Welcome to the Basketball Blog

During Wednesday night's Duke-Carolina game, Dickie V called this year's freshman class "the best freshman class since I've ever been on television." Which dates back to 1879, if you're scoring at home. But it's been a rare double blessing for the college game, which now features two superduperstars (Greg Oden and Kevin Durant) and a number of other stud freshmen that beefed up the talent pool to its highest level since the early '90s.

Meanwhile, the NBA's main objective for the age limit has been realized -- namely, that we're getting to know future superstars before they actually enter the league. We're forming opinions on them. We're learning about them. In some cases (like myself with Durant), we're becoming fans of them. And that's a HUGE deal. The age limit wasn't about protecting these kids as much as cultivating them as properties over the long haul. For example, what would have been better for the league -- Durant getting drafted by the Raptors and playing 25 up-and-down minutes a game (like Bargnani right now), or Durant kicking butt in college and turning himself into a national phenomenon, someone who has every diehard basketball fan checking schedules to see when Texas is playing next? It's a no-brainer. Can you imagine a better scenario for the NBA than people spending the next five months arguing about Durant vs. Oden?

Well, that's exactly what will happen. Not only has "Durant vs. Oden" been the most important sports debate of 2007, that question has sucked me back into college hoops again. I give a crap. And not just because the immediate destiny of the Boston Celtics will be determined on May 22nd -- this is a whole other story -- but because it's an extraordinary sports debate. Who would you rather have? Who has a higher ceiling? Who's a safer pick? Are we overrating or underrating them? Anyway, I'm throwing myself into this thing and resurrecting the old "More Cowbell" blog as an all-basketball blog. It could last a few weeks, it could last through March Madness, it could last through the draft. I don't know.

BILL ON ESPN RADIO
Bill talked about fantaking, his beloved Celtics and Greg Oden and Kevin Durant on ESPN Radio. Insider

What are my ultimate goals?

1. To answer the "Durant vs. Oden?" question definitively and indisputably.

2. To figure out which college teams could win the whole shebang next month.

3. To subject you to my ongoing fantanking obsession with the Celtics, which has become unhealthy to the point that I burned out my friends and my father. None of them want to discuss it with me anymore. So now, I'm going to burn you out.

4. To watch at least one college hoops game (sometimes two) per day and post my thoughts here (when warranted).

5. To throw in some relevant NBA commentary when warranted.

And that's it. Here are my notes on three college games that I watched this week. Please note that this post is longer than the subsequent ones because it's really three posts stuffed into one. Anyway ...

FEB. 7: NORTH CAROLINA (#5) AT DUKE (#15)

Setup: Do you even need one? I like the UNC-Duke rivalry because everyone picks a side and digs in, and that's the way it is until you die whether you're a fan, player, coach, professor or whomever else. With the Yankees and Sox, they pretend it's a rivalry -- and for the fans, it definitely is -- but how much bad blood can there be when someone like Johnny Damon switches teams with no real repercussions? Imagine Coach K resigning from Duke to take over the UNC job, or Brandan Wright deciding that he hated UNC and wanted to transfer to Duke ... I mean, would that EVER happen? Duke and UNC are like the Crips and Bloods, only if everyone was driving Land Rovers and wearing hoodies.

Recap: Duke jumps out 15-6, crowd goes crazy ... UNC giving up open threes and struggling to push the pace (looking more out of control than anything) ... Tyler Hansbrough 4 points, 0 rebounds at 15-minute mark, second half ... wait, here comes UNC! ... 52-52 and UNC's athletes are taking over ... bad sign for Duke that it played out of its mind at home and is losing ... Ty Lawson with two killer crunch-time drives to clinch the game ... Duke just didn't have the horses ... final score: UNC 79, Duke 73.

Random thoughts ...

1. I don't see how anyone can call themselves sports fans and not watch these Duke-UNC games. Two standout moments in this one: A) when Duke's Brian Zoubek and UNC's Reyshawn Terry tied up a loose ball, landed on one another and both refused to let go (even after the ref called a jump ball); and B) a great replay sequence of Roy Williams exhorting his team from the UNC bench (screaming "Come on!!!!!!!" with his fists balled, almost like a boxing trainer in the 12th round or something), followed by Josh McRoberts crying into a towel because he was so frustrated that he'd picked up a fourth foul. Great energy from start to finish. And yes, you read that correctly -- McRoberts cried during the game. I blame Adam Morrison.

2. The Tar Heels could be dangerous next month because of three guys: a serviceable low-post player (Hansbrough, who had a quiet 16 points), a slithery freshman forward projected as a top-5 pick (Wright, good for a 19-9), and a raw freshman PG who can get to the rim and looks like Ray Felton 2.0 (Lawson, who had 15 points and 8 boards). So they're never out of any game and have the depth to wear weaker teams down (as Duke found out). Their main concerns are poor 3-point shooting and a lack of experience; I could see them being exposed in the tournament by a more experienced team that forces them to make 20-footers (like Texas A&M -- more on the Aggies in a second).

As for Duke, it's a bad sign when you play like that at home, get a career-high 26 points from your freshman shooting guard (Jon Scheyer, a more palatable J.J. Redick), force a bunch of bad shots and turnovers ... and at the 10-minute mark, the game's a tossup. The Blue Devils are missing one athletic scorer who can carry them for 2-3 minutes at a time, especially at the end of games. (Actually, they always seem to be missing a guy like this -- even when they recruited Corey Maggette, he fled after one season and the Duke fans realized they weren't ready for Maggette.) But this is the second time I've watched them this year (saw the Virginia Tech loss as well) and I've been underwhelmed both times. They're a year away. At least.

3. Sadly, no Erin Andrews for this one. Couldn't she be the sideline reporter for every ESPN game? What's stopping this from happening? Travel? Money? Why couldn't they emulate what CBS did with John Madden, buy her a luxury bus, call it the ErinMobile, then assign her to seven games a week so she could travel the country enriching everyone's lives?

4. A fun question for you and your friends: Who's going to suck more in the pros, Josh McRoberts or Tyler Hansbrough? I say McRoberts -- he looks like the next Billy Curley to me, and there's a decent chance they're the same age. But why hasn't Hansborough gotten even one iota better since last season? Even his stats are exactly the same. I was much higher on him last spring. How will he get his points in the pros? He would have been a top-12 pick last season; I don't see him going top-25 now.

5. Wright is a little more interesting -- one of those shaky effort guys who looks fantastic in those workouts that get Chad Ford all hot and bothered. The announcers compared him to Sam Perkins Wednesday -- young Sam Perkins, not fat/dreadlocked Sam Perkins -- but he's more talented than Sam because he's a natural scorer and has a knack for bouncing off guys and keeping his body control in the air (like Cedric Maxwell back in the day). But the effort thing ... ugh. How many times do we have to go down this road? You're either hungry or you're not.

If he's the consensus No. 3 pick right now, I'm even more frightened to hear David Stern say the words, "And the third pick goes to ... the Boston Celtics." Seriously, I might stop following sports if this happens. I can't handle even thinking about it.

6. "I'm coaching a team that's lost three straight and looks like they're a year away. My best player cried during the biggest game of the season. My biggest coaching rival has been kicking my ass for three straight years. My card is American Express."

7. Greg Paulus is Duke's Rex Grossman -- he can look good for stretches, but it's only a matter of time before he self-destructs (like this game's 5-for-17 performance). And yes, Grossman was so bad in the Super Bowl that we'll be using him in sports analogies for years and decades to come.

(Here's another example: the Gary Payton lookalike who plays President Palmer is such a lousy actor, he's turning into the Rex Grossman of "24." Has there ever been a less convincing President in a movie or TV show? They couldn't have spent a little extra money for one of the Wayans brothers?)

8. Final thought: Imagine if Durant went to Carolina over Texas? That almost happened. Yikes.


FEB. 6: MICHIGAN AT OHIO STATE (#3)

Setup: Must-win game for the 16-7 Wolverines and a must-have-a-big-game for Oden, who needs to respond with Kevin Durant stealing his thunder on a national level. Can Oden dominate one of these games on national TV? It's time, right?

Recap: Michigan handles OSU's full-court press in the first half as OSU looks bored most of the time ... Oden controls both ends (12 points, 4 blocks) but doesn't get much help ... Oden gets three fouls (41-34, OSU), by the time he comes back, OSU's only up four (56-52) ... then OSU makes some threes and pulls away down the stretch. Pretty ho-hum game. Final score: OSU 76, Michigan 63.

Random thoughts ...

1. Michigan pounded it down low to get Oden in foul trouble only it didn't have the horses to pull it off and Oden blocked/tipped/altered nearly every shot (he's one of the rare shotblockers who always remembers to contest shots with his left hand). He's the most dominant defensive player since Alonzo Mourning at Georgetown, although he doesn't have the same nose for boards that Moses had (or even KG). I've seen too many guys sneak past him to grab rebounds away. He's a good rebounder but not a great one.

Offensively, his footwork is excellent and he can spin either way with his back to the hoop. He has a weird-looking jump hook that he pushes from his shoulder (because he can't grip the ball yet); that shot needs some work. He also seems hungrier to score/dominate than he was during the first few weeks -- partly because of the broken hand, partly because all the KD hype might have lit a fire under him. And he's getting better and better with his left hand (maybe the broken wrist was a blessing). If there's a red flag other than the rebounding, it's his competitiveness -- he's a pretty passive, expressionless dude and that lack of emotion spreads to the rest of the team. He reminds me of Ewing in this way. Let's keep him away from the Gold Club to be safe.

2. There wasn't one guy who jumped out at me on the Michigan team. See you in the NIT, fellas.

3. Really like OSU's frosh point guard, Mike Conley Jr., who had the best game of his season (23 points, 6 assists, 9-for-12 shooting) and seems to be getting better and better. I can't believe how much he plays like Johnny Dawkins, right down to the jumping and the southpaw thing -- let's hope he doesn't go to the pros and blow out his knee in 45 different places like Johnny did. Definitely a future pro but I don't see the Nate Archibald comparisons. That's a little strong.

3a. Brent Musberger described Conley as so smooth "he plays basketball like Duke Ellington." Way to know your audience, Brent.

4. Congrats to Steve Lavin for successfully using the word "blowbyability" without getting fined by the FCC. He did have one great point: OSU gets bored during games and loses its focus, so opponents can have a run until it wakes up. If OSU loses in March, this will be why. I don't think the Buckeyes communicate very well or even seem to like playing together that much. Doesn't seem like a particularly close team and according to one of the guys from my Celtics message board (a poster named OSUCeltic), "The problem is the three veterans they count on (Ron Lewis, Jamar Butler and Ivan Harris -- a combined 4-for-16 against Michigan) all pout if they aren't getting shots. It has been very disappointing. Especially Butler, who may have been the Big Ten MVP last year. Conley came in and took his job, and Butler has been pouting ever since." Plus, they have ANOTHER scorer coming off the bench (Daequan Cook) who's like the Big Ten's version of Vinnie Johnson. That's a lot of balls to go around. Not sure if the pieces match up but it's a scary team on paper. It might make for a better fantasy team.

5. Hey, did we ever find out why Tommy Amaker decided to start dressing like Sean Connery? Was it a conscious decision? Was he inspired by an old "Celebrity Jeopardy" sketch on "SNL?"

6. One last Oden note: Let's all agree to stop comparing him to Bill Russell. He's no better or worse than any other stud center prospect from the past 25 years (dating back to Ralph Sampson). From a "what player does he remind me of most?" comparison, I'd go with Mourning, who received similar hype at Georgetown and had a similar impact when he was there -- as a freshman playing back when most college stars remained in school for 3-4 years, Mourning averaged 13.1 points, 7.3 rebounds and 5.0 blocks a game (Oden averages 15 points, 9.5 rebounds and 3.6 blocks right now). I could see Oden having an Alonzo-like NBA career where he's good for a 23-12 every night and 3-4 blocks on a 50-win team, with a decent chance that his offensive game could blossom closer to Ewing or David Robinson (both of whom peaked in the high-20s as scorers).

Regardless, let's stop comparing him to Russell. There will never be another Russell. The next field producer who OKs the decision to show old Russell highlights during an OSU game should be suspended.


FEB. 5: TEXAS (#25) AT TEXAS A&M (#7)

Setup: Biggest home game in 25 years for A&M with Kevin Durant AND Dickie V coming to town. Are the Aggies for real? Can Durant continue to make everyone feel dumb for not mentioning him as a possible No. 1 pick until the legendary 37-23 game against Texas Tech? And is it sad that I get more excited for Longhorn games than Celtics games these days?

Recap: The Aggies jump to a 14-point lead (Texas looks tight), KD drags them back into the game (they always wait to start feeding him until the game is about to slip away) ... KD getting the LeBron/Wade treatment from the refs as each member of A&M's entire team has 3 fouls, including the trainer and equipment manager ... starting the second half, KD gets hot and scores 12 points in about 5 seconds, leading to Dickie V nearly losing consciousness ... the Aggies start double-teaming him and pull away ... Texas tires down the stretch because they only played six guys ... deceiving final score (Aggies 100, Longhorns 82).

Random thoughts ...

1. Everyone makes a fuss about Billy Gillispie but it's absolutely justified; sometimes you can just tell when a college team is well-prepared. A&M adjusted nicely over the course of the game, double-teamed KD and attacked him on the other end with bigger players. Come to think of it, the Gillispie-Barnes battle was a complete mismatch -- Barnes is coaching the best freshman scorer since Maravich and has no clue how to get him the ball. Why wouldn't they spread the floor and have him attack off the dribble? What's the point of posting him up when he's always double-teamed? Why do they settle for so many bad shots? Durant should be scoring 35-40 a night. Easy.

2. Really liked Acie Law IV (21 pts, 15 assists), who reminds me of Damon Stoudamire (before he started smuggling pot onto charter airplanes) and showed some crunch-time chops in the Kansas upset last weekend. You have to love any player who would put "Law IV" on his jersey, when nobody knows who the hell Laws I-III are -- and you really have to love someone who isn't ashamed to carry the first name of one of the worst Celtics draft picks ever.

(Note: You had to be there in Boston during the Acie Earl Era -- it was right when the wheels were coming off after Reggie Lewis' death and the fact that we replaced Robert Parish with a center combo of Eric Montross and Acie Earl symbolized everything. Then he left after the '94-'95 season, showed up one night playing for Toronto and dropped 40 on us to set the FleetCenter record. To put this in perspective, Acie scored 980 points in his entire CAREER. This might have been the most depressing Celtics moment that didn't involve somebody dying. I wanted to drink myself to death after the game. Anyway, I'm glad Acie redeemed the name and look forward to him getting drafted about 12 spots too late in next year's NBA draft. These teams never learn.)

3. I liked two other guys on A&M. Antanas Kavaliauskas (18 points, 11 boards) is one of those European forwards who can shoot threes, bang the boards and always seems to be in the right place at the right time. He's out of the Luke Walton/Jorge Garbajosa mold. (Note: I still feel like Luke Walton should have pretended he was European before the 2004 draft and changed his name to Lukas Waltonakis -- he would have gone 15 spots higher.) Liked Josh Carter as well (a 24-10-5), although it could have been a career night for him. Need to see him again.

4. Texas' frosh point guard, D.J. Augustin, had a good statistical game (23 pts, 9 assists, 12-13 FT) but leads the Big-12 in "No-No-Yes!" drives and plays out of control most of the time -- I think he's a five-time attendee of Nate Robinson Summer Camp. He's going to kill Texas in March because he doesn't take care of the ball. (Too bad Durant can't play with an experienced point guard like Law; his life would be much easier and he'd get to know what it's like to be thrown an entry pass.) Also, Texas is missing one of those 6-foot-7, 230-pounders who can sit picks, grab some boards, throw some elbows and push people around. They don't have a single guy who can spring Durant off a screen. It's too bad trading isn't allowed in college hoops -- those guys are easy to find. Maybe the WCC can allow trading on a trial basis to see if it works.

5. For the first time in my life, I thoroughly enjoyed a Dickie V broadcast. He was gushing about Durant (28 points, 15 boards) and shrieking dickiebabble at least 12-15 times throughout the game, but in this case, it was completely warranted. He's the only one who can capture properly how ridiculous this guy is -- and sure, he's doing it through a mixture of screams and noises, but still. That's what the Durant Era needs and requires: tons of dickiebabble. He's that good.

6. Watch out for Texas A&M next month. Looking at the March Madness checklist, the Aggies have an up-and-coming coach (Gillispie), a terrific point guard (Law), multiple three-point shooters and a specific identity (defense and speed). And they're the kind of team nobody would pick if they didn't know anything -- imagine seeing Texas A&M on a bracket as a 2-seed? If you didn't know any better, you'd pick them to get shocked in the first two rounds, right? Consider yourself warned.

7. All right, I'm only allowing myself two-and-a-half paragraphs on Durant. But along with his 15 (and counting) ready-for-the NBA moves, his underrated passing (the biggest shocker for me), the shotblocking ability (watch how many times he swats somebody from behind), his 25-foot range (legitimate), his Freddie Krueger arms and everything else, the one quality that sets Durant apart from everyone else in college is his decision making -- not the decisions themselves but how quickly he makes them. This guy knows exactly what he's doing at all times and never hesitates even for a split-second. Look for this the next time you watch Texas play. It's the rarest of qualities for a scorer.

Dickie V compared his scoring prowess to Bob McAdoo, but Durant has more range on his jumper, longer arms and more athletic ability (McAdoo got his 30 every night on jumpers and pull-up drives when that's only part of KD's arsenal). The more I'm thinking about it, we haven't seen anyone approaching Durant before -- seriously, a 6-9 shooting guard with a 7-5 wingspan who's still growing??? -- so we probably shouldn't play the "he reminds me of …" game with him. Maybe you can see pieces of various guys in his overall game, like KG (body type), McAdoo (scoring ability), T-Mac (ability to get to the rim with either hand), Plastic Man (the long arms), Hakeem (the ludicrous falling-out-of-bounds fallaway), Wade (competitiveness) and even C-Webb (the innate passing gene). But those are just pieces. He's an original prototype. It's like seeing the first Model-T car or the first Apple computer.

Anyway, when Chad Ford wrote that Oden had more upside than Durant last week, we had a lively e-mail exchange about it, with my basic point being, "Look, Oden has a chance to be one of the best five centers ever ... Durant has a chance to be one of the best FIVE PLAYERS ever" and Chad qualifying his point by discussing overall impact on a team (if you draft Oden, you're more likely to win a title because franchise centers invariably win titles … well, unless they're Patrick Ewing). We could go round and round on this, and over the next few months, we probably will. All I know is that MJ was the last guy since Wilt to crack 37 a game in the pros … and Kevin Durant will be joining him in 5-6 years if he stays healthy. That's not even hyperbole. I don't see anyone stopping him. But will his rebounding/shotblocking catch up to the rest of his game? And will his teams ultimately win? Those are the looming questions.