Tuesday housecleaning
Mar. 7, 2007 | feedback
Some housecleaning on a Tuesday afternoon ...
• If you missed the end of the George Mason-VCU game Monday night, you missed the greatest random clutch performance in college hoops since Henry Steele came off the bench to win the climactic game in "One On One."
Here's what happened: GMU is leading by five and bringing the ball across midcourt with two minutes to play. Suddenly, VCU guard Eric Maynor strips the ball DJ-style, drives down for a layup and draws a foul for the potential three-point play. Maynor makes the free throw, hounds GMU's point guard off the inbounds pass, then pulls off another DJ-style pickpocket steal (this one was even better because it happened in the middle of the court) and flies in for the game-tying layup. You might see a pickpocket steal 10 times all season; Maynor did it on back-to-back plays in a do-or-die situation. Incredible. Amazing.
Now it's a tie game. GMU comes down and misses. Maynor brings the ball up, keeps it in his hands the entire time, works the clock down, beats his guy off the dribble and makes an impossible jumper in traffic for a two-point lead. Timeout, GMU. The Patriots are reeling. Now they need a 2-pointer to tie ... and they miss a wide-open 3. Who comes flying in for the rebound? Maynor. Who gets intentionally fouled? Maynor. Who makes the clinching free throws with 20 seconds left? Maynor. If you're scoring at home, that's nine straight points, two pickpocket steals and the game-clinching rebound in the final two minutes of a must-win game, as well as an inevitable ESPY nomination. If you missed it, check out the highlights. Robby Benson would have been proud.
(One other note from Monday's games: Maybe Santa Clara didn't upset Gonzaga, but the WCC title game featured a historic moment in the second half: that's right, a Double Whitewash! Every time that happens, the network showing the game should be forced to shift from color to black-and-white just to complete the effect.)
• Chad Ford made a salient point in his latest blog: The Oden-Durant debate has reached the point where it's impossible to guess who goes first until we know who's picking first. For instance, there's no doubt Memphis would take Oden because it desperately needs a center (same for the Hawks and Sonics), whereas Durant makes more sense for the Celtics, Bobcats or Bucks. In Philly's case, the question is moot because Billy King will screw up and end up taking Brandan Wright or Spencer Hawes. But you get the idea -- the No. 1 pick depends on the team.
Still, every reporter who discusses this topic with an NBA GM should remember: They're never getting an honest answer. Not even the dumbest GM (I'd mention a name here, but it wouldn't be fair to single out one dumb GM over the other 20 dumb ones) would be dumb enough to tell someone like Chad, "Honestly? I probably shouldn't be saying this, but we love Durant, we think he's going to be a superstar and we're going to take him if we get the first pick."
Think about this logically. Let's say you're Danny Ainge and you've fallen in love with Durant. (By the way, I believe this to be true.) Even if you DO want to take him over Oden, you can't tell anyone this. Why? Because your best-case scenario would be to land that No. 1 pick, convince everyone you're picking Oden, then eventually swap picks with the No. 2 team (assuming that No. 2 team is hot for Oden), pick up some extra goodies and end up with Durant anyway. It's the most logical business move. That's why every lottery team will pretend it has Oden ranked above Durant, even if it doesn't -- it wants to keep open its options for a draft-day trade, just in case. You can't trade down a spot if the team picking second knows you're taking Durant.
Translation: Don't believe ANYTHING you hear from a lottery GM about Oden or Durant for the next four months. Just ignore them.
(And if the GM of your favorite team is dumb enough to say, "You know what? We love Durant and we'd take him first," your team is probably in the wrong hands.)
• One more note on Chad: Contrary to what some readers seem to believe, we actually get along and exchange e-mails fairly regularly. He's one of my favorite writers on ESPN.com and works harder than just about anyone we have (including me). I've tweaked him over the years for the Darko/Pavel calls, as well as his infatuation with workouts and European players ... but I could be tweaked just as easily for my Morrison-Bargnani stance, my ongoing infatuation with Shaun Livingston (now in limbo) and everything else. I'd like to think we represent two distinct schools of thought about the draft process. I'm adamant that prospects should be judged by their body of work in college and that we make the mistake of overvaluing workouts and potential (especially with foreign players). I just feel like you can overthink this stuff and more of it is common sense than we believe. Chad is much more open-minded about foreign players, private workouts and the allure of TUP (tremendous upside potential).
Neither school of thought is right nor wrong -- like anything else, it depends on the player or players involved. In the case of Bargnani-Morrison, I gave Morrison too much credit for shining in a weak conference during a weak college hoops season, and didn't give Bargnani enough credit for being different than typical European forwards (he's actually a ball-busting Italian with a nasty streak). In the case of Darko-Melo, Chad became seduced by Darko's potential and ignored some of the common-sense aspects of Detroit's decision -- namely, that Darko was facing some legitimate obstacles that had nothing to do with his talent (moving to the U.S., riding the pine on a good team, dealing with the inevitable fallout from getting picked ahead of proven college guys like Melo, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh and learning how to stick up for himself as a big guy in the NBA). It wasn't a mortal lock that he would make it in the NBA. It just wasn't.
Anyway, Chad loves arguing about this stuff and so do I ... but it's never personal and I hope nobody out there believes that. It's all in good fun and we have a great deal of respect for one another, especially because we were two of the original lost-in-the-Internet guys from the late-'90s who actually made it into the mainstream. (We both started back when the Internet was like the Wild West, nobody linked to each other and you could only build readers on word of mouth.) It's also important to remember that Chad's top-100 rankings reflect the buzz around those players with GMs, scouts and everyone else. When he moved Spencer Hawes up to fourth that week, it's not because Chad considers him the fourth-best prospect, it's because Hawes played his way into the fourth spot and could actually end up going there because NBA teams are stupid. Which is CRAZY. But whatever.
• I was just kidding about purchasing a plasma in yesterday's blog, but wow ... the e-mails legitimately poured in. Just about everybody made the same point: Don't buy a plasma, buy an LCD because they last longer and the picture's a little better.
If you're interested, the most common plasma recommendations were for the 50-inch Pioneer Elite (the runaway winner) and the Panasonic 37- and 42-inchers. If you're looking for LCDs, definitely check out the Sony Bravia ones (we have a 36-incher in our bedroom and it's excellent), the Sharp Aquos or the Samsung 50-incher (a good bargain) and make sure you're getting one that's (A) HDMI-compatible (if you play video games) and (B) has the built-in HDTV tuner with 720p or 1080p resolution (almost all of them do). If you're looking for a five-figure plasma to impress your friends, supposedly Panasonic's new 65-incher is astoundingly cool. If you're looking for another bargain, Costco is selling the 60-inch Visios for under three grand.
(Note: I can't vouch for anything other than Sony because I'm extremely loyal to my favorite products -- I only purchase TVs from Sony; I only purchase laptops from IBM; I will always choose Dunkin Donuts over any other coffee place; I will always go for McDonald's over Burger King; I won't drink Bud Light or Pepsi out of loyalty to Miller Lite and Coke; I will only order New England clam chowder and never Manhattan clam chowder; and even when I'm drunk, I'll only bum Marlboro Lights or Marlboro Reds and would never be desperate enough to smoke Camels or Newports. I feel like you need to know these things.)
• You can stop sending me the Forbes link to the implausible "Best GMs" article, which was so patently absurd, it's not even worth discussing. There's a reason Forbes doesn't normally write about sports. Although I enjoyed this line from Washington reader Ken S.: "McHale heads the list followed by Billy King at No. 3. Apparently Ken Lay topped their CEO poll."
• Get your TiVo ready for Bucknell at Holy Cross, Friday, 4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2, winner advances to the NCAA Tournament! It's just too bad that Rob Stone and Bill Simmons won't be calling the action -- I could have broken Tommy Heinsohn's "most shameless homer of all time" benchmark for basketball announcing. They should have done an ESPN Full Circle and had us announce the game for ESPNU. Has an announcer ever gotten kicked off the courtside table for arguing with the refs before? Could have happened.
(Note: A few readers pointed out that Joe Lunardi's latest "Bracketology" column had No. 4 Texas pitted against No. 13 Holy Cross in Round 1. That's just cruel. I think Joe's trying to mess with my head.)
• After we added a correction that Duke fans believe that Billy Packer has been anti-Duke over the years, we received a bunch of e-mails confirming my original point that Packer has been pro-Duke with the notable exception of the 2001 title game against Arizona (when he refused to credit Duke and railed against the officiating). Multiple readers also pointed out that Packer plays in Coach K's charity tennis tournament every summer. So I'm going to stand by my original opinion because I've always believed that Packer was a Coach K apologist. The important thing to remember -- we can all agree that Billy Packer is a humorless, troublemaking curmudgeon.
• Mistakes in Monday's blog: I mistakenly wrote that OSU beat MSU on Saturday (it was Michigan); the last white center to make the All-Star team was Brad Miller (not Christian Laettner, who played forward for the Hawks the year he made it); it's Teresa Witherspoon (not "Weatherspoon"); and I should have written "non-foreign centers" instead of "non-Euro centers" in that section (which would have absolved Yao Ming and Andrew Bogut, among others). That's what happens when you make the crucial mistake of rushing a blog up when it's not quite ready yet. Won't happen again.
• The Duke grads are riled up because I wrote that I hated Duke. You're right, bad choice of words -- I should have written "disliked," "loathed" or even "abhorred." "Hate" is a strong word. Anyway, I feel like everyone has to pick sides in the UNC-Duke thing (much like with sodas, fast food, coffee and TVs as mentioned above), and I'm partial to UNC because I have multiple friends who went there and they've all brainwashed me to root against Duke. Which I do. Also, I think Coach K is a sniveling ninny. So I guess there's that. I don't feel like a true basketball fan should be allowed to remain neutral on this -- either you're against Duke or you're against UNC. It's one or the other.
(Well, unless you're Billy Packer and you're against both of them.)
• Thoroughly enjoyed this e-mail from Smitty in Jersey: "With March Madness upon us, I wanted to clue you in on a little-used stat that comes up most during tournament time. It's called a 'hand-gate.' A hand-gate is earned when a player (while on the bench) over-dramatically shields his ecstatic teammates from spilling onto the court during a big moment in the game. The all-time NCAA hand-gate leader is Cherokee Parks with 12. Of course, none of this is actually real -- my cousin Mike made it up."
• Some readers wonders why I raved about Al Thornton's 45-point game and ignored the fact that Scottie Reynolds dropped 40 on UConn last week. That's easy: It's much harder for an inside-out forward to crack 40 in a college game than a guard who can catch fire shooting 21-footers behind the 3-point line.
Which reminds me, Grant from Mayberry writes: "Welcome aboard the Al Thornton bandwagon. Too bad you were watching Durant all year when Thornton has been doing most of the same things all year."
Hey, Grant: Durant is five years younger than Thornton. You're missing the bigger point here, although we agree that Thornton has been overlooked.
• Received a fair number of e-mails about my under-22 Olympic team, which was admittedly thrown together in about 10 minutes. The players weren't as important as the overall point, but you're right -- if we're tossing together a team, we should make an honest attempt to come up with the best possible guys. In my opinion, Durant, Oden, the Wrights, Chris Lofton, Spencer Hawes and Chase Budinger are mortal locks. That's seven right there. We need two PGs out of the Mike Conley Jr., Darren Collison, Ty Lawson, D.J. Augustin group ... I think Conley and Collison are the steadiest picks, personally. So that makes nine. And we need Al Horford for another rebounder/low-post guy. That makes 10. Which leaves two remaining spots for perimeter shooters.
Originally, I had Jon Scheyer and Daequan Cook, but I'm not even remotely attached to either of them -- they were examples of the types of players you'd want at those spots (a pure shooter and an athletic guard) more than anything. So if you have any suggestions for those last two spots, e-mail me. It would be fun to come up with the definitive under-22 team.
• Some distressing news: Apparently CBS has Gus Johnson slated to do the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. After that, he loses his old spot in the regional semifinals and finals to James Brown. I wish I were making this up. Although if this leads to Gus leaving CBS so he can take over "Wide World of Sports" and announce cliff diving and motorycle jumps, I'm all for it.
• Just to clear something up: I abstained from voting for ESPN.com's "NBA Best Centers Ever" package because I'm a snob about stuff like this. A question like that can't be answered without specific guidelines -- for instance, are you talking about careers, or the ceiling of every center? Kareem had a better career than Walton, but if you were picking between them for one game and your life depended on it, you'd take Walton. There's no debate. Also, are we talking about the impact of the players when they played, or how they compared to every other great center? Russell and Wilt put up phenomenal numbers in the '60s, but you're telling me that Hakeem wouldn't have averaged a 45-25 in 1962? That's why I had to abstain. There's no real way to answer the question.
• An e-mail from Chris in Prairie Village (who attended the Texas-Kansas game):
"As much of a roller coaster as it looked like on TV, there's no way it compared to being there. I've been going to KU games since '92. My top four games: (1) Jacque Vaughn's game-winner vs. Indiana (the roof nearly came off the Fieldhouse); (2) Cal and Jason Kidd game, when Ostertag went coast-to-coast, solo, WITH A BEHIND-THE-BACK DRIBBLE to beat the defender, for the dunk (dogs and cats, living together ... MASS HYSTERIA); (3) the Georgia Tech OT game a couple of years back (audiologists all over the K.C. metro area started car shopping; (4) Texas.
"For the first 10 minutes, all the oxygen got sucked out of the gym every time the ball left Durant's hand -- home-team free-throw silence. Then he sunk whatever he happened to throw up, bouncing back down the court like he was on a pogo stick, while 16,000+ exhaled in a group 'what the ... ?' The crowd ramped the noise back up immediately, but he kept knocking us down over and over again. He was on pace to hang at least 60 on us until he apparently got bored and started dishing. Texas finished the half at 83 percent from the arc. Absolutely sick. The entire gym was breathing into paper bags.
"What few have mentioned is this: 8:30 into the second half, Durant only had two points prior to tweaking his ankle. Whether or not that means we would have kept him in check for the rest of the game is up for debate, but we did lock him down (as much as anyone can) for that period. Nevertheless, when he hit the deck, the entire crowd rooted for him to get back up -- some were even doing the 'we're not worthy' bow to him as he limped to the locker room. He even got applause on his return. Overshadowed in all this is the fact that Mario Chalmers decided to grow a pair the size of church bells and kick-start the entire Jayhawk squad. After the one [3-pointer] he hit where he started screaming at the top of his lungs, I knew we were safe. Anyway, I realize that I witnessed something amazing, but cell phone pics aren't gonna cut it -- I hope the Jayhawks win it all just so I can order the 'One Shining Moment'-style video of the '06-'07 season that captures a championship AND the Texas game. Amazing stuff."
And finally, some links to help you kill a Tuesday afternoon ...
1. Peter Vecsey rips the NBA refs a new one. Inept officiating continues to be the biggest ongoing problem in the NBA and nobody seems to care.
2. Jason from Richmond recommends another YouTuber who slapped together a nice variety of NBA videos, including clips from Magic Johnson's retirement and Larry Bird's retirement.
3. The K.C. Star had an absorbing feature about Kansas freshman guard Sherron Collins.
4. From the Denver Post: A scathing column by Mark Kizla about Carmelo Anthony's uninspired play over the past two months. If you remember, this was my biggest concen with an Iverson trade for the Nuggets -- how Melo would handle the threat to his alpha dog status. Well, we have our answer: Not well.
5. Alabama reader James Erwin sent this along: a Web site where you can purchase your very own League of Dorks championship ring!
6. Finally, please check out our good friends at bostonsportsmedia.com for all the details about Ron Borges' historic weekend at the Boston Globe -- when he wrote one of the most biased columns in the history of the paper (killing the Pats for signing Adalius Thomas, who was only the best defensive free agent available) AND handed in a Sunday football notes column in which he directly lifted material from another newspaper and earned himself a two-month suspension. Amazingly, those two columns ran in the same day! I feel like that Sunday paper could end up being a collector's item some day.
(And to answer your other question, "Yes, I'm excited for the Adalius Thomas and Wes Welker eras. Delighted, even.)
Basketball Blog: Weekend wrap show
Mar. 5, 2007 | feedback
Ten lingering thoughts from the weekend in college hoops:
1. The Kevin Durant Era has reached the point where I watch every Texas game with my TV room covered in protective plastic, like the kind used in mafia movies when they're bringing a stoolie into somebody's living room to whack him. I mean, did you SEE the first half of Saturday's Texas-Kansas game? Did you see him drop 25 in the first half against the deepest team in college hoops?
Everything crested with about seven minutes left in the half, when he pulled up and drained a ludicrous 27-footer from the top of the key, giving Texas a double-digit lead and prompting an immediate Kansas timeout. ... Durant swaggered his way around midcourt, staring into the stands and nodding at the Kansas fans. He wasn't even showing off as much as he was soaking it in. I'm playing in one of the most famous gyms in the country on CBS and kicking everybody's ass. Just an electrifying moment. There's officially no ceiling for him as an NBA player anymore. I'll believe anything.
Of course, Kansas came storming back in the second half (note to Rick Barnes: You can actually call timeouts during the game; I've seen other coaches do this and it works quite well), tied the game and then pulled away after Durant twisted his left ankle on a drive to the basket. (Watching at home, I reacted like the owner watching his prize horse tumble into a heap during the Kentucky Derby.) As weird as this sounds, I thought both teams came off well in the game.
Texas proved that ...
A. It could hang with an elite team on the road. We needed to see that once before the NCAA Tournament. Now we know.
B. As long as Durant is out there, it can beat anyone in any given game. In a related story, its odds to win the title have dropped from 50-to-1 to 12-to-1.
Kansas proved that ...
A. When it needed it, the Jayhawks can hit another gear that no other college team currently possesses (not even Florida). Barring a late-minute switch because of something that happens this week, I'm picking them to win the title.
B. It's the deepest, most talented, most flexible team in the country. For instance, the Jayhawks abandoned the pound-it-inside game plan when they fell behind by 16, switched to run-and-gun and dropped 48 points in the second half. Just an awesome performance.
2. Speaking of Durant, it's not too late for the USA Basketball Committee to switch gears and send an under-22 squad to represent us in the 2008 Olympics. Would you rather root for NBA stars stuck in an impossible "if we win, we're supposed to win, and if we lose, we screwed up" situation ... or an underdog team of college kids/NBA rookies featuring a starting five of Durant, Greg Oden, Julian Wright, Jon Scheyer and Darren Collison, with Brandan Wright, Spencer Hawes, Chase Budinger, Daequan Cook, Chris Lofton and D.J. Augustin or Mike Conley Jr. (we could only have one of the two) coming off the bench? Seriously, is there one basketball fan on the planet who wouldn't rather root for the kids next summer?
Either way, one thing's for sure: Durant needs to be on that team. I'm pretty sure we can find a place for a 6-foot-9 forward with 27-foot range in the 2008 Olympics.
3. My favorite Durant e-mail from a reader during Saturday's game, courtesy of Jared in Lawrence:
"Please tell me you watched the first half of the KU-UT game just now? That was unlike anything I've ever seen. I'm a diehard Jayhawk, yet I find myself strangely numb. That was unreal. It was like that time Baxter ate an entire cheese wheel and Ron Burgundy just threw up his hands and said, 'I'm not even mad, that's just amazing!' The GM that takes Oden first will be making a pantheon-level mistake."
4. I don't mean to pile on Billy Packer here -- OK, maybe I do -- but when you're already considered to be one of the biggest apologists on the planet for Duke basketball, is it really a good idea to keep making excuses for a Duke player after he just threw a malicious elbow at Carolina's best player with 15 seconds remaining in an 12-point game? That was one of the strangest sequences I've ever watched in a televised basketball game. Here's a rough transcript (I'm doing it from memory):
(We see a replay of Gerald Henderson measuring Hansbrough, flying over from six feet away, then delivering a Macho Man Savage-type elbow into Hansbrough's face one second after Hansbrough had already been stripped of the ball.)
Packer: "Yeah, he was going for the ball ... that was NOT intentional."
(We see another replay of the same thing from a different angle -- this time, it looks like Henderson could potentially be arrested for what just happened.)
Packer: "See, from that replay, there's NO QUESTION that Henderson was going for the ball ... that was definitely an accident.)
(Jim Nantz thinks about mentioning that Hansbrough had already been stripped of the ball before Henderson even raises his elbow, realizes that he has to announce games with Packer for the next four weeks, doesn't want it to be awkward, decides against saying anything at all, starts day-dreaming about the Masters.)
Packer: "Nope ... no way. He was going for the ball."
(Cut to a replay of Hansbrough walking off the court with his face broken in half.)
Packer: "Jim, if anything, that was probably Hansbrough's fault for going after Henderson's elbow with his face ..."
You get the idea. We have media criticism rules at ESPN, so I have to tread carefully here ... but have you noticed that Packer somehow turns himself into a major story before EVERY NCAA TOURNAMENT? As I wrote a couple of years ago, I was watching an Indiana State Final Four game from the '79 tournament and they made a big deal before the game about how Packer had publicly attacked Indy State's credentials for the entire tournament, and now they were in the Final Four and he was eating a little crow -- they even showed an awkward interview with him and Larry Bird after the game. This was 28 years ago!!!!!! What chain of events needs to happen for CBS to replace him with a more palatable, more enjoyable, agenda-less lead analyst? Does 100 percent of the country have to band together and say, "We're tired of this guy?" Or are we good at the current number of 97 percent?
(Note: After this column was posted, I received a flood of e-mails from Duke fans saying that Packer is NOT a Duke apologist -- in fact, he's considered to be anti-Duke and anti-UNC because he's a Wake Forest alum. I always thought he cowtowed to Coach K over the years, but I'll defer to the masses on this one. Maybe he's just a curmudgeon.)
5. Two other notes from the UNC-Duke game:
A. You can't exaggerate the whupping that Hansbrough delivered to Josh McRoberts during this game. I don't see either of these guys becoming NBA starters -- Hansbrough isn't a good enough athlete, and McRoberts is too soft -- but at least Hansbrough should evolve into a more polished version of a Madsen/Scalabrine-type bench player, one of those tough cookies who knows his limitations and doesn't do anything he can't do. McRoberts? Not a chance. He's like a homeless man's Darko Milicic. And that's not a compliment.
B. Congrats to Coach K for questioning why Hansbrough was still in the game and inadvertently using Isiah Thomas' "he was asking for it" defense. And the Duke fans wonder why everyone hates Duke. If the roles were reversed, and this had happened to McRoberts, Coach K would have shown up for the news conference covered in McRoberts's blood, fighting back tears, urging for the offending UNC player to be suspended for the entire ACC tournament and basically looking like Jackie Kennedy in Dallas after the JFK shooting. God, I hate Duke.
6. The UCLA fans are angry because I gushed about the Bruins in Friday's blog, which apparently caused them to crap the bed in Washington 24 hours later. Did you know I could control the destiny of sporting events like that? Me neither. In a weird way, the Bruins proved my point -- they're impossible to blow out. Even on the road. In this particular game, they survived a 6-for-29 shooting performance from its guards (Affallo and Collison) and still somehow attempted a game-tying 3-pointer in the final minute.
The bigger issue: Every time I watch the Bruins, I say to myself, "They're one big guy short." The Huskies were a bad matchup because of seven-foot center Spencer Hawes (13 points, 15 boards) and 260-pound forward Jon Brockman (20 points, 13 boards). UCLA could have handled one of them, but it couldn't handle both at the same time. Now, it's possible for the Bruins to sneak through the entire tournament without facing an opponent that features two talented low-post players ... but I doubt it. Let's say they land in the same bracket with UNC and have to play the Tar Heels to make the Final Four. Is there any way they're stopping Hansbrough AND Brandan Wright? No way. I don't see any way they'd beat the Tar Heels unless their guards shot the lights out.
7. One more note on the Huskies: They're your typical Pac-10 team (good at home, awful on the road, one good player short ... although Arizona is the complete opposite and somehow just as flawed). I don't see Washington doing anything in the tournament (if it even makes it). But Hawes has been growing on me all season.
When Chad Ford tossed him into his top 10 earlier in the season, naturally, I was dubious because we've been burned so many times by white centers: Eric Montross, Chris Mihm, Shawn Bradley, Evan Eschmeyer, Alec Kessler, Greg Ostertag, Todd Fuller, Mike Doleac, Scot Pollard (it's an endless list). ... Best-case scenario, you might end up with someone like Chris Kaman or Joel Przybilla (both of whom were top-10 picks). Still, Hawes has a variety of post-up moves; he can score with either hand; he's a surprisingly good athlete and an excellent passer; he plays with genuine fire; he's a good shot blocker; and he runs the floor well for a big guy. He brings more to the table than any non-black, non-Euro center prospect since Raef LaFrentz in 1998. There's just a lot to like with the Hawes package -- he's like a talented Chris Mihm.
At the same time, Chad just moved Hawes to No. 4 on his top 100, arguably his biggest reach on ESPN.com since he was advocating Pavel Podkolzine for the top five three years ago. Again, I like Hawes as a prospect ... but over Jo Noah and Julian Wright? That's insane. I can't wait to exchange angry e-mails all week with Chad about this. Look, we haven't seen a white, U.S.-born center make the All-Star team since Brad Miller. Before that, it was Mark Eaton in 1989 ... and he was 7-foot-6. Before that, you'd have to go back to Kevin McHale and Bill Laimbeer. Now we're sticking a white center into the top five of the most loaded draft of the decade? I'm going out on a limb and calling this a horrific mistake.
As for the racial implications of the previous two paragraphs, whaddya want from me? Plodding, semi-athletic 7-footers simply aren't effective anymore and haven't been for some time -- doesn't matter if it's Ostertag, Adonal Foyle, Rasho Nesterovic, Rafael Araujo or whoever else. You need to be able to run the floor, block shots, rebound in traffic and play above the rim at that spot. If you can't do those things, you better have some girth and a killer post-up game like Eddy Curry. For whatever reason, every white center prospect from the past 15 years -- with the exception of Jeff Foster, LaFrentz and Mihm -- has been one of those plodding, old-school center types. And it took until the middle of this decade for teams to realize they were wasting high picks on them. Now we have Hawes, who isn't a plodding, old-school type right now ... but what about eight years from now, when he fills out and doesn't move as well? Just from the history of that position, he's a much bigger risk than Wright or Noah in my opinion. We'll see.
8. Speaking of Noah and Wright, I keep getting e-mails from Kansas fans and Florida fans that ...
A. Noah has been battling an upper-respiratory infection the past few weeks, which would certainly explain his lack of energy. He looked like himself during the decisive Kentucky win Sunday, so maybe there's something to it. I still believe that he needs a big tournament to play himself back into the top four (even if he's still No. 3B on my board). I also think he needs to grow a goatee or something; with the look he has going now, it feels like he should be chest-bumping Teresa Witherspoon after every dunk.
B. Julian Wright promised his parents that he'd graduate in three years and is actually on pace to do so. According to everyone there, he's not coming out. Whether that's wishful thinking remains to be seen.
(By the way, before Wright makes that decision this spring, somebody needs to sit him in a room, tie him in front of a television and force him to repeatedly watch the YouTube clip of Shaun Livingston blowing out 45 different ligaments in his knee last week. You can always bank on going back to school in the summers and get your degree. You can't always bank on the fact that your body will remain healthy.)
9. Greg Oden showed a little somethin'-somethin' down the stretch of OSU's come-from-behind win over Michigan. Seemed legitimately interested in the result of the game. I thought that was encouraging. And while we're here, I thoroughly enjoyed this e-mail from NYC reader Alex:
"I was watching 'The Princess Bride' on TV the other day and thought, what if Oden has been fooling all of us these past few months? Can't you imagine the following exchange in the NCAA Tournament?
"Greg Oden: You are wonderful.
"Kevin Durant: Thank you; I've worked hard to become so.
"Greg Oden: I admit it, you are better than I am.
"Kevin Durant: Then why are you smiling?
"Greg Oden: Because I know something you don't know.
"Kevin Durant: And what is that?
"Greg Oden: I ... am not left-handed.
(Tears the wrist guard off his right hand and immediately takes over the game.)
10. A couple of scattered thoughts and I'm done ...
A. I've only seen bits and pieces of Al Thornton, and I know he's 23 years old, and I know the game went into OT, and I know Miami sucks ... but 45 points in a college basketball game? I'm officially intrigued. Al, I have the TiVo set for your next game.
B. If you missed previous entries in this blog, jump to the top right of this page and look for the little calendar. If there's a link under the date, that means I wrote something that day. You can also look up the entries from last month by clicking on the "February 2007" link. We don't have a print button for the blog, but if you press the left button of your mouse, copy over the entire page of text, then press your control and P buttons at the same time and click the "selection" button of your print menu, you can easily print out that day's blog. It's really not hard.
C. Not that I'd ever advocate wagering on college sports, because we know it's an absolute no-no, even if the newspapers print the spreads every day and Vegas accepts wagers on the games, and anyone with even a rudimentary sense of how to navigate the Internet can open an online gambling account, so the best thing we can collectively do is stick our heads in the sand and pretend none of this stuff is happening ... but seriously, how was St. Mary's favored over Santa Clara in the WCC semifinals Sunday night? If gambling wasn't illegal, I would have jumped on the Broncos +1.5. It was almost like free money. Man, it's just too bad gambling is illegal. What a shame.
(On an unrelated note, I'm buying a new plasma TV this week. If anyone has any suggestions, please e-mail me.)
D. That reminds me, ESPN is showing the WCC finals tonight -- Gonzaga against Santa Clara, playing on a neutral site in Portland in front of at least 200-225 people, 150 of whom work for the WCC. Feel the excitement of do-or-die WCC action! They could have played this tournament outdoors in Vancouver and drawn more fans. Anyway, you might remember me touting Santa Clara's praises a few weeks ago: they're playing for a lame-duck coach in his final season; they don't have a scorer averaging more than 11 a game; everyone on the team looks like they just left the set of "Maui Fever." On the flip side, the Zags looked awesome against an overmatched San Diego team that has looked like it was trying to get its coach fired for about five weeks.
But you know what? I'm sticking with my original prediction: Santa Clara somehow shocks the Zags, sneaks into the tournament and topples a high seed in Round 1 as everyone watching in bars across America says to each other, "Wait a second, are they throwing up a whitewash right now?"
Yes. Yes, they are.
(Tonight's upset special: Santa Clara 70, Gonzaga 65.)
Basketball Blog: Vegas follow up
Mar. 2, 2007 | feedback
I hate writing a rebuttal to another writer's column. I hate it. These days on the Internet, people spend far too much time writing about other writers instead of just writing about sports. Pretty soon, there will be Web sites devoted to writers writing about writers who write about other writers. We're not headed in the right direction.
At the same time, I couldn't let Scoop Jackson's "Vegas wasn't that bad" column just fade away without disputing two crucial pieces of his argument:
Piece No. 1: Scoop's assertion that "only" 403 people were arrested during NBA All-Star Weekend, a number apparently obtained from Deputy Lt. E. Sterr Bunny of the Las Vegas Police Department. I don't think it's very smart to base the premise of a column around a leap of faith that Vegas police reported every single crime, mugging, brawl, assault, theft and indiscretion from that weekend (even the ones for which the perpetrators weren't caught). Besides, how many arrests can you have when there weren't enough cops in the first place? Almost all of the police were concentrated between Mandalay Bay and MGM, with everyone walking the other half of the Strip (from Bellagio to the Wynn) apparently expected to fend for themselves.
As Cavs beat writer Brian Windhorst pointed out this week, there was a lawlessness and lack of decency along the Strip almost defied description. (Hell, even some of the players were scared -- check out the comments from Tracy McGrady and Rafer Alston in the Houston Chronicle.) Did those 403 "reported" arrests cover everyone who robbed cab drivers, menaced tourists in unpatrolled parking garages, pawed women's breasts, started fights in cab lines, skipped out on restaurant bills and everything else? In my opinion, no. Everything I witnessed and wrote about last week was backed up by scores of other writers and media people.
Seriously, does anyone believe Vegas would accurately report arrest figures when the city was using that weekend as an audition for an NBA franchise? Since when did Vegas become a bastion of integrity? It's Vegas! That's why we love the place -- because it's NOT a bastion of integrity, remember? I'm trusting the eyewitness accounts of people who were there -- friends, friends of friends, readers and other writers -- over a dubious arrest figure from a woefully unprepared city.
Piece No. 2: Scoop's insinuation that certain media members were intimidated by the blackness of the event and ended up stereotyping hip-hop culture with phrases like "The Hip-Hop Woodstock" (I wrote that one) and "The Black KKK" (Jason Whitlock wrote that one and, by the way, he's black). I found this interesting because Scoop wrote in his original All-Star column that (A) somebody joked at one of his dinners that their casino was "South Central," and (B) Vegas was a "four-day Freaknic [sic]."
The "South Central" reference needs no further explanation, although it was a terrible Glenn Plummer movie and that probably needs to be mentioned. "Freaknik" was started by African-American college students in Atlanta in the early '80s; they had a noble dream of turning Freaknik into an annual party weekend, almost like a Black Mardi Gras. And for a few years, they actually pulled it off. By the mid-'90s, the event became so overcrowded and dangerous that Atlanta cops legitimately couldn't police the crush of people, leading to negative press and a groundswell to disband the event that didn't fully take hold until a brutal rape in '99. That was the final straw for Freaknik.
Needless to say, comparing All-Star Weekend to Freaknik isn't the most flattering comparison. Scoop still made that connection Feb. 20. Eight days later, here's how Scoop started his Feb. 28 column:
- As the reports continue to flow from the activities during NBA All-Star Weekend, the rage begins to build.
Hip-Hop Woodstock. The Black KKK. Weekend leaves NBA with a black eye.
What? Seriously? For real?
As difficult as it is not to turn this generalization of the entire hip-hop culture into an issue of race, let's be honest, it is about nothing else.
The generalization of the entire hip-hop culture? Wait, wasn't this the same guy who compared All-Star Weekend to a four-day Freaknik? No wonder he ended his column with a "pot calling the kettle black" reference ... perhaps it was a Freudian slip.
Here's the sad thing: There was a good follow-up column that needed to be written about Vegas. The NBA was unfairly blamed for the general craziness of the weekend, with the Pacman Jones incident getting the most play ... like it was the NBA's fault that an NFL star caused the biggest riot of the weekend. The NBA didn't screw up; Vegas screwed up. The city failed to stack the Strip and the surrounding parts of the city with enough cops and security guards, and they made the mistake of hoping everyone would act appropriately.
For any other weekend, that was a reasonably sound game plan. For a weekend in which the NBA All-Star Game was the THIRD biggest event behind Chinese New Year and the Fashion Convention? Not a good idea. If you owned a car and resided within driving distance of Vegas, you needed only to find a space in a garage and you were good to go for the weekend, even if you didn't have a place to sleep. Contrary to public belief, New Orleans won't be as chaotic an All-Star destination because the city will flood downtown with cops -- no way the Big Easy makes the same mistake as Vegas did -- and because out-of-towners won't be able to cruise into the city and park downtown without any trouble. Over everything else, that's where Vegas screwed up.
So who gets blamed? Naturally, the NBA. The league's fundamental issue has remained the same for four decades: It's a league of mostly black players marketing itself to a mostly white audience and a mostly white media. That delicate balance was the premise of David Halberstam's watershed sports book "The Breaks of the Game," which was published 25 years ago, back when MJ was playing for Carolina and Michael Jackson was on his second nose. Nothing has really changed. Just look at the way Iverson's credentials were belittled when Philly shopped him last December, or the comically skewed reaction to a Nuggets-Knicks brawl that wasn't one-tenth as violent as the Senators-Sabres brawl last week. Certain media members will always delight in sticking it to the NBA, with the underlying theme being, "Sorry, I just can't identify with those black guys."
I wish Scoop had tackled this subject, asking why some media members gleefully used All-Star Weekend as their latest excuse to crush the league. Instead, he played the race card, based his premise on a dubious statistic and came off misguided. Once upon a time, the late Ralph Wiley repeatedly proved an African-American sports columnist could write intelligently about racial issues without using his skin color as a crutch. After Ralph passed away three years ago, Scoop Jackson vowed to carry Ralph's torch on Page 2.
I just wish he'd brought that torch to Vegas.
Watched three college hoops games since my last report on Tuesday. Some scattered thoughts ...
I can't get over what's happening to Florida. Everyone keeps saying, "no, no, no, they'll be fine, they did this last year, they're just bored, they'll turn it on in March." Um ... have you watched these games? They're a mess. Maybe the LSU game was a mail-in job, but I thought the Gators were trying against Tennessee and still got their butts kicked. The more I watch them, the more I find myself wondering if they have the wrong mix of players. Their three low-post guys (Jo Noah, Al Horford and Chris Richard) always seem to be getting in each other's way. Their guards have been exceptionally sloppy and haven't been making their threes. And Corey Brewer has been wildly disappointing on both ends -- especially on defense, where he fell asleep so many times against Tennessee that Dick Vitale called him out. I mean, when you get ripped by Dickie V, you know you're doing something wrong.
Comparing them to the other top teams, everyone else has a creator who can get a good shot (or get somebody else a good shot) when his team absolutely needs it. Texas has D.J. Augustin and Kevin Durant. OSU has Mike Conley. Wisconsin has Alando Tucker. UCLA has Darren Collison. Texas A&M has Acie Law IV. Carolina has Ty Lawson. Kansas has about 3-4 options depending on who's hot. And so on and so on. Well, who do the Gators have? Every time they need a basket, they pound the ball down low to Noah or Horford, the defense pounces on them with a double-team and there's no Plan B. Maybe this worked last year, but that's the thing -- it isn't last year anymore. It's exceedingly possible that last year's title can be explained like so: They were a good team that caught fire for two weeks during a particularly crappy year of college hoops. Anyway, I think they're in legitimate trouble.
One more Florida note: Noah is quietly playing himself out of the top 5. Nobody is wasting a top-5 pick on a more polished version of Mikki Moore. Not this year.
(The irony of ironies: Phoenix is sitting there with Atlanta's pick in the 6-7 range thinking, "Keep dropping! Keep dropping!" Stick him on a good team and he'll thrive. On a bad team? I'm not so sure anymore.)
UCLA fans are like Toronto Raptors fans: There are more of them than you'd ever think, they take every slight personally, and they'll absolutely keep sending angry e-mails to people like me until their team is given the credit they deserve. Even my accountant Tony (a UCLA fan) sent me a mean e-mail when I didn't mention the Bruins in Tuesday's column, telling me in no uncertain terms, "I'm going to butcher your taxes this April unless you write something." OK, he didn't say that. But he did tell me to move back to the East Coast if I was going to keep ignoring the Bruins. I was wounded.
Anyway, I called an audible and TiVo'ed the UCLA game Thursday night. The reason I haven't been monitoring them is simple: the Pac-10 sucks. Don't let anyone tell you differently. For instance, Washington State's team looked like an intramural team of stoners who would give themselves a name like "The 420 All-Stars" -- they even had one starting forward with a scraggly beard who looked like he should have been hanging out on a street corner trying to sign people up for Greenpeace. UCLA is considerably better than anyone else in that conference. Which isn't really that interesting in the big scheme of things. That's why I didn't write about them yet.
Here's the most interesting thing about them in relation to last year's team: They lost Jordan Farmar to the Lakers and they're much better off. Why? Because Darren Collison gets to play all the time now. In Thursday night's road win, Collison was the dominant player on the court, even if his stats (7 points, 8 assists) didn't reflect it. He's an old-school point guard who controls every aspect of the game, never turns the ball over, never shows off, never even changes his expression, doesn't give a crap about shots and only cares about running his team. Needless to say, I love the guy -- his decision-making is freakishly good for college basketball. He always makes the right choice. He's steady. And those traits carry over to that entire team -- they're just one of those well-coached, well-oiled, well-run teams that never beats itself and makes opponents pay for every mistake.
After Tuesday's column, when I wrote the section that Texas A&M and Wisconsin were the only two blowout-proof teams in college basketball this season, some UCLA fans wondered why I didn't include the Bruins in that group. You know what? They're right. Nobody's blowing out UCLA. They're too smart and too good. Whether they have enough size to win a championship ... that's a whole other story. I say no.
(One more thing about Collison: Currently he's ranked No. 38 on Chad Ford's Top 100, 17 spots behind Acie Law IV. That's not a reflection of Chad -- he talks to GMs and scouts, gets a feel for what they're thinking, then makes his list accordingly. Which is fine. We already knew that NBA teams are dumb. I just know that Law and Collison will eventually be remembered as two of the better guards from this year's draft class. Too bad there's not a way to wager on this.)
I can't write coherently about this game, so allow me some disjointed paragraphs.
1. Out of the 10 most exciting basketball games I've seen this winter (college or pro), the Texas Longhorns and the Phoenix Suns were involved in nine of them. This particular one could have been No. 2 behind the Suns-Nets triple-OT game -- it had everything you'd ever want from a college hoops game. Well, except for Erin Andrews.
2. If Acie Law IV isn't one of the top 10 picks in this year's draft, I give up. He's like a cross between Damon Stoudamire (back when he still had his fastball) and Sam Cassell (in the testicles department), and if you didn't get goosebumps during the replay of him screaming "That's what I do! That's what I do!" at his teammates after draining one of his life-saver threes in Austin, I don't know what to tell you. You could go to war in the playoffs with this guy for the next decade.
3. It's no secret that Texas has become my favorite college hoops team; my man-crush on Durant has reached the point that I should probably remain at least 100 yards away from him at all times. So I finally fall for a college hoops team, and just my luck ... they have a crappy coach! It's like my destiny in life to root for poorly coached basketball teams. The way Rick Barnes butchers this team on a game-to-game basis is unconscionable. Seriously, did you SEE Wednesday night's game? What was your favorite bad coaching moment? Acie Law being repeatedly allowed to shoot game-tying threes from his favorite spots on the floor? Durant going 4-5 straight possessions in OT without touching the ball? D.J. Augustin being allowed to recklessly drive to the hoop again and again when he's playing with the most unstoppable college scorer in 40 years?
I asked this question a few weeks ago, and I'm asking it again now: How can you not run more plays for Kevin Durant? Post him up and he has 27 different ways to score. Curl him off picks and he makes 15-footers like they're layups. Spread the floor out, let him handle the ball at the top of the key and he can pull up and swish 25-footers over anyone. THE GUY IS A SURE THING!!!!!!!! Why are they giving him a degree of difficulty? Do they have plays in their playbook called "Durant stands frozen 25 feet from the basket while other guys dribble aimlessly" and "half-assed pick-and-roll that leads to nothing" and "Durant posts up while the point guards stare him down, then reverse the ball the other way?"
I can't handle it. Watching Texas screw up the Durant Era is like watching a guy spend three straight hours buying drinks and working it with a girl who already announced, "Sure, I'll sleep with you." In other words, WHY ARE YOU MAKING THIS HARD????? Seriously, I feel like Barnes should resign. He's overmatched. He's Dubya-esque. It's a disgrace. They're going to get bounced from the NCAA Tournament this month solely because Barnes has no idea how to get Durant the ball ... and even worse, doesn't seem to feel any pressing need to get Durant the ball. And since Durant is a good teammate, and he's not one of those guys who would scream at a teammate, "Look, get out of my way and give me the f---ing ball," we get to watch him stand around in close games while opposing coaches think to themselves, "Phew, I'm glad Rick Barnes is over there."
4. With the Durant-Oden battle, I keep coming back to the alpha dog thing. When Durant buried the 26-footer to seemingly put that game away in regulation in the last 12 seconds, didn't you KNOW that was going in? When he's shooting free throws in close games, aren't you shocked when he misses one? When he slapped the head of his teammate who airballed a jumper, wasn't that an MJ-esque moment or am I crazy?
I don't know how many times I need to write it, but I'm going to keep writing: Sometimes in life, you just know. Durant is going to become one of the most memorable NBA players of all time. I really believe that. In a weird way, it's almost better for him to get drafted behind Oden -- he'll have a chip on his shoulder for the rest of his career, and as we're seeing with the LeBron Era right now, that Shoulder Chip is much more important than we want to believe. And as I wrote on Tuesday, because of the questions surrounding Oden's wrist and how much it's affecting his play, NBA GMs are going to be terrified to pass Oden up in four months, simply because they won't be sure what they're passing up, so it's much safer just to take him.
Which made me realize something: In the 2007 Draft, you're better off with the second pick. Not only will you end up with Durant, you're getting Durant with a chip on his shoulder because he didn't go first. Now that, my friends, is winning the lottery.
1. Not to sound like Chris Farley, but remember the time my dad and I really wanted the Celtics to draft Brandon Roy because we both loved him in college and thought he was a can't-miss pro ... and then they gave the pick away for Bassy Telfair so they could save $20 million? Good times. Well, Seattle's Steve Kelley wrote a gushing feature over the weekend about Roy that I mailed to dad on Monday. Here was his response: "Just what I needed to start a Monday morning."
2. From Kent in Boston: "Did you see this Chris Russo rant regarding Pacman Jones in Vegas? Please watch the whole thing, it gets better as it goes on. Please also link it to your readers. You've never provided an actual link to Mike and the Mad Dog. This is a perfect example of Mad Dog's brilliance."
3. If you're a fan of crisp, well-done reporting, please read Michael O'Keefe's feature about Pacman Jones' Vegas incident from last Sunday's NY Daily News. Thought this was really well-done.
4. Numerous readers sent this one along: An astonishing feature about Spencer and Brody from "The Hills" in Details magazine It's incredible. It's unbelievable. It's life-altering. At this point, the only way their careers can end in a satisfying way is if the words "prison" and "rape" are involved.
5. Three worthy Kevin Durant pieces: Tim Cowlishaw's game column from the Texas A&M game, which was a really good deadline effort ... Andy Katz's feature about following Durant around on the day of that same game ... and Kevin Robbins' extended feature called "The Making of Kevin Durant."
6. The NBA.com guys were ticked that I never linked to their Dunkathon page, and rightly so ... it's awesome. My favorite section was the In-Game Dunks, which includes a dunk that sends Larry Legend absolutely SPRAWLING and immediately vaulted into my top 20. Please check that one out. It's No. 4 at the 1:19 mark.
7. Here's the DJ Tribute video that the Celtics ran before the Knicks game on Wednesday night. Thought this was really good. Although I will always associate that Green Day song with "Seinfeld."
8. Finally, Shawn from New York passed this one along: "Check out this guy's youtube videos. I've been watching them all afternoon. Most are short, but he has a ton of CBS intros to big NBA games from the 1980s -- ones from before Games 4 and 7 in the 1984 Finals, before Game 6 of the '85 Finals (ah, finally, sweet revenge for the Lakers), Game 2 of the Celtics-Bulls series in '86, and many many more. Plus he has many random old NBA ones that are also cool, and allowed me to remember a time when the greatest thrill in life was listening to Brent Musberger introduce an upcoming playoff game."
(Also: Do yourself a favor and check out the '83-84 season recap montage. Great highlights, great music. And it's always riveting to watch the '85 lottery -- although they chopped out the part where Stern froze the envelope. Hmmmmm.)