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Monday Afternoon Basketball Housekeeping…

March 22, 2010 Leave a comment

Did you hear that sound? Fifty thousand rapid fire pops? It was the sound of champagne bottles popping from San Jose, to the Golden Gate Bridge to Oracle Arena. The Golden State Warriors, hit by a Semi and left for dead on the side of the road, are being given CPR… Current Warriors’ owner Chris Cohan has spent much of the last decade battling Donald Sterling for the ignominious title of Worst Owner in Sports, but in the first savvy decision he’s ever made for his franchise, today he announced his intention to sell. If Cohan was the Semi that hit the Golden State Warriors, then President Bob Rowell was driving, and coach Don Nelson was the passenger in the front seat distracting Rowell with the sounds of his snores. The small glimmer of hope for this franchise is that this news means that all three of these morons will no longer be making basketball decisions for Golden State Warriors.

Larry Ellison, the CEO of Oracle, has already made it clear that he intends to purchase the team, which means that he’s the one administering CPR. For fans of the Warriors (the family chewing their nails in the hospital waiting room) this is the first positive sign they’ve had in a long time.

Trust me when I say that Golden State has some of the NBAs best fans, perhaps even second to those diehards who’ve filled MSG every day through the Isaiah and rebuilding era. Warrior fans, come out to Oracle Arena every night, and cheer. These aren’t fair weather fans, and they aren’t “fans” attending the games to be seen. These are hardcore basketball fanatics, with high hoops IQs and they’ve stuck with this team through all of Cohan’s strange decisions (like rewarding Chris Mullin building a playoff team, by allowing Rowell to force him out). Finally, fifteen years years after Cohan purchased the team, they might get an owner who actually wants to build a winner. I know that they’re waiting on edge now, hopping, praying that the Dr. will come out of the operating room and say, “I have good news..”

The NBA Stretch:

There is very little intrigue as the NBA hits the stretch run; the playoffs in both conferences are all but sowed up, with only some minor seed jockeying left to determine. As I look at the conference stadnings, I can’t really see any moves that will help determine more than who survives to the second round. I mean, in the East we know the Raptors are first round fodder for the Cavs. Charlotte and Miami are struggling to get out of Orlando’s path, while Atlanta and Boston are jockeying to meet the winner of that outcome in hopes of avoiding lightning hot Milwaukee. Boston in particular has to fear the Bucks, but beyond that I think we can be sure that the second round in the East will see Cleveland, the Magic, and the Hawks.

The West has slightly more intrigue, just because Denver as the two seed and Portland as the eight seed are only separated by five games, but with only 12 games left, we basically know that LA, Denver, Dallas are the top three. The real trick in the West is the fight for the fourth seed. Utah is holding court right now, but Phoenix is nipping at their heals. Both teams play superb basketball in their home court, and desperately want to get that homecourt advantage. Ideally, they’d love to catch Dallas for third, to avoid the Lakers in round two, but not getting that fourth seed, virtually ensures that there wont be a round two.

For the Suns, that third seed is a tantalizingly close two and a half games, but with 12 to play closing that gap is asking a lot. To maintain any hope at all, they have to buck their road woes and take four of five games on an upcoming trip that sees (winnable) visits to: Minnesota, Chicago, New Jersey, Detroit, and Milwaukee. After that, their final five are significantly harder: a meeting with old friend San Antonio, a trip North to Zombieville, and then hosting Houston and Denver, with a potential playoff preview in Utah to close out the season.

The Madness:

The weekend was a doozey for March Madness fans. Surely you heard about the Kansas game, which destroyed many a bracket, including this guy’s. Sports on the Brain has been lucky thus far, as all the crucial upsets have either been predicted by us (if you read Thursday’s prediction, you know we called both St. Mary’s and Cornell making the Regionals), or failed to crush our bracket (Kansas wasn’t in our final four, nor was New Mexico). We were strongest in West, where Syracuse, Butler, Xavier, and Kansas State made us look smart (we aren’t, but lucky’s almost as good…). On the other hand, the Midwest escaped us, as only Ohio State stayed strong. Still, 10 of our 16 survive, including all of our final four teams.

Timing Out on the Tournament:

My only complaint about this weekend’s basketball? Time outs. It’s a problem in both college and the pros that the coaches have too many opportunities to bring the team to the sideline and work on their white board skills. Here’s a great example from the weekend’s first game, St. Mary’s classic upset of Villanova.

With 45 seconds left and the game close, here’s a transcript, minus score, with the occasional thought or action from yours truly:

– Foul
Time Out (Really, you needed a time out before free throws? What could you possibly be saying. “Ok, guys, don’t get a line violation here”)
– Foul Shot
– Foul Shot
– Turn Over (30.5 seconds left)
Time Out
– Inbounds
– Foul (28.3 seconds left… so basically, that last T/O was to tell your team to foul, which I think a) they should know, and b) you can shout from the sideline)
Time Out (no, really, again? We JUST had a time out, what possibly changed during the inbounds and foul?)
– Inbounds (here we go again…)
– Foul (23.3s)
– Foul Shot
– Substitution Break (Maybe I should check the fridge for leftovers?)
– Foul Shot (Digging week old chinese out of the back of fridge, hhmmm ‘smells kinda funny…’)
– Actual Basketball Play (Villanova 3 pointer. 12.6s… Eating Chinese…)
Time Out (Hhmmm… I wonder what boogers I have right now)
– Inbound
– Foul (Yawning…)
– Foul Shot (still yawning)
– Substitutions (picking up computer)
– Foul Shot
– Inbounds (Feeling some strange indigestion…)
– Actual Basketball Play (missed Villanova shot)
– Rebound
– Foul (3.8 seconds left)
– Foul Shot (Rushing to bathroom…)
– Foul Shot (Returning from bathroom…)
– Inbounds
– Game (I wonder if women’s curling is on?)

This whole sequence, that consisted of 45 seconds of basketball, took eleven minutes of real time. Why? Because basketball teams have twice the timeouts that they actually need. And coaches, not wanting to be “seen” as not coaching, make sure to use every freakin’ one that they’re given. Villanova needed to take a timeout to know that it had to foul? St. Mary’s needed to take one to know that they needed to inbounds the ball to their best foul shooter? Seriously, can’t coaches teach their players these things before the game? I mean, I’m pretty sure that 98% of the fans watching at that moment knew both those points.

The repeated timeouts that sent the telecast to commercial after commercial had me go from the edge of my seat to checking my email and picking my nose. I know I probably don’t have the world’s longest attention span, but I don’t have the shortest either. Like most sane people I hate the whole “foul, walk, walk walk, shoot, substitute offensive guys for defensive guys, shoot” routine that makes up the end of close basketball games, but at least it’s a necessary evil. The timeouts though? They’re utterly useless.

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Overtime, Buzzer Beaters, and Upsets… Oh My…

March 20, 2010 Leave a comment

The first day of the tournament realistically might have been the best opening day of March Madness ever. It included three overtime games, eight games decided by fewer than five points, six “by the number” upsets, fifteen seed Robert Morris almost toppling number two Villanova, and 14th ranked Ohio (not Ohio State, but just Ohio) taking down Georgetown. That Georgetown upset was obviously the biggest of the day, as 97.6 percent of the 4.8 million brackets (including mine) submitted to ESPN had the Hoyas waltzing past Ohio. Many of them, though thankfully not mine, had the Hoyas going to the eight, and a few even had the Hoyas going to the Four… talk about your bracket buster.

The second day, well… it lacked much of that intrigue, but it still brought three ‘by the number” upsets, the best of which was twelve Cornell knocking off five Temple.

How’d Sports on the Brain do? I’m glad you asked, I had that Cornell upset (snap!) and over the two days, I went a very respectable 24-8. I had six of the nine upsets, including Georgia Tech, Missouri, Saint Mary’s, and, thirteen Murray State over four Vanderbilt. I only lost three teams I had surviving past the round of 32. Best of all, none of those three did I have going beyond the round of sixteen. So, all my elite eight survive to the weekend.

Upset of the 1st Round – Come on, this isn’t even a contest. I mean, if Bobby Morris had held on to topple Villanova, then it might have been a different story, but only 115K of the 4.8 million ballots on ESPN had Ohio beating Georgetown, that’s an upset.

Performance of the 1st Round – Oh JIMMER… If you’re an NBA GM and watched BYU’s classic double overtime victory against Florida and didn’t come away convinced that Jimmer Fredette can play 10 years in the NBA, well then you’re probably Mike Dunleavy. ESPNs Chad Ford had him ranked 59th on his top 100 draft board, going in to the weekend, but if I was a GM picking in the 25-30 range, I’d have a hard time not selecting a kid with a sweet stroke, superb court vision, and the toughness necessary to succeed on the next level.

Game of the 1st Round – I don’t know how you top the very first game of the tournament. Double overtime, multiple lead changes, and an impressively high level of play. BYU was challenged, but behind Jimmer’s 37, they continually hit big shots when it mattered. Florida had two separate chances to hold for the final shot and missed them both, which is perhaps emblematic of one of the worst coaching moves routinely practiced. Having your team dribble the ball up top until the dying seconds, then having a single player make a rushed attack on the basket, before he takes an ill advised final shot. This has such a miserable success rate, that I wonder why nobody tries
actually working the ball around for a better score.

Goat of the 1st Round – If you watched any college hoops this winter, all you heard about was how dominant the Big East was. At some point pundits were arguing that they deserved ten teams in the tournament, and that they would certainly have as many as four teams in the elite eight. After the first round of the tournament, we know that the Big East is a good, but vastly overrated conference. On the first day, they had four teams in action and went a stellar 1-3, with their single victory Villanova’s near disaster against Robert Morris. All three losses involved upsets, with two sixes losing to eleven seeds, and the ignominious Georgetown defeat. On Friday Syracuse, West Virginia, and Pitt all protected the shield (with only nine seed Louisville getting dropped), but the damage had already been done. Barring deep runs by the four remaining teams, this tournament will be seen as failure for the not quite as Big as they thought East.

All in all a superb opening round, and we can only hope for more of the same from the weekend. Check back Monday to hear about how Gonzaga, Wake Forrest, and Old Dominion destroyed my bracket…

Descending into Madness…

March 18, 2010 4 comments

I’m not going to lie, I’d love to be writing something really romantic about the NCAA tournament that’s going to start in a hour and twelve minutes, but this week’s been a little busy. On Monday night I had an emotional breakdown, on Tuesday, Spirit of the West was playing a rare live show, so I had to go see them. And last night there were about 18 Guinness begging to be drunk. On top of all that, the Billion Served aren’t serving themselves, so despite asking Ronald if I could take time at work to drop some college hoops knowledge, I’ve got nothing.

Long story short, instead of writing something really beautiful about the tournament, those 18 Guinness are rattling around my brain and the clock’s ticking down on the starting time. So… yeah, basically, this year I’m one and done.

However, we wouldn’t be Sports on the Brain if we hadn’t filled out a bracket, so lets take a quick wander around the country and see what we see.

Before the brackets came out, if you’d asked me who I thought the Final Four were, I’d have said: Kansas, Syracuse, Ohio State, and Georgetown, so you can imagine my chagrin when three of those four ended up in the same bracket.

The Midwest is dumb, just flat out dumb. How Kansas could be ranked as the top team, but end up saddled with a stacked bracket is just another example of the Committee’s arrogant inebriation. Ohio State has the best player in the country, Evan Turner, who seems locked in and ready to carry them, Carmelo Anthony like, to the title. Georgetown is a schizophrenic team that may well go out in the first round, but when they bring it, can beat anyone in the country. Beyond that, you have Maryland, Michigan State,Tennessee and Oklahoma State. That’s an incredibly hard top seven. Nobody wants to play a Tom Izzo coached team in the tournament. Maryland won the ACC regular season and in Gravis Vazquez has a player who can win a game or two by himself, and Tennessee and Oklahoma State are the only two teams to have beaten Kansas this season.

So this is the minefield that Kansas has to navigate if it hopes to make the Final Four. Still, they are so good that most brackets have them surviving… Not me though. I like Turner to lead Ohio State past Georgia Tech, past Georgetown, and past Kansas to the final four. Turner’s the best player in the tournament, and in March transcendent talent matters.

The West Region is Syracuse, Syracuse, Syracuse. I like Xavier to make a little run and upset Pittsburgh and Kansas State, but I think their run ends with Syracuse. Maybe I’ve just become a Jim Boeheim homer. It’s not as though I know him, or spend a lot of time in upstate New York, but Boeheim appears on the PTI show regularly and every time he does I am struck by how great a guy he appears to be.

The players in college change so rapidly, that it’s hard to cheer for players, so you’re left cheering for an institution, or for the man in charge. I’ve never attended an American University and while they’re pretty good, I doubt that UVic is going to be earning an at large bid to the tournament, so… coach it is.

I could cheer for Coach K or Roy Williams, but cheering for Duke or North Carolina is a little like cheering for the Yankees or the Sox and you know I have nothing but disdain for the Sox and the Yanks. I could cheer for John Calipari but… Come On! He’s led two teams to the Final Four, and left both schools right as the NCAA was stripping those institutions of their Final Four runs. Boeheim though? He seems like an upstanding guy, he’s been at Syracuse forever, he’s won a title, he graduates most of his players, so Syracuse is my team.

Forunately, this year they have the chops to back me up. Sure Arinze Onuaku is hurting, but I think they can win two games without him, and when he comes back it’s straight through to the final four for them.

In the East I like Cornell to break the Ivy League’s tournament losing streak by upsetting Temple. I then like them to become first weekend darlings by dropping Wisconsin. Unfortunately, next week they run into Kentucky, who might be susceptible to the upset, but wont lose to Cornell. Kentucky and West Virginia will meet in the regional final and my cloudy crystal ball sees WV outsmarting the Wildcats down the stretch to pull the upset. There’s no doubt that Kentucky has either the most or second most talent in the country and really, despite making some of their games interesting, Kentucky has only lost twice. So, yes they’re precocious kids, but… I have to toss my crystal ball out the window and take Kentucky to beat West Virginia and go to Indy.

As I’m sure you know, the Southern Region is absurdly easy, with the committee apparently clearing the way for Duke to make a deep run. Unfortunately, there is nothing that Duke has done over the last eight or nine years to make me think that this team is capable of going deep in this tournament. So, I (like seemingly everyone else) have Louisville upsetting them in round two. Louisville has come out of a tough league, Duke has come out of a weak ACC, the coaches are a wash, but I think Louisville gets up for Duke and shuts down their big three scorers. Of course, getting up for Duke, leads to a big drop off and so I have A&M ending Louisville’s run. On the other side of the South, I have Baylor becoming the top story of the tournament.

The Bears making a run through the cleared out South will create a buzz over their recovery from the dark depths of 2003, when Patrick Dennehy was murdered by teammate Carlton Dotson. It would easily outstrip everything else as the story of the Final Four, and Baylor would be everyone’s darlings.

So, if you’re keeping score at home, I’ve got Ohio State-Syracuse and Kentucky-Baylor as my final four. Form there, I’ve got Syracuse knocking off Turner and Kentucky ending Baylor’s magical run. In the dream final of contrasting coaches, you have the slimy Calipari against the classy Boeheim. As I said above, I’m a Boeheim homer, so I’ve got the ‘Cuse as National Champs. Of course, I’ve only slept off seven of the 18 Guinness, so what the hell do I know…

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