Friday, March 20, 2009

Thoughts on Round One (UW and Gonzaga, only)

UW
Pondexter looked great offensively yesterday, but I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t point out that he fell asleep on defense and let his man (No.5, Osby) grab an offensive rebound and flush it with two hands. Pondexter had no idea where he was and helped someone else block out their man. I can’t kill him for that because he had a great game, but the little stuff like that can haunt teams in close games. He’s got to be aware and I’m sure his coaches let him know it. I'm a hard guy to please when it comes to teams I root for, it's something they have to live with. Seeing as how they have no idea who I am, and coulnd't possibly care less by the way, they're getting along just fine despite my constant haranguing.

I’m bummed for Dentmon. It’s obvious that the guy wants to be a leader and go out with a bang, but putting up only six shots is lunacy. He passed up many what I would consider “good” shots by pump-faking and passing or pump-faking and making a less-than-aggressive effort to drive into the lane. It’s possible that he just didn’t trust his jumper last night and if that’s the case, then he should be commended for not taking shots. Confidence is a huge part of shooting and if he wasn’t feeling it and his jumper felt forced, then good for him for lying off. Hopefully he’ll be ready to go on Saturday.

Brockman hit the deck after that rebound like he was thrown out of a 10-story building. He landed completely on his side. It’s amazing to me that he didn’t stay on the ground, although why would I be amazed at this point? He doesn’t feel pain like a regular human does. Nevertheless, I’d advise him to try not to emulate John Malcovich at the end of “In the Line of Fire” again. Great, aggressive game by him though. It’s exactly what I like to see out of him—easy buckets around the rim, good, physical defense, leadership (I distinctly remember him talking to Overton and telling him to settle down) and maniacally obsessive pursuit of the ball for rebounds.

Overton is a straight-up menace. It would be so painful to try and bring the ball up the floor against him. Weak guards will get tormented. He’s like GP used to be from a yappy, aggressive, and quickness perspective. My friend Chris pointed out that Overton beat MSU’s guards to the spot every single time and he got called for fouls only when he reached (which he doesn’t need to do). He’s impressive. I’m amazed that none of MSU’s players threw a haymaker his way, although it could be argued that the hit he took on that screen qualified. Through his own aggression and quickness he nearly got himself killed. People get jacked up on screens all of the time, but most people don’t run, with their head turned, the equivalent of a 4.3 40 straight into a 6’9 245 lb guy. Despite nearly ending his own life, on the very next play he takes the ball coast-to-coast and lays it in. He’s a tough S.O.B. As an aside, that pseudo-alley oop dunk was both impressive and pathetic at the same time if that makes sense.

One last guy I’ll mention is Darnell Gant. If he develops a reliable 12-15 footer he’s going to be great for this team. He’s not called upon to score, that’s obvious, but he’s left open so often that he needs to get that part of his game going. He will never be called on to put the ball on the floor and create like Pondexter does, but people will double off of him and he has a chance to diversify this team and increase his playing time. His defense is great and he’s learning how to play hard just by being on the same court as Brockman. He’s got a chance to be a real difference maker and I’m excited about his future. It’s pretty amazing that he’s only a freshman.

Gonzaga
I’ve been killing Austin Daye every chance I get because I think that he’s a pansy, but he looked very good last night, especially defensively. It’s nearly impossible to get a shot off against him on the perimeter and it’s is truly impossible to get a good look at the hoop if he’s playing up on his guy. For as thin as he is, he’s has no quickness or speed at all, so he definitely needs to add about 30 lbs to take advantage of his size. If his game was all about using his size and quickness then it would make sense for him to remain around 190 or 200, but he isn’t that kind of player. Last night, while he looked good out there, he got shoved around. If he fills out he can be a force. I don’t know what it would take for him to get a little nasty (probably nothing because he’s probably a really nice kid who just doesn’t have it in him to be a killer) but if he added some bulk and aggression he would be a nice player.

I love Heytvelt, 'shrooms aside, that guy is a player. He has that nasty streak that Daye lacks, and perhaps Daye just needs time to grow up a little. He’s only a sophomore. Heytveldt has a bit of a strange looking jumper where his whole body is completely erect, but it’s effective. I like how strong he is and his desire to finish strong around the rim. He looked great last night and if he keeps playing like that, I was wrong to have the Zags lose to UNC. They’ll beat that team if they play like they did in the second half.

Bouldin looked good last night too. He’s got a great feel for the game and his size causes problems for opposing guards. I like his game.

I don’t like Pargo’s game very much but his leaner dunk was shocking. I know he has ups, but that was an out-of-nowhere flush. I could tell that he was going to try because he had that kind of bounce when he got near the rim, but I did not expect him to finish like that. Filthy.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Final Bracket

Final Bracket. I switched UNC and Oklahoma.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Hated Guys, Adam Morrison, and Ken Griffey Jr.



As I went through the bracket the other day and I got to Duke and North Carolina, it made me think of how much players on their teams are hated. This topic has generated tons of stories in the print, online, radio, and television media. I saw this from The Big Lead (it was linked off of the Dan Patrick Show) this morning and, while interesting, it’s the same type of thing that I’ve seen anywhere else.

What's missing is why the media “wonders” why certain guys were considered the most hated college basketball players in their time. As if it’s a big mystery why people couldn’t stand Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley, JJ Redick, Adam Morrison, Jon Scheyer, and Tyler Hansbrough, to name a few. Notice anything similar about them? The Duke thing notwithstanding, they’re all white guys who played significant roles on their teams. (Yes, I realized Hasheem Thabeet is black, hard to miss a 7’3 guy, but he’s not a universally hated guy on the level of the other names above, no one is publishing his cell phone number and calling him).White guys are easy targets for student fans attending games because most of those kids are white. Scan the student section of any school and you’re not going to find a lot of non-white faces. Maybe some Asian kids will be sprinkled in, but you sure won’t see a huge faction of black kids jumping in unison with their faces painted yelling “OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” So it makes perfect sense why those guys are targeted. It’s a lot easier for these kids to target opposing players who look like them because they are familiar and there is no downside to it. If they razz Scheyer on the court and call him names, make posters, post his cell phone number and the like, then they’re spirited college kids and create a great college atmosphere. If they treated a guy like Terrance Williams from Louisville the same way, then there’s a pretty good chance that they’d be considered racist. Not that college kids are above being racist, but in a public setting like, say a college basketball game on national TV, they would probably refrain, that and they’re probably scared of him in a way that they’re not scared of guys like Jon Scheyer.

Add the fact that each of those guys, except Morrison, were around for four years and you can see why a fan base would grow to hate them.

Also, I remain baffled as to why draft experts were saying that Morrison was going to be a marketing wonder for whichever franchise drafted him. I didn’t understand it then and I don’t understand it now. What exactly, besides his whiteness, is appealing about Morrison? He’s a poster child for athletes suffering from type I diabetes. He is to be commended for being able to function at the highest of levels with this disease. I’ll give him that. But outside of his ability to excel despite having a debilitating disease, it’s my understanding that he’s a real jackass, perhaps he’s mellowed because he’s been humbled and exposed as a pretty substandard NBA player, but when he was in college his aloofness and overall “I’m superior” attitude was well known.

He could play, but he was a jerk. So aside from his preposterous mustache, shaggy hair, anti-establishment, Che Guevera clich├ęd persona, and whiteness made him such a guarantee to be a marketing machine? If a player is good, makes himself available to fans through the media, and is cool to fans in appearances and charity work he will be a god in whatever town he’s in. There is no question. Many people in US cities are highly provincial and are very protective and sensitive about where they live. If a player shows even the slightest interest or pride in the city that he plays for, he will have fans eating out of his hand. It’s such a simple concept, but many players don’t get it or simply don’t care. Seattle is no different. Ray Allen immediately made an impression with the people of Seattle by taking out an ad in the local newspapers introducing himself to the city and its fans. It was such an easy thing to do and even if he didn’t mean anything that he said, he still had them.

Some guys transcend that though just because they are so damn good it doesn’t matter if they’re jerks. Ken Griffey Jr. is one of those guys. I know nothing about him on a personal level, but I do know how he sounds when he speaks about Seattle. People here love him because of what he meant to the Mariners in the late 80s and all of the 90s. He was widely considered the best player in baseball and he was ours. It was like dating the hottest girl in school and doing anything and everything for her and forgetting about all of those times when she went out on the town and danced with random dudes and didn’t even bother calling you and then not apologizing for her behavior. You forgive all of that because she is so hot and you don’t want to mess that up. Griffey would be extremely cold to the local media; which, by extension, meant that he was extremely cold toward the fans. When he re-signed here in Seattle recently people desperately wanted him to make very overt statements about how much he loves it in Seattle and he owes it to himself and to the fans to return here and retire as a Mariner, all that b.s. He kind of did that, but not as overtly many people wanted him to. Also, when a local sports radio guy, Mike Gastineau, asked him if he feels like Seattle needs some good news because of the Sonics leaving and the terrible season the Seahawks had, and that he could provide that, Griffey distanced himself from the situation dismissively by saying (I’m paraphrasing here), “Hey, I live in Florida, I don’t really follow it.” That was weak, but Griffey doesn’t care. He doesn’t care about the people in Seattle one bit. He cares about the closure this move could mean for him and his career, but he doesn’t care what anydude in Seattle thinks of him, really. He just wants them to cheer for him and praise his every step. I loved Griffey back in the day, because he was a great baseball player, but those days are long gone. I see no need to date him any longer.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Initial March Madness Thoughts - Part II

For Initial March Madness Thoughts - Part I, click here.

On to the East, South, and final predictions.

EAST

(1) Pittsburgh v. (16) East Tennessee State: Pitt is an extremely tough team that plays great defense and pushes people around. I like their team’s long-term prospects.

Pick: Pitt

(8) Oklahoma State v. (9) Tennessee: This game was one of three where I had a lot of trouble deciding what to do. I breezed through the bracket, picking confidently (and surely errantly), but I had to come back to this game. The trouble is that I don’t like this Tennessee team at all. But then I don’t trust this Oklahoma State team either after watching UW eviscerate them earlier this season. Additionally, I have nothing against headbands, but the way that the Tennessee guys wear them… the look like girls. There’s nothing wrong with girls or women’s basketball or whatever, but there is something wrong with looking like a female when you’re a male and not a transvestite. I can’t get past that look. I am fully aware that these headbands are monumentally meaningless and that my comments are bordering on misogyny, but I just hate that look. It doesn’t take much for me to latch onto irrational, inconsequential beliefs, and these headbands have done it. This is coming from a guy who enjoys SEC football and Tennessee football specifically.

Pick: Tennessee (grudgingly)

(5) Florida State v. (12) Wisconsin: As documented, I dislike Big 10 basketball. However, I can appreciate what the style can do to teams that aren’t talented enough to overcome Big 10 discipline. A team like Washington State plays Big 10 basketball and I can appreciate that, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. Florida State seems like a team to me that will not be able to stay focused against an extraordinarily patient Wisconsin team.

Pick: Wisconsin

(4) Xavier v. (13) Portland State: I like what Ken Bone has done with this Portland State team and I like that they’ll be sort of close-to-home in Boise. They beat Gonzaga at Gonzaga after the Connecticut game. They nearly won at UW. They’re a nice team, but Xavier is better and is more experienced having advanced to the Great 8 last year. I don’t see PSU pulling this off.

Pick: Xavier

(6) UCLA v. (11) VCU: It’s really too bad for UCLA that Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love aren’t there anymore. This team would be positioned to do some great things if they were. Jrue Holiday isn’t providing the lift that I’m sure UCLA thought that he would provide. They just aren’t that good of a team offensively. Defensively they’re still nice, but I just don’t like their chances, and this looks to be a bad matchup against VCU. Also, I hate their uniforms. I’m a huge proponent of blue, especially powder/baby blue in unis, but for some reason I cannot buy in to UCLA’s gear. Football or basketball. I’m not sure what it is, but it could be the font. I just hate them. I loved Eric Maynor two years ago when he dismantled Duke and I can see him doing the same thing here. I like the guy and I don’t see anyone stopping him for UCLA, again, if Westbrook was still there, it would be a different story.

Pick: VCU

(3) Villanova v. (14) American: Nova is a real nice team. I love the way that these guys play. They’ve got boatloads of experience and are playing well. I like their long-term chances also. The only thing I know about American is that a kid from Issaquah goes there and scores a bit for them. They don’t stand a chance.

Pick: Villanova

(7) Texas v. (10) Minnesota: This was the second of three games that I couldn’t figure out what to think initially. Texas has lost two great players (Durant and Augustin) in two years and it’s got to be tough to recover from that. Minnesota is another Big 10 school that I can’t really get behind but was tempted to advance because of their defensive abilities, but I don’t think that they can score and Texas will be able to a little bit more.

Pick: Texas (in a close, and gross, game)

(2) Duke v. (15) Binghamton: I hate Duke more than I hate Big 10 basketball. It’s the constant fellating of Duke’s program and of Coach K that gets me the most. Yes. I understand that they are a great program. Yes. I understand that they play hard and he gets the most out of the guys he has (as evidenced by the utter lack of success that Duke players have had in the NBA). But I need it to stop and the only way that it stops is if they lose. I’m being shortsighted here, I realize, because if it’s not Duke, then it’ll just be some other team that gets jocked. I get that. But right now it’s Duke and I want it to end.

Here’s something that I find funny and so amazingly dated. Do you remember what a big deal it was when Elton Brand was thinking about declaring early for the NBA Draft? Coach K, to that point, had never had a player leave early. Never. That was about 10 years ago, but seems like 20. It’s hard to believe. But then 10 years ago middle-schoolers weren’t sending each other naked pictures of themselves on their cell phones either.

As for Duke’s team, I don’t like their style of play because they’re too in love with the jumper. Now I love a syrupy J as much as anyone, but teams that rely on the perimeter shot a little too often are destined for trouble because the shot isn’t always going to fall.

I read a story on Binghamton a few weeks ago in the “New York Times” about the troubles that the program is having with the hoop team. It’s amazing how much just 15 guys can have on the psyche of a school that has 11,515 undergraduate students. The hoop team makes up .001% of the student population and the administration and faculty act like someone strapped a used diaper to their faces. I enjoy the myth of the student athlete as much as the next guy, but don’t tell me that these guys are ruining the academic integrity of your institution. It’s embarrassing. The only reason that anyone even knows about these guys is because internal folks complain about it. So who’s hurting the institution more? The complainers, who draw attention to the “problem” or the .001% who no one knows?

Pick: Duke


SOUTH

(1) North Carolina v. (16) Radford: I’d be pretty nervous about the Ty Lawson injury, but it won’t matter at all in this game. I do not like their long-term prospects, with or without Lawson.

Pick: North Carolina

(8) LSU v. (9) Butler: It’s weird that Trent Johnson is at LSU because I can’t think of two more different cultures than Stanford and LSU, not that the basketball coaches have anything remotely to do with academics or anything else within the university. I was surprised that Butler got upended in its conference tournament, but not surprised that they are back in the dance with a pretty favorable seed and draw.

Pick: Butler

(5) Illinois v. (12) Western Kentucky: Courtney Lee is gone, but this team is still tough and I don’t like this Illinois team. This is a perfect candidate for a 12-5 “upset” (of course, I’ve chosen three of the 12 seeds to advance, but whatever).

Pick: Western Kentucky

(4) Gonzaga v. (13) Akron: I don’t know what to do with this Gonzaga team. They have very strong guard play from Pargo and Bouldin. I like Heytveldt a lot. Gray can shoot as well as anyone in the country. Downs is tantalizingly talented and versatile. Daye has so much ability, but is rotten-peach soft. This team really should be in Detroit in April, but I don’t know if they’ll be able to do it. The only thing I know about Akron is that their coach used to be LeBron’s High School coach, unless he’s got another No. 23 hoop wizard, the Zips aren’t going to advance.

Pick: Gonzaga

(6) Arizona State v. (11) Temple: I’m unnaturally high on Arizona State. I love Jeff Pendergraph, even if he is a little stiff-looking. He reminds me of Elden Campbell (although not as tall) a little bit the way he holds his head. It looks like he has to turn his whole body to the side if he wants to look left or right. James Harden is a filthy scorer who will be a good NBA player, but he’s not at all what a good player looks like. That Taliban/Leprechaun-level beard he’s got going is sick and his eyes and teeth look like they’ve been spayed with movie-popcorn butter. But he’s an nice player, despite the shaky appearance. Glasser is a damn good shooter and, as evidenced by the game against UW in the Pac 10 Tournament, won’t back down when pushed. I know nothing about Temple except that I’m a little frightened of one of the cooler names in the tournament: Dionte Christmas.

Pick: Arizona State

(3) Syracuse v. (14) Stephen F. Austin: Syracuse is a very good team that probably feels like it’s been screwed with its pants on by the selection committee for the last two years by being left out of the tournament. Because of that, it makes sense that this team is hungry to make its mark. Because they’ve played so many minutes in the tournament makes me a bit nervous, but they’re young guys and should be able to get up for the games. They are also bolstered by what I consider to be the second coolest name in the tournament: 1950s rock n’ roll sensation Jonny Flynn.

As for SFA, I remember they had a 6’5 230 plus, wide receiver in the NFL who played in the 90s. I can’t remember his name, but I remember him. He might have played for San Diego. I’ll track him down and update you later. I’m sure you’re dying to know.

Pick: Syracuse

(7) Clemson v. (10) Michigan: This is the third of three games that I couldn’t pick right away because I’ve come to learn never to trust Clemson, but I don’t believe in Michigan. I like neither of these teams. However, Clemson beat the living hell out of Duke and I’ve got to respect that.

Pick: Clemson

(2) Oklahoma v. (15) Morgan State: If Blake Griffin is truly healthy, then this team should go pretty far, but as I describe below, I probably artificially inflate teams like Oklahoma.

Pick: Oklahoma

Overall Predictions:
Sweet Sixteen
  1. (1) Louisville
  2. (12) Arizona
  3. (6) West Virginia
  4. (2) Michigan State
  5. (1) Connecticut
  6. (4) Washington
  7. (3) Missouri
  8. (2) Memphis
  9. (1) Pittsburgh
  10. (4) Xavier
  11. (3) Villanova
  12. (2) Duke
  13. (1) North Carolina
  14. (4) Gonzaga
  15. (6) Arizona State
  16. (2) Oklahoma

Great Eight

  1. (1) Louisville
  2. (2) Michigan State
  3. (1) Connecticut
  4. (2) Memphis
  5. (1) Pittsburgh
  6. (3) Villanova
  7. (1) North Carolina
  8. (2) Oklahoma

Final Four

  1. (1) Louisville
  2. (2) Memphis
  3. (1) Pittsburgh
  4. (2) Oklahoma

Championship Game

Pittsburgh over Memphis

I’m not the least bit confident that this is what’s going to happen and I'm not happy with my choices. I hate when this happens. It’s not like I’m going to wager much on this thing, but I’d still like to feel a little better about things. I could say that this year is just a crapshoot and it’s impossible to pick because the teams are so evenly matched. I could say that and maybe that would be true. But the reason I don’t feel comfortable or confident is because I haven’t seen enough of these teams play. I don’t like putting Memphis in the Championship Game or even the Final Four, but I don’t trust Louisville at all. I can easily see Michigan State coming out of that region. Hell, UW could come out of their region, but they could also lose in the first or second round. I feel like I’m trying to put together some IKEA furniture here where I can line something up and think it’s right, then force it into place and split the whole damn thing in half.

Earlier this year I thought for sure that Gonzaga was a Final Four team. They really looked like they had all of the pieces, but then I saw the Portland State game and saw what Memphis did to them, (both games at home! Although the Memphis game wasn’t on campus, but still, it was in Spokane), and I just don’t trust them.

I run into trouble with the tournament and predicting other sporting events as well because my familiarity with a team is my curse. If I know a team and don’t see many flaws, I’ll pick them to advance or have great seasons. I did this with the 2008 Seahawks. If I know a team and like them, but have reservations, I’ll handicap them more severely. I’m currently doing this to UW and Gonzaga in this tournament. Granted, I have both of these teams going to the Sweet Sixteen, but they’re both probably capable of more than that.

An alternate version to this happens when I am not that familiar with a team, or dangerously “sort of” familiar with a team. I have Oklahoma going to the Final Four. I know next to nothing about them except that Blake Griffin looks like he is a strong candidate to be a Nougat All Star as soon as next year. At the same time, I completely dismiss high-seeded teams that I’m unfamiliar with, such as Illinois and Florida State.

The bottom line is that I have no idea what I’m talking about, but I like to talk it through anyway.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Initial March Madness Thoughts - Part I

Here are my initial thoughts on the bracket and my knee-jerk reaction picks before researching the teams and matchups more closely. I typically revise my bracket too many times before actually submitting and then, like everyone else I’m sure, immediately regret picking one team to go to far and kicking a different team out too early. This is why I’ve won only one pool in 17 years.

MIDWEST
(1) Louisville v. (16) Play-in Game Winner: If a 16 ever beats a 1, I really hope it’s the play-in winner because it will destroy brackets, especially if the 16 keeps advancing. Any neutral fan who does not have a heart of darkness would be pulling for the 16 to advance in each round. Disney wouldn’t even do this movie because they would find it too sappy and unbelievable for Moorehead State or Alabama State to advance to the Final Four. Also, it’s pretty weak to have a field of 65. Imagine if you played for either one of these school and you’re all excited to be in the tournament and then you watch on Selection Sunday and you’re the goddamn play-in game. It’s like being told you picked the right numbers for the lottery, but you have to play rock-papers-scissors to actually collect the cash. It’s bogus. Just go back to 64 and leave an undeserving team from a bigger conference sit the hell out. Those teams don’t need more chances because they’ve been given all the chances in the world; they just lost too many games. And yes, even as a Pac 10 apologist, I’m looking right at you Arizona, don’t look away from me.

That said Louisville is a pretty damn good team. I like their tenacity on defense and they can fill it up. They need Terrance Williams to continue playing like he has been. I’m hoping for a few holy-crap plays from him. I’d like to see him do his between the legs dunk in a game. I’m sure Pitino would love that. Also, I’d like to request that Pitino sport that ghastly white suit for at least one tourney game, but instead wear a red shirt and no tie so he can look exactly like Tony Montana.

I remember that during last year’s tournament, analysts were saying that Earl Clark was the best NBA prospect on the team and I couldn’t understand it. He’s a big guy who looks very athletic, but he seemed to me like he was completely lost on the court and had no idea what he was doing. He’s gotten better this year, but I don’t really like him as an NBA prospect.

Williams, on the other hand looks like he knows exactly what he should be doing at all times, except, of course, when he decides to shoot threes, of which he makes around 30 percent. Here’s a tip: if you’re only going to make three out of 10 shots from beyond the arc, from the COLLEGE stripe, I think you ought to stop shooting them with such regularity. I think he needs a shot doctor because he has a decent-looking stroke, but probably shoots it from all kinds of different heights because he jumps so damn high. One other thing, watch him run when he doesn’t have the ball. He looks like he’s wearing house slippers and shuffles in a way that suggests that if he doesn’t run that way, the slippers will come flying off. Chris Webber used to run this way. But it’s not as if he’s not athletic, he’s actually on the opposite end of that spectrum. The guy can dunk with his face if he wanted to. He’s one of those dudes who pretends to be a certain way because it looks cool or something. I didn’t get it until I confirmed that he is definitely a weird guy when I read Luke Winn’s SI article about him the other day. The gist of the article is that Williams is under the radar screen and that he’s another talented “point forward.” It was a good article and I enjoyed the brief history lesson on the position, but a few things struck me as “curious” about Williams. (1) he used to wear a Barbie backpack in high school, “just to be different,” (2) he’d wear Barney, Big Bird, and Spongebob Square Pants socks to practice, and (3) he was part of a “mean guy” group in high school, he told Winn that “we’d do stuff like come up to you in the cafeteria, knock your sandwich out of your hand and say, ‘You've gotta come strong to your mouth!’” Those are three very weird things filled with innuendo and I’m sure he’s grown out of some of them, if indeed growing out of certain things is possible to do. But if I was him, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be regaling an interviewer from SI about what a colossal dick I was to kids in high school. He looked the same as he does now as he did in high school. He might be a little bigger now at 220, but he was still 6’6 and at least 205. He sounds like a prototypical bully in an ‘80s comedy (movies, not the “Cosby Show”), if Hollywood actually comedies about teenage black kids in the ‘80s. Anyway, I love his game (except the shot).

Pick: Louisville

(8) Ohio State v. (9) Siena: This will be the first of many times that you’ll see me write this: I hate Big 10 Basketball. Normally I dislike broad, sweeping generalizations, but the style of play in that conference is nearly unwatchable at times. There are anomalies, such as that Illinois team lead by the three-guard attack of Deron Williams, Luther Head, and Dee Brown. They were exciting to watch because they pushed the action and were great shooters. My biggest beef is the dearth of scoring in the Big 10. Some of it is great defense, some of it is the conference’s complete lack of scoring ability. Evan Turner (of Club Trillion fame) led the Big 10 in scoring at 17.3. That’s gross and it’s indicative of what the Big 10 is capable of doing. I like my college hoops with scores hovering in the 70s and 80s. Take those games in the 50s and 60s games and seal them up with the Brylcreem and rampant racism.

Pick: Siena

(5) Utah v. (12) Arizona: My first thought then I saw Arizona in the field was, “That sucks for St. Mary’s.” A friend of mine went to school there and I’m sure he’s pissed that the Gaels are in the field. If Patty Mills didn’t get hurt they would be in without question because they probably would have beaten Gonzaga twice. As it is, he got hurt, St. Mary’s lost some games. The funny thing is, Arizona didn’t lose anyone and still lost games, yet here they are. Jordan Hill is a fantastic post player. Nic Wise is a decent PG and Chase Budinger is a hard guy to figure out, but I know that he can get deep-fryer hot and is explosive as hell. They don’t have many guys that play for them so if any of those guys rack up any fouls the only depth they will have is trouble. As for Utah, I know absolutely nothing about them, but I do know that they no longer have the tripled-umlauted wonder, Hanno Mottola, on their squad anymore. Too bad.

Quick tangent here, when I think of the University of Utah, I think back to a friend of mine who said that Utah is full of gorgeous women, nearly 90 percent of which are Mormon, and I wonder, is if fun to go to school there? I went to Pacific Lutheran University in Parkland, WA, and there were some really, really, really straight-laced people there, but I’d guess that they made up about half of the school’s population. Plus, we had beer with a full complement of alcohol content by volume. In Utah, their beer, by state law, has less alcohol content than normal. I don’t really have a point here at all, I just wanted to share what I think of when I think of Utah. Hot women, O’Doul’s-level beer, and religious tolerance.

The other thing that I think about is Andrew Bogut. I realize he was the first pick in the NBA draft a few years ago and sure, he’s a decent center with some nice ability, but I can’t picture him without thinking that he looks like a really ugly woman. He looks more like a woman than a man to me, even though he’d make a highly unattractive woman if that makes sense (I’m sure it doesn’t), not just because he’s 7’0 tall either because, as the photos prior to the Summer Games in Sydney proved, a freakishly tall woman (Lauren Jackson) can look quite fetching without any gear on.

Pick: Arizona

(4) Wake Forrest v. (13) Cleveland State: Wake has some great young players and was smokin’ hot early in the season. I actually kind of like their draw, they’ve got a really good chance to get to the Final Four, but they are one of those teams that I’ll probably pick to advance too far and they’ll burn me. Their youth is at the guard spot which is really dangerous in the tournament, but I do like their squad. I remember when UW played Cleveland State, but I didn’t see any of the game. I don’t recall if it was on TV or not, but I suspect that it wasn’t. I’ll be pulling for this team if for no other reason than the sweetness of this guy’s name: J'Nathan Bullock.

Pick: Wake

(6) West Virginia v. (11) Dayton: I haven’t seen Dayton play, but I did catch West Virginia play Louisville on March 7. They look like a pretty tough team and I’m hoping Bog Huggins busts out the sweet mock-turtleneck-no-sport-coat look for this game.

Pick: West Virginia

(3) Kansas v. (14) North Dakota State: Kansas pink-bellied UW early this year and made me think two things at the time: (1) Wow. UW cannot score and is not a tournament team, and (2) Kansas looks very good and the Cole Aldrich that we saw in limited doses during last year’s run is truly a nice player. I overreacted with my first thought, which is often the case, but my second thought is bearing out. Aldrich is a very nice player who isn’t the least bit stiff as his stature suggests that he is. I’m being insensitive here, but he looks like a big, slow, white guy and he’s big and white, but not necessarily slow, and he’s skilled. Kansas looks pretty tough to me still and a second round game of Kansas v. West Virginia looks promising. That said I’m fully rooting for North Dakota State to pull the upset. What’s not to like about a team that is in its first year of DI post-season eligibility that won its conference tournament on a play by their best player. The team can shoot the lights out and a team like that is very dangerous.

Pick: Kansas

(7) Boston College v. (10 USC): Truly a neutral floor for both teams. I doubt that anyone who went to USC decided that they liked the sun so much that they decided to move to Minneapolis. It’s more likely that BC alums live there because of the similar weather conditions. However, geographically speaking there is no advantage to either team in terms of travel. I haven’t seen BC play this year and can’t speak intelligently about them so I won’t, but I have seen USC play on several occasions and they are a difficult team to figure out. Throughout the year, they looked like a tournament team to me, but their record did not suggest it. They have very strong guard play out of Daniel Hackett and Dwight Lewis (who are both 6’5) and DeMar DeRozan is a freshman that I’ve been jocking for the entire season. I love his game and his ability. He’s turning it on at the right time as well (or maybe Tim Floyd is letting him play a little more freely now) as evidenced by his 21 and 13 game against UCLA he had in the Pac 10 tournament. Also, not sure if you saw this but he had a ferocious dunk in that same game where he stole the ball, passed it ahead, got it back and took off outside of the key, and nearly dunked the ball through the floor. It was incredible. I’m glad to see that they made it in the tournament because I think that they will make some serious noise.

Pick: USC

(2) Michigan State v. (15) Robert Morris: I have nothing to say about this game except that I don’t care and I hope it’s not a featured game on CBS anytime I’m in the vicinity of a TV.

Pick: Michigan State

WEST
(1) Connecticut v. (16) Chattanooga: I’m bummed Chattanooga bounced Steph Curry from the Tournament, I was looking forward to him lighting it up again. As for UCONN, they’re a very tough matchup because of their physical nature and talented guard play. They seem like a lock to make the Final Four.

Pick: Connecticut

(8) BYU v. (9) Texas A&M: Ugh. I echo my sentiments from the Michigan State game above. I might even turn off the TV if subjected to this game.

Pick: A & M, but who really cares? I picked BYU to go to the Sweet Sixteen when they had Rafael Araujo and they got chased home in the first round. Plus I hate all things BYU (with the exception of Steve Sarkisian, of course).

(5) Purdue v. (12) Northern Iowa: The Big 10 again… how in the world did they get seven teams in? I haven’t seen either of these teams, and my inclination to pick against the Big 10 based solely on hate is not very reasoned, so I guess I’ll side with Purdue if for no other reason than these two names on their roster, which I can only assume are very common names in Indiana: E'Twaun Moore, JaJuan Johnson. How can I argue with that?

Pick: Purdue

(4) Washington v. (13) Mississippi State: I both love and hate the way UW has been playing this year, but I can’t argue with the results. I love their ability to shoot the three (I should say Dentmon’s ability to do so and Thomas’s ability to occasionally do so). I love their defensive effort especially out of Overton and the two lanky fellows (Gant and Holiday). I love Pondexter’s realization that in order to be good, he’s got to be aggressive and put forth a ton of effort. I love Brockman’s ability to play like he’s made of boulders and Brillo pads and nab rebounds. I love Thomas’s strength, moxie, talent, and capability to make the right decisions as a freshman. I love the team’s heart and desire to storm back into games that they’re losing or to extend leads in games they are winning.

I hate the way that they don’t value possessions as much as they should be being too casual with the ball (on passes etc). I hate Brockman’s inability to score inside (exacerbated against this team with a dude who blocks everything thrown his way). I hate that I don’t trust anyone but Thomas and Dentmon to shoot a three. I hate their size at the guard position. I hate that Bryan-Amaning insists on missing two-foot shots.

I’m anxious for this game and I’m scared to talk about something that has been huge for them this year because it’s a highly jinxable topic. I’ll just say this, they are markedly better at one “thing” this year than they were at that “thing” last year when they were the worst team in the country doing that “thing.” I think that’s helped a lot. There, I think we’re ok…

I listened to a guy who covers Mississippi State this morning on KJR’s Mitch in the Morning show as I came in to work today and he described a team that is on a roll and that plays fast, plays aggressively, and have a great shot blocker. In other words, the same team that UW has without the shot blocker. A few months ago I said that MSU is the type of team that I wanted UW to play. I didn’t want them to go up against a team that was very disciplined and patient that had a big size advantage. They seem to have some bigger guards than UW, but who doesn’t?

I trust what I’ve seen in UW all year (even if I’m cursing at them each game and telling Brockman to stop trying to face up and do your crappy spin move in the post to charge into someone and pick up a stupid foul) and they seem like a team that is resilient enough to pull this game out and if they do, I don’t sweat Purdue or Northern Iowa in round 2.

Pick: Washington

(6) Marquette v. (11) Utah State: It’s a shame that Marquette lost Dominic James because their guard-oriented lineup was pretty great. I don’t know much about Utah State except that they are the third team from Utah in the tournament. Also, since they are from Utah it means that they’ll have the advantage of being more sober than a team from Wisconsin.

Pick: Marquette

(3) Missouri v. (14) Cornell: I’m really hoping that Missouri advances two rounds so that they get a chance to face Memphis (should they also advance). That game could rival the UW v. UAB game a few years ago. Mike Anderson (former UAB coach) has Missouri playing the same way his UAB squads played. Insane pace, pressing on D, athletic dudes running all over the place. I’m excited to see what this team can do and also what Anderson can do at a bigger conference where he can get more talented guys to run his game. I almost feel badly for Cornell. Almost.

Because I’m a big advocate of the power of names, I ask you this: how in the world do you stop Missouri’s Leo Lyons? This guy has double king of the jungle momentum going for him, plus he’s got the added benefit of being a Missouri Tiger. That’s a triple shot of big cat action.

Also, since we’re talking about Missouri, this is a good time and the perfect venue for me to mention that I’ve said for years that former Missouri forward, Doug Smith looks exactly like Big Daddy Kane.

Pick: Missouri

(7) California v. (10) Maryland: Cal is a tough team and evidently Mike Montgomery is a good college coach, but a horrid NBA coach, except that doesn’t matter anymore. It’s pretty clear he’ll stay in the college ranks where he belongs. I don’t know much about his team, and I don’t know anything about Maryland except that they got absolutely spanked a few times this year, which tells me that they have the propensity to lie down and die if they’re out of it.

Pick: California

(2) Memphis v. (15) Cal State Northridge: I saw Memphis just pants Gonzaga this year in Spokane. It was such a bad matchup for Gonzaga because of Memphis’s ridiculous athleticism. I like Tyreke Evans quite a bit. This looks like a very viable Final Four team. I was pissed that they lost to Kansas last year because I loved Derrick Rose, but he played very passively in the first half of that game. I don’t see the same kind of passivity in Evans, but he’s not the talent Rose was either…

Pick: Memphis

Tomorrow: East and South knee-jerk predictions

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Sonics Venting

Without looking at the standings, I have no idea what the Sonics’s record is. I’ve decided to continue calling them this even if they’re no longer here. It’s either that or call them the Symbols. Sort of like when Prince changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol, he was referred to as “The Artist Formerly Known as Prince.” Rather than being verbose and calling them “The Team Formerly Known as the Sonics,” I could go with the brevity of Symbols, but that’s petty, so I’ll just call them the Sonics and leave it at that.

I do know that several teams in the NBA are positioning themselves for the playoffs and that the Sonics are not going to be included. However, it doesn’t give me any joy to know that they aren’t positioned for success right now because it still kills me that they left. Not just that the team left, which completely blows, but rather that this particular team isn’t here anymore. I loved the way that they were and are putting the team together.

I couldn’t stand the sports purgatory that they were in after the Kemp/GP years. If a team doesn’t have the pieces in place to make a serious push for championship contention, then it has to make drastic changes and blow it up. Paying high salaries to players who have no realistic chance of leading the team to serious playoff contention makes as much sense as a short-order cook using all of his money to lease a Lexus. It initially looks flashy, but is ultimately unsatisfying and is a colossal mistake that will take years to recover from.

The Sonics had their Lexus for a few years during the Ray Allen/Rashard Lewis days. They shot the hell out of the ball and it was fun watching that for awhile, but there was no way that team was going anywhere beyond the first or second round of the playoffs. That’s not terrible, but I’d rather not have a team that has an absolute ceiling like that. I couldn’t delude myself into thinking that those guys were ever going to make any serious playoff runs, and that removes an element of fun from the games for me. I’d care, and care a lot about their games, but I always knew that they just didn’t have the horses.

This leads me to my righteous anger and justifiable envy that I feel toward the Sonics.

I applauded the non-signing of Rashard Lewis (age 29), despite his milky jumper. As much as I liked Rashard, he was basically a taller version of Ray Allen (and his buttery jumper), but he was as apt to take his defender off the bounce and got to the rim as often as “The Dude” put in a hard days work at the office. Rashard was simply far too expensive for what he brought to the table. I like him as a third option on a good team. Maybe even a second option in a pinch, but the Sonics would have torpedoed their future if they gave him 6 years $118 million like the Magic did, which is more than Dwight Howard makes by the way. He’s a nice guy and a good teammate, but that’s silly money.

I will always like Ray Allen (age 33) and his buttery jumper, but he was not part of the long-term solution either and Seattle was wise to let him go, especially after they fell ass backwards lucky into the second pick (Kevin Durant, age 20). Nabbing the fifth pick (Jeff Green, age 22), Delonte West, Wally Szczerbiak, a number 2 was fantastic. Everyone loved Green and he’s going to be a good player.

If the Sonics kept Lewis, Allen, and Durant together they probably would have won anywhere from 45-49 games in the West—good enough to battle for an 8 seed, but probably out of the playoffs. The games would be exciting because that team could definitely compete night in and night out. Durant would have had a chance to grow and develop his game under two established stars and would have no pressure to be the man right away. The team would absolutely shoot the lights out and would easily lead the league in threes attempted and made, by over 100. But to have that team together would never be better than an 8 seed and probably would never get out of the first round of the playoffs, not with the West as strong as it is right now. Also, as noted above, it would have been a crazy expensive team. While Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis are really good guys and have no weird jerk-like tendencies, I think that they would have stifled Durant’s growth as a go-to guy and a leader. The Sonics, as presently constructed, are a team that will grow together and who knows that they’ll be good if they just give themselves time and it looks like the front office is giving them time.

By moving Allen and Lewis, the Sonics shed 20 years and over $14 million per year in salaries for two players who are better positioned (because they’re younger and have complementary skills instead of duplicative skills) to turn their team into contenders. It worked out great for Boston since they won a title with Allen. It’s working out great for Orlando because they now look like a perennial playoff team, but both of those teams were in different positions than Seattle. Boston had Paul Peirce and was gunning for KG, and Orlando already had Dwight Howard, Jameer Nelson, and Hedo Turkoglu.

Thanks to USA Today’s NBA Salary Database, which keeps tabs on player salaries, we see that the Sonics get to cut loose Chucky Atkins, Malik Rose, Desmond Mason, and Robert Swift at the end of the year if they want to in order to lure free agents that could help them win soon, of course convincing these players to live in the dustbowl is going to be difficult. We haven’t seen them do so yet. Also, their best players are signed to rookie-minimum deals through the 2010-11 season. They are a team positioned to do big things because KD is the real deal. He’s as talented as anyone in the NBA, he’s got a killer instinct, and he seems like a good dude whose teammates love him. I like everything about this team with the small exception that they were stolen from Seattle. Also, that weird Tyson Chandler thing has me baffled. I know that he would have cost some cash, but he’s a guy that I don’t mind paying money to because he’s actually a supremely talented defensive center who doesn’t complain about anything. He’s not a scorer, but he would have been on a team of scorers. Weird deal, that whole non-transaction.

Sonics Roster & Salaries
Chucky Atkins – 2yrs/$6,600,000, signed through 2008-09 (t)
Nick Collison – 4yrs/$26,000,000, signed through 2010-11
Kevin Durant –5yrs/$21,352,150, signed through 2010-11 (t)
Jeff Green – 5yrs/$15,768,441, signed through 2010-11
Nenad Krstic – 3yrs/$15,600,000, signed through 2010-11
Desmond Mason – 2yrs/$11,000,000, signed through 2008-09
Malik Rose – 7yrs/$42,000,000, signed through 2007-08 (p)
Thabo Sefolosha – 4yrs/$8,180,000, signed through 2009-10 (t)
Robert Swift – 4yrs/$7,895,000, signed through 2007-08 (t)
Earl Watson – 5yrs/$29,000,000, signed through 2009-10
Kyle Weaver – 4yrs/$3,612,904, signed through 2011-12
Russell Westbrook – 5yrs/$23,053,162, signed through 2012-13
D.J. White – 5yrs/$8,112,118, signed through 2012-13
Damien Wilkins – 5yrs/$15,000,000, signed through 2009-10 (p)

I’m not really sure why I bothered to do this other than to torture myself. I could have accomplished the same result by sticking clothes pins on my nipples. I just really liked that team and I like what they’re doing and I’m lamenting the fact that they’re not here. I, like many others, am pissed at everyone involved in the transaction. It’s baffling to me that some people say things like “I can’t blame Clay Bennett because he wanted an NBA team and one was for sale, so he bought it.” Well, I can’t parse my anger quite so easily. My anger knows no bounds and will not be constrained. I’m pissed at him for existing. If it wasn’t for him, they wouldn’t be in the dustbowl. They’d be here (in the snow, as it turns out, in f’ing mid-MARCH). He lied like a whore on his back. He tried to convince people that he wanted the team to remain here, sounding as genuine as mortgage broker. I hate him. I hope he and his cronies continue to lose money in the energy market and are forced to sell the team, even though I’m sure that they won’t sell to anyone back here.

I hold a special place of hate in my heart for Howard Schultz who is the worst bastard around. He sold the team because he didn’t have the stones or real power to stand up to his ownership group and tell them to ride it out to wait for a local buyer to emerge. Schultz loved the limelight. He loved being the “owner” of the team even though there were several other wealthy dudes who owned the team. He loved pumping his fist from his courtside seat, but when we really needed him to be a responsible owner, to be a steward for the community, he sold to out-of-town ownership. He owns the lion’s share of the blame and of course I hate him. But I don’t discriminate, mine is not a jealous hate. It has many partners. Two others are invited to drink my haterade: the Washington State Legislature and the City of Seattle, specifically Greg Nickels. They’re inability to re-do the lease on Key Arena (City of Seattle) and the inability to extend taxes to pay for a new arena make me want take a pitching wedge to their heads.

Of course, I can't leave out NBA Commissioner David Stern. His arrogance and overall demeanor when he spoke of the Seattle market seriously made me consider commissioning a rhino to commit sodomy on him. People would bring up Seattle's reach to the Pacific Rim and he's dismissively say that they have much closer reach because they actually have offices in China. Because that's the same as an actual NBA team. I seethed everytime I heard him speak. I don't know why I put myself through it because I knew that he'd say something to piss me off but I kept listening anyway. What's wrong with me?

Ok, now that’s off of my chest. I suppose I can watch the NBA playoffs now and root for random things so that I can squeeze some semblance of joy out of a sport that I’ve followed for years. I’ll pull for guys with Puget Sound ties to make some noise in the playoffs. Hopefully Brandon Roy (Garfield HS, UW) will become a force this postseason. I’m going to watch Atlanta play if Marvin Williams (Bremerton HS) can return from injury because he was having a decent season before getting hurt. I’m very interested to see if Nate Robinson (Rainier Beach HS, UW) can continue his torrid pace and lead the Knicks to the playoffs. Aaron Brooks (Franklin HS) is getting a lot of burn since Skip was traded to Orlando and is positioned to do some good things. Rodney Stuckey (Kentwood HS, Eastern WA) is playing reasonably well and Detroit is in no real danger of falling out of the playoffs.

Sigh. I know it’s pathetic, but it’s all I’ve got, NBA-wise. Luckily, another local guy (Rainer Beach’s Terrance Williams) will be making his way to the NBA off of a stellar senior season at Louisville.


At least I have March Madness to look forward to and selection Sunday, only three short hours away.

 
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