All Carolina

April 7, 2009


It wasn’t even close. Even in the second half when Carolina really wasn’t very good, it still wasn’t close. After scoring the most-ever points in a first half of the NCAA title game, it really didn’t matter.

This was what I thought would happen to Michigan State against Kansas, Louisville or Connecticut. Not that I thought MSU wasn’t a good team, I just didn’t consider them a true heavyweight. Instead they played beyond their normal level, one of those more than the sum of their parts teams, and escaped each of those power programs to get the chance to play Carolina. Yet none of it mattered in the end because the team that simply could not miss in earlier games was completely deficient on the offensive end, particularly in the first half.

When I talked to my brother about the game on Sunday he made a good point that Carolina just builds a big lead in the first half and the other team has to play catch-up the rest of the night which forces bad shots, more turnovers and in the end, a loss. That could not have been a more accurate explanation for what happened last night in Detroit. Michigan State looked scared and then downright careless (if not just bad).

It’s hard to tell how this UNC team will be judged. They were anointed before the season as the guarantee for the title. So does simply meeting those expectations garner any more respect? Probably not. But they did win every single tournament game by more than a dozen points and often by more than fifteen, including last night. I know other teams have done it before, I think Florida may have even done it a few years ago, but looking back, this Carolina team was completely dominant when it mattered most.

What I think we all underestimated with this team was how embarrassed they were with their loss in the Final Four last year to Kansas in San Antonio. Remember that? It was 40-12 at one point in the first half? That’s why Hansbrough, Lawson and Ellington all came back. They were clearly motivated by a much bigger idea that until the tournament started, no one really mentioned very often. That force was more than enough to win four of their easiest games in the sweet sixteen, great eight, final four and title game.

The NCAA Finals

April 6, 2009

I’m not going to spend tons of space here dissecting tonight’s game as anyone with two eyes and a pulse knows the story. UNC is the goliath that everyone expected to win and little old Michigan State is pursuing the dream season in the home town gym.

Ok, barf. Here’s the real story.

UNC has had as many, if not more injuries than the famed Michigan State sob-story. Marcus Ginyard never played this year, Tyler Zeller’s development was stunted with a broken hand, Danny Green was out, Ty Lawson didn’t play for the first half of March, etc. It’s true that Michigan State has had its share of injuries, illness and the like, but both teams have had to struggle equally to get through the season unscathed.

Michigan State is being projected as the little engine that could when that is really furthest from the truth. Several pundits picked them to go to the Final Four before the season started. They won the Big 10 regular season title and were a no. 2 seed (had they won the Big 10 tournament, they would’ve likely been a no. 1 seed, or at least had a nice case for one). It’s true that MSU was not favored against either Louisville or UCONN and that they had to beat a good Kansas team just to get here. But let’s not make them out to be some scrappy George Mason clone.

Finally, about the fact that MSU is in the Final Four. People everywhere (except Mitch Albom) have been saying that Michigan State have been the saviors of the tournament by selling out the games in a city where no one in their right mind would ever want to go otherwise (example, the Mayor of Indianapolis was robbed Saturday night in Detroit). But let’s be honest, what does the city of Detroit want with the Final Four? Thousands of people staying in their city for the weekend. Instead they get a school that is just 90 miles from the city. That means that all of the Michigan State fans are did not spend all day Sunday and all day today in Detroit. It means they all drove back home, did not stay in hotels, did not go out to eat, did not go to bars or casinos, etc. They all went home and are coming back tonight.

So, I hope this has given everyone a better idea of what’s actually going on tonight. It’s like I said with the Arizona story going into the sweet 16: the media need something to cling to as a sob-story, Olympics-style feature and create Michigan State as this colossal underdog. That simply is not the case.

Oh, and I like Carolina tonight, 81-72.

Worst Performance by a Supposedly Good Team

March 30, 2009

ulThat distinction goes to Louisville, who in the second half of their Midwest Regional Final against Michigan State looked like the worst team to ever play basketball. Let me go ahead and give MSU their due now so I don’t have to mention it again because I really don’t think they had much to do with it.

Ok, so what the hell was Louisville doing? This was supposed to be the team that was super-aggressive on defense, hard-working, good shooting, tough, character-driven and talented. In the second half yesterday they were none of those. Time after time, UL left Michigan State guards wide-open for three-pointers. When those guards occasionally missed, Louisville couldn’t bother to box-out and State had tip-ins on multiple misses. There was no pressure defense at all, not in the full court, 3/4 court and really not even in the half-court sets.

On offense, Louisville looked like they were in a pick-up game with a bunch of dudes they’d never met. None of the players seemed to know how to play in an offense together and as a result, there wasn’t much of an offense to speak of. A few times Earl Clark was able to knock down shots but mostly UL just dribbled around a bunch until there were less than ten seconds on the shot clock and then fired up either a guarded three-pointer or an impossible fade-away jumper. Granted, Michigan State obviously knew what they were doing defensively, but this was a Louisville team that had scored over 100 points just two days earlier.

Ultimately I think what happened to UL was that they just didn’t play anyone good at all until they ran into MSU. Look at their schedule: Morehead State, Siena, Arizona. People will probably start crying about how good Siena was but seriously, they’re not that great. The killer for Louisville appears to have in fact been that Arizona game. They were flexing their muscles, showing off, smiling for the cameras and generally toying with Arizona (who was so completely overrated, by the way). They weren’t challenged in that game at all and it showed when they played Michigan State. MSU had to battle for every point and probably deserved to lose to Kansas in the Sweet Sixteen. But they prevailed, and spurred by the tough play needed to oust a really good KU team, plowed on through against Louisville.

But maybe most confusing about the complete collapse of Louisville yesterday was how they were pretty good in the first half. Only down by three points at half (30-27), Louisville tied the game up at 32 early in the second. And then the wheels fell off. What happened? Rick Pitino teams are always in the very best of shape, so it couldn’t have been that they just got tired. Something happened mentally against Michigan State and they just completely fell apart.

NCAA’s Day Five

March 27, 2009

Just a few thoughts after watching the four Regional Semi-finals yesterday:

1. Domes suck. There’s nothing worse than watching a game that’s taking place in an enormous stadium with tens of thousands of empty seats. I know the NCAA is about nothing more than trying to turn a profit, so it won’t change. But why have a game in the ‘cavernous‘ Arizona Cardinals’ football stadium (as aptly described by one of the guys on tv) when you could play at the Phoenix Suns’ stadium that’s nearby? I realize you can get more people into the football stadium, even if it looks empty, but the sight lines for players are probably terrible and it just looks ridiculous. They’re also never loud because the sound just drifts away into the vast nothingness of the massive stadium.

2. I’m convinced that Levance Fields is actually just Khalid el-Amin. It’s been ten years since the pudgy point guard helped lead UCONN to their first national title so I guess it’s about time that someone came along that mimicked that style, and size, of play. Fields is probably actually better than el-Amin ever was, but the lumbering, chubby point guard is just not a normal sighting. It is absolutely no contest when it comes to personality though, Fields is a dud and el-Amin was fantastic to watch.

3. Duke lost in exactly the way I said they would. I mean, exactly. Duke had an off night shooting (to say the least), they had no answer for a capable inside player (Dante Cunningham) and they were way too soft to play with Villanova. Gerald Henderson was the worst player on the court the entire game, not making a shot until a three-pointer with less than four minutes left and Duke already behind by more than fifteen points. Jon Scheyer got pushed around like the skinny white guy that he is and really only Kyle Singler did anything productive at all. And even he shot just 5-13 and scored 15 points. It was clear going in that Henderson, Scheyer and Singler were going to have to be great every game for Duke to keep going. None of them were good last night. And they just had no answer on the defensive end. They have no tough players, no big strong guys, no one to completely shut down another team.

4. Missouri is really good. They’re the only team in the tournament who plays a legitimately up-and-down style (now that Oklahoma State and Tennessee are both gone). Even Memphis, a theoretically wild and running team, looked slow and methodical in comparison. I don’t know if Mizzou has what it takes to beat UCONN but they’re absolutely going to give them a game. It should be a much more fun game to watch than any of the Huskies’ games to this point. Yet, despite Mizzou playing so well, they really had no answer for Tyreke Evans, who may have just earned himself a top-5 draft spot if he decides to leave early.

This is South Carolina

March 25, 2009

While my time in South Carolina is drawing short, there are a few comments I’d like to make about how ridiculous this state remains. I first moved to South Carolina in the fall of 2001 to go to college in Greenville. I graduated in 2005 and then moved back to the state, to Columbia, in the summer of 2007. So for most of the past decade I’ve been living in the state. Not much has changed while I’ve been here, except one thing. The state is no longer allowed to host NCAA tournament games of any kind in any sport.

My first year at Furman, the BI-LO Center in Greenville hosted first and second round NCAA tournament basketball. While I didn’t actually go, the city was buzzing with people for a week. This was the spring of 2002. Since that weekend seven years ago, South Carolina has been barred from hosting games because of the Confederate flag that flies on the state house grounds, now just five blocks from where I live. With protests from the NAACP (among many other groups) the flag was removed from flying atop the state house (where it had been since 1962) and placed next to the monument to Confederate soldiers at the intersection of Main Street and Gervais Street in downtown in 2000. As long as that flag flies there (or anywhere) the entire state of South Carolina is barred.

In a purely objective sense, it doesn’t really bother me that the flag is flying. For as many people as there are in this state who detest the flag as a symbol of racism and hatred, there are equal legions of folks who see it as a symbol of cultural heritage and state pride. I am not going to judge either side for their arguments. But there is a very different argument that is especially pertinent this year.

The economy in this country is in shambles. Of the fifty states in this country, only a few are worse off than South Carolina. With unemployment soaring past 10% (and rising), one of the worst public education systems around and a Governor who is trying his best to refuse federal stimulus money (and run for President in 2012), it is just not a good time to have a multi-million dollar influx disappear. Or really, never even be a possibility.

Columbia built the Colonial Life Arena for the University of South Carolina and specifically to host NCAA tournament games in 2002. The 18,000-seat gym is a beautiful structure and a great place to watch a game. It’s in a relatively large city that is easy to reach by interstate (I-26, I-20 and I-77 all meet here) or by plane. The gym is less than a five minute walk to the most interesting and happening part of Columbia, the Vista. But because of the ban, not a single tournament game has ever been played here.

Now think about this: Boise, Dayton, Albuquerque, Greensboro. What do those places have in common with Columbia? They’re all either state capitals or middle-sized cities without professional sports. What doesn’t Columbia have in common with them? Columbia is never, ever mentioned 200 times per day for the first four days of the NCAA tournament. In a state with 10% unemployment, wouldn’t a vast need for at least part-time work for parking attendants, hotel workers, waiters and bar tenders, concession stand workers, ushers, arena cleaning and myriad other opportunities for work be exactly what could help people in this area? Those aren’t glamor jobs but the need for work around here is palpable.

The point of all this is just to say that this state is wasting an easy opportunity to bring millions of dollars into the economy on a near-yearly basis just to fly a small, square flag that happens to have stars and bars. There isn’t much that can be done about Mark Sanford at this point except to wait out his term, but in a state whose largest source of financial strength is in tourism (golf mostly, and Charleston/Myrtle Beach/Hilton Head), why not add to that pot? It’s a shame to have such a great arena sitting empty each and every March in a city that really could use the business.

AD nauseum – NCAA’s First Two Rounds

March 23, 2009


This week’s podcast (or at least the first one of this week) deals with what happened in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament over the weekend and my thoughts and projections about what could happen in the games this coming weekend. I hope you’ll check it out and as always, leave whatever feedback you might have. This one is a lot shorter too, just 22 minutes, so it should actually be digestible.

Arizona is not a Cinderella

March 23, 2009


There are a few phrases that I hate this time of year. The chief among them is ‘Cinderella story.’ I understand the connotation and yes, there are a few cases where teams do actually fulfill the requirements for the title. A few examples are: George Mason (2006), Princeton (1996), Gonzaga (1999). Teams that do not fit this bill include: Arizona (2009).

The Webster’s definition of a Cinderella is: one suddenly lifted from obscurity to honor or significance. I understand that in the cases above. Most people were shocked when George Mason made it into the tournament field over Hofstra, let alone reaching the Final Four. Princeton used a bunch of smart, white guys to knock of the defending national champions in UCLA and Gonzaga was a tiny Jesuit college in eastern Washington that stunningly won three games against schools from the Big 10, Pac 10 and SEC. So why doesn’t Arizona fit into that mold?

Arizona has reached the NCAA tournament 25 years in a row which is the second-longest streak ever (27 by UNC from 1975-2001). They won the national championship in 1997, were finalists in 2001 and were in the Final Four in 1994 and 1988. Just because folks were surprised when they made the tournament does not mean they are a wonderful, shocking story. Arizona defeated Utah and Cleveland State to reach the sweet sixteen, hardly a who’s who of college basketball powers.

The main reason Arizona is anointed to this position of supposed Cinderella is that this year’s tournament is proving to be even more bland than last year. In each region the top three seeds advanced with the rest being a 4-seed, 5-seed and Arizona’s 12. Had there been true ‘Cinderella’ teams (Utah State, Cleveland State) no one would be talking about Arizona at all. But the folks in sports media need something to talk about and some reason to convince their readers/viewers that this is as interesting as any other year.

So let’s cool it with the talk of how ‘special’ this Arizona team is. They appear to be pretty good but until they beat Louisville, I’m not ready to refer to them as even an interesting or surprising team.

What’s With All the Fro-Hawks?

March 22, 2009

I’d love to talk more about basketball but I can’t help but wonder if anyone thinks this fro-hawk idea has gone a little too far. You’ve got Antonio Anderson of Memphis (far left) this guy for Maryland (I’m pretty sure it’s Adrian Bowie who used to look like this) and Byron Eaton of Oklahoma State. Are they all really big fans of or injured Greg Oden?

I know teams have long done weird things with their hair when it comes to playoffs or team unity. Some teams go all-bald and in hockey they all go all-beard. But this is a totally different phenomenon. There are far more players than I’ve pictured, those are just the ones I specifically remembered from the first four days of the tournament. Seriously, does anyone know why this is a fad this year?

NCAA’s Day Two

March 21, 2009

cleveland stateYet another reason why I’m looking forward to moving to the west coast is having gone to bed before the thrilling finishes of the Ohio State-Siena and Florida State-Wisconsin games last night. Games starting after 10pm are just too tough to make it all the way through, even on a Friday night. That said, those were the first really exciting games of this tournament. Not that there haven’t been upsets, but those games were the first that really came down to the end.

It greatly saddened me to see Utah State go out to Marquette, and not just because I had the Aggies in the final 16. Utah State was in control of the game with just a few minutes left and completely choked. First, their best two players fouled out, and then the team took and missed wide open three pointers on consecutive possessions late in the game that would have retaken the lead. The scoreline has Marquette winning by one but that is only because Utah State made a three-pointer at the buzzer. Marquette never really looked like they deserved the game, especially in the second half. That’s the worst kind of game to see, especially if you have the upset picked.

I did manage to correctly identify one upset of sorts which was Dayton over West Virginia. The Flyers looked pretty good despite playing a team from the big, bad Big East. I thought this particular match-up showed the worthlessness of including middle-of-the-pack teams from power conferences over higher end teams from mid-major conferences. Dayton was technically the third qualifier from the Atlantic-10 behind Temple and Xavier, yet they looked confident and strong against West Virginia.

The ACC continued to disappoint yesterday as Boston College fell meekly to Southern Cal, a team that would never have made the tournament had they not surprisingly won the PAC-10 tournament. BC never once looked like a good team against USC. Meanwhile, Florida State’s total choke against Wisconsin, another also-ran from a big conference, set the ACC back several years, in my opinion. Mike Krzyzewski might want to rethink his statement that the ACC is by far the superior conference in the country. I’m sure he was referring to the top dogs but even that argument has hit the fan with Wake Forest getting destroyed by Cleveland State. Granted, most pundits expected Cleveland State to play Wake tough and some even called for the upset, but I’m not sure anyone expected the thrashing that the ACC’s third-best team received yesterday. Combining those games with Clemson’s loss to another Big Ten team in Michigan on Thursday, four of the ACC’s seven teams are already out.

One more game will complete my thoughts about yesterday’s action. Pittsburgh looked extremely vulnerable against East Tennessee State. The team that is supposed to be bigger and badder than anyone else out there was matched physically almost every step of the way yesterday against a supposedly inferior side. In the next round against Oklahoma State, I think Pitt will struggle with the non-stop offense of the Cowboys and up-and-down pace. They were very unimpressive, even less so than Memphis or Kansas, the other really high seeds to struggle in round one. Granted, I hate Pitt so that probably colors my judgement to a degree, but I just think they are good against other big, slow, ugly teams in the Big East but are far less suited to play against the world at large as they’re now required to do.

NCAA’s Day One

March 20, 2009


So we made it through the first day of the NCAA tournament. As far as I know I’m still human and able to interact with the outside world. Though by the end of the weekend that may have changed. CBS’s March Madness on Demand is the greatest invention I’ve encountered, now that it’s free. Being able to watch whichever game you want and not being locked in geographically like on tv is fantastic. It was a little disappointing that there weren’t really any upsets, though Cal State Northridge and American sure looked like they were going to pull it off. I’m sure today there will be upsets to counteract yesterday’s general chalkiness. Here are a few thoughts about a few of yesterday’s games:

I was really happy with the result of the Washington-Mississippi State game out West. I thought UW really looked like a strong team, though that doesn’t really mean that much for a middle-of-the-pack SEC team as an opponent. Still, there were other teams who looked a lot worse than did UW. Brockman is a total beast and Overton and Pondexter really took over the game a few times for the Huskies. Plus, the ‘home court’ advantage of being in Portland really showed up, the crowd was decidedly behind UW.

The most unwatchable game of the day had to have been Purdue-Northern Iowa, also out west. The main reason being that Purdue has a hounding defense and at the same time, no spectacular offensive players. Northern Iowa, an upset pick by more than a few people, turned out to be mostly slow white guys without much game. The whole thing was atrocious. I really can’t see Purdue keeping up with a legitimately good team like UW, one that will pound right back.

I felt bad to see this morning that Illinois lost. I was really rooting for them, not just because I picked them, but because of Mike Davis, a kid I covered when he was in high school. He scored the first basket of the game but I just couldn’t stay up late enough to watch to the end. Turns out Western Kentucky barely won. That’s the 5-12 upset for everyone out there who loves that kind of thing. I thought the Illini could at least pull this one out, guess I was wrong.

That said, Gonzaga should wipe the floor with Western. Though it took them some time to get going, Gonzaga looked fantastic in the second half against Akron. The crowd in Portland was as into the Zags as they were into UW earlier in the day.

My heart stopped on about seventeen occasions in the Villanova-American game. I obviously needed Nova to win and their 10-point halftime deficit and 14-point lead early in the second half made me want to jump out the window. But all became right with the world when Villanova realized they were just the better team and started playing like it in mid-late second half. If they’d just gone inside to Cunningham the whole game maybe it wouldn’t have been so close. Either way, I thought for a good while that Garrison Carr was going to become this year’s Stephen Curry.

Finally, I’m very happy to have woken up to see that UCLA knocked off VCU late last night. Usually I would be pulling for the underdog but in this case, so many people thought they’d be really smart and pick VCU, that I had to go with the Bruins. Though I only watched bits of the first half before going to bed, it seemed that UCLA was the better team. I don’t know why people thought they sucked so badly.

AD nauseum – NCAA Tournament Edition

March 18, 2009

podcastWith the NCAA tournament starting officially tomorrow around noon, I wanted to get my thoughts out there in the ether for everyone to criticize. Just remember, when you’re laughing at all my picks, I’m the only person you know personally who is airing out every single pick for all to see (or I guess hear). With that said, I hope you’ll listen to my thoughts on the sixty-three NCAA games coming over the next few weeks. I mentioned at the end of the podcast that I’ll be running another one of these on each of the next two Mondays after the full weekends of games, so tune in for those. Otherwise, enjoy.


What is MLS Thinking?

March 18, 2009


MLS is already a niche league. As much as I’d love to see a viable American soccer league, MLS has it’s fans and really doesn’t have much more room to grow in terms of a fan base. And they certainly aren’t going to do themselves any favors with their idiotic season opener tomorrow night.

Major League Soccer will be kicking off its fourteenth season tomorrow night at 9 in a match between New York Red Bull and the Seattle Sounders at Qwest Field. That doesn’t sound too bad, right? New club opening their inaugural season with a prime time game against the club from the league’s biggest market. Sure, that makes perfect sense. The problem is that the game will run against the NCAA TOURNAMENT. The game will be on ESPN2 (not even regular ESPN, which will probably be an all-day Sports Center covering the NCAA’s) and will literally be directly competing with the late games of the first day of the NCAA tournament.

I know ESPN has to run something against the NCAA’s since they’ll be on CBS but this sounds like a disaster. Why aren’t they starting the season tonight in the void just before the tournament starts? Sports fans will be looking for anything to watch on tv as baseball hasn’t reached regular season yet, there’s not that much interest in the World Baseball Classic and the tournament will be just a day away. That seems like the perfect opportunity to get a nice rating for the opening game of a league that could really use the increased viewership. But no, MLS is going to compete with the NCAA tournament. The only thing they could do that would be dumber than that would be to open on Super Bowl Sunday.

Granted, MLS is getting incrementally better each season. There are still major points of improvement that could be made (see Trey’s column last year, and one of mine that drew quite a few angry responses) but on the whole, the league is establishing itself as a relatively viable product. But decisions like the opening game date/time are what will confine it to secondary or tertiary status in the minds of American sports fans. Wake up MLS, present your product in a way that makes sense. It’s not like MLS is NHL, mired on a network that no one knows where it is or if they even have it. The matches are on ESPN2. Use that to your advantage, not the opposite.

One Reason to Watch the Play-In Game

March 17, 2009


I’ll admit, I won’t be watching it. But there is a really good reason to if you don’t have anything else going on tonight. The game features Alabama State (Montgomery, AL) and Morehead State (Morehead, KY) but more importantly features Alabama State’s 7’1″ center Chief Kickingstallionsims. Yeah, that’s really his name. Well really it’s Grlenntys Chief Kickingstallionsims, Jr. but you don’t have to remember all that.

The NCAA play-in game is one of the weirdest games of the year because it’s technically the first tournament game but outside of the alumni of the schools involved, no one really cares. There’s not much of a chance that either Alabama St. or Morehead St. could knock off Louisville when they play on Friday, though at least Morehead has the in-state rivalry going. I guess it’s not quite Louisville-Kentucky, but hey, Louisville-Morehead State could work.

While I won’t be writing about every game in the NCAA’s this month, you can check back here for posts about all of the major games and upsets.

NCAA Tournament Pool

March 15, 2009


As the NCAA Tournament selection committee finalizes their seedings and selections for this year’s tournament, I hope you’ll think about joining the pool I’ve got set up with Yahoo Sports. So far there are 33 people involved and I’m expecting just about 40 before the games actually start on Thursday. But if that number could hit 50, that’d be fantastic. It’s completely free and only requires signing up for a Yahoo account if you don’t already have one. If you’d like to join, email me your email info and I’ll send you an invite. Let me know if you have any questions. Otherwise, I look forward to destroying you with my picks.

Yahoo Fantasy Sports – NCAA Tourney Link