Sunday, March 29, 2009

Wrapping up the second weekend

A largely unexciting sweet sixteen was followed by a much more exciting Elite Eight this weekend, leading into the Final Four in Detroit next weekend. Some thoughts on this weekend's action.
  • Duke was exposed for what they are, a talented outside shooting team with very few other scoring options. Their horrible shooting performance was partially due to tough defense by Villanova, but ultimately it will be very hard for Duke to win enough games in a row against quality opponents without any threat from down low. Luckily for the dookies, Gerald Henderson and Kyle Singler's horrid performance probably means those two will be returning, and while he won't be able to play next year, picking up Seth Curry will ensure that the Duke backcourt is solid for years to come. The dynamic of Curry with Duke will be very interesting from a fans perspective. His brother was one of the most beloved players in the NCAA tournament last year, but he may end up being another hated Dookie in tournaments to come.
  • Pittsburgh did finally make it past the sweet sixteen by squeaking past Xavier partially due to the late game heroics of talented (and debatably fat) point guard Levance Fields. However they watched their chances disappear at the hands of Scottie Reynolds of Villanova. Pittsburgh was a talented team, but they never looked comfortable during the tournament. Villanova looked impressive in this win and their domination of Duke and their talented quartet of guards should be an interesting matchup against UNC.
  • While Mizzou fell to a vastly more talented Uconn team, the Tigers have to feel great about their performance in the tournament. They hung an unthinkable 102 points on a very athletic and talented Memphis team, then pushed Uconn to the brink before falling by only seven points. Demare Carroll is one of the most passionate and hard working players in college basketball and Mike Anderson's 40 minutes of Hell system is a work of art that will wear out and break down all but the most talented and athletic teams in the nation.
  • Michigan State pulled out a gutsy win against Kansas on friday, then completely took a talented Louisville team out of their element to make it to Detroit. I admit that after the 35 point beatdown UNC put on MSU earlier this year in Detroit, I didn't think they would go too far in the tournament. But Tom Izzo has his team playing best when it matters, and Uconn better come prepared when facing the Spartans in what will essentially be a home game for Michigan State.
  • Blake Griffin is every bit the player of the year and should be a dangerous force in the NBA next year should he choose to enter the draft. That said Griffin was not enough to carry Oklahoma to a final four. The Sooners took down Syracuse because Crocker put up 28 points to complement Griffin. When the Sooner guards went cold from 3, Griffin couldn't single handedly keep up with the UNC scoring machine.
  • Aside from the two #1 seeds falling to a 2 and a 3, this tournament has been almost devoid of upsets. The two "cinderellas" in the elite 8, Purdue and Arizona were both overmatched by more talented teams. However I think next year will be much more unpredictable as many of the top teams have upperclassman that will be gone next year, and many of the talented underclassman will also be off the the NBA. Very young teams like Memphis (who has the #2 and #3 recruits next year and is also in the running for #1) and UNC (who has several blue chip recruits) will have a chance to fight though the tournament.
  • Tyler Hansbrough was outperformed by Griffin in the much hyped showdown of last years POY vs this year's presumptive winner. Hansbrough will not be a dominant force in the NBA and will likely have to find a niche as a 6th or 7th man. That said Hansbrough has been one of the most dominant players in college basketball and holds the ACC scoring record along with the NCAA record for most free throws made. While he may draw comparisons to Beaker from the muppets in appearance and is not the most well spoken player in UNC history his career achievements add to an already stellar UNC legacy.
  • The questions about Lawson's toe may now finally be put to rest as he produced another impressive performance against OU just 48 hours after playing on the toe against Gonzaga. The Tar Heels utterly dominated a talented Gonzaga team and provided too much scoring and balance for Blake Griffin to deal with on his own. While UNC still will have momentary lapses in concentration, and Roy Willams will disrupt momentum by subbing too often from time to time, the Tar Heels look to be the best team in the final four and have a great chance of cutting down the nets in Detriot.
  • Check back later in the week for a preview of the final four matchups.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Second Round Thoughts and Sweet Sixteen Preview

  • What a finish to an exciting first week of action. Here are my thoughts on the second round of games.
  • Villanova is going to give Duke quite a game and the matchup of excellent guard play on both ends should be entertaining. Duke was exposed as having very little down low against Texas, but managed to pull off the win with good defense and clutch shooting. So in a way Duke is like a guy who uses his Corvette to compensate for other deficits. Which works fine until that car is totalled by an 18-wheeler (and that 18-wheeler's name is Tyler Hansbrough). However I think Villanova's guards are the Ferrari that takes all attention away from the Corvette. If you can't follow this extensive metaphor, in plain terms I think Villanova wins.
  • Memphis is basically a team full of young NBA players. This is both an advantage and a disadvatage. When they are focused and properly motivated (thank you Grevis Vasquez), they can make a good team look silly, when they overlook teams and play selfishly their inexperiance shows and they almost lose to a 15 seed. Their Tigre a Tigre (I gotta say, for tigers neither look very intimidating) matchup with Mizzou should be very interesting as Mizzou fields an athletic roster, but one without any future pros. The way Memphis deals with Mizzou's press should go a long way in determining the outcome. If memphis remains composed and capitalizes on their athletic advantage, they could win going away, if not the Midwestern Tigers could pull the victory.
  • Connecticut looks like the most dangerous team in the tournament. As long as Lawson's toe is a question mark (it will be much tougher to play two games in a 3 day span if the toe is not healthy), I think Connecticut is the favorite. They should overwhelm a solid Perdue team to set up a potentially fabulous matchup with Memphis.
  • Pittsbugh and Louisville have not been particularly impressive through the first couple rounds. Pittsburgh in particular is at risk of their worst sweet sixteen meltdowns yet if they do not step up their level of play. While neither Xavier or Arizona should be too much for Pitt and Louisville to deal with, it would not be entirely surprising to see either of these teams heading home before the weekend is over. On the topic of Arizona, the Wildcats have to thanking the gods of the Mojave for their draw so far. First they drew an overseeded Utah and then benefitted from cleveland state knocking off Wake. Arizona now is sitting pretty in the sweet sixteen without as many haters complaining about their inclusion.
  • I think the Collins-Aldrich combo is one of the most effective combos since Chandler and Joey (Friends was all downhill from the point at which they stopped rooming together). That said Michigan State is a more complete team with a good point guard of its own that has already beat Kansas. This should be another good one but I think the Jayhawks will go home without much shame after making the Sweet Sixteen after losing 5 player to NBA last year.
  • Ty Lawson turns a solid UNC team to the most dangerous offensive machine in the nation. The way he took over the game (and absolutely faked an LSU defender out of his shoes) against LSU should strike fear into every other team in the tournament. Couple Lawson with Hansbrough, a smouldering Wayne Ellington, and Ed Davis who is rejecting everything that comes his way, and UNC is absolutely the most talented team in this tournament. That said, Gonzaga matches up well with UNC and should keep the game close up until the final ten minutes which is when I see UNC running away with it.
  • The issue of Blake Griffin's racial ambiguity was finally revealed as he is apparently half African American and half Ginger. This is a great accomplishment for gingers everywhere who now have somone other than Ron Howard to aspire too (I think I may have lost all of my Ginger readers with that comment). I of course say this all in jest, as without gingers there would be no Isla Fisher and the world would be a worse place. However I think a more complete and momentum-driven Syracuse will take out the Sooners.
  • That's all for now, check back after the Sweet sixteen for more impressions.

Friday, March 20, 2009

First Round Thoughts

First of all, the past week has been really busy so I haven't gotten a great chance to post. Finally, halfway through the second day of march madness, I get a chance to share my thoughts on the first round. These thoughts will be updated over the next 24 hours to include thoughts on ongoing games.
  • I was 14 of 14 going into the final two games of last night. I changed my pick from UCLA to VCU late Wednesday night only to watch Maynor miss a potential game winning shot. While I don't feel that VCU was a bad pick, UCLA's tournament experience over the past few years should have earned them the pick. I then missed on the Western Kentucky-Illinois upset pick, which in retrospect should have been an obvious upset. When it comes to March Madness its better to go Stephen Colbert (go with the gut) than George Costanza (do the opposite).
  • The other pick I changed Wednesday night was changing to Michigan over Clemson. That was a good decision as Clemson once again imploded. Its hard to have faith in a program that has lost 50+ straight at an opponent's home court (The Dean Dome). Also Clemson lost to GT in the ACC tournament.
  • Connecticut and Carolina absolutely dominated the #16 seeds winning by a combined 99 points. Both teams are not at full strength, but proved they deserve to be considered national title contenders. In Carolina's case Lawson is expected to be able to play against LSU on Saturday. I think UNC should dress Lawson, but start Drew II or Frasor and only bring Lawson in if the game gets too close. UNC should be able to win without Lawson, and it is important that he is very close to 100% for the Sweet Sixteen where they may meet a dangerous Gonzaga team.
  • Oklahoma and Duke were also impressive in dominating their low-seeded foes. While both teams may have obvious holes, they should both be considered contenders for the final four and should not be overlooked.
  • Both Villanova and Memphis were significantly challenged by low seeds. Memphis should be vary wary of a dangerous Maryland team, who I actually picked to upset the Tigers. Maryland is still somewhat incosistent, but when they come to play they can compete with anyone.
  • I find it somewhat funny that one of the sponsors of the ESPN Gametracker is Trojan. They should change it so that it says "ESPN Gametracker, Brought to you by Trojan: We've got it covered." Also, Geico really needs to stop with the "money you could be saving with Geico" commercials. Actually over the past five years the only ideas Geico has had are a talking gecko, cavemen, and a stack of money with eyes on top of it.
  • In contrast, the Nike Jumpman commercials such as the one with the Carolina fan being ticketed for doing 36 in a 35 in Illinois are great. Also as much as i despise the Cameron Crazies, their Coke Zero commercial is pretty cool as well.
  • Bruce Pearl needs to inform his team next year that they are not playing in the NBA, and thus other teams will try their hardest for the entire game.
  • Pittsburgh did pull out a win, but as I said earlier their unimpressive showing my be a harbinger of another Sweet Sixteen exit for the Panthers if they do not perform better than they did last night.
  • With the losses by BC, FSU, and especially Wake last night, the ACC has disappointed in the first week of the tournament. While I still believe UNC is a title favorite and that Maryland and Duke will make waves, the exit of so many ACC teams gives creedence to those who claim the conference is overrated.
  • Wake is a young talented team with little mental toughness or leadership. They peaked too early and got embarrassed by Cleveland State last night. After looking like a POY canditate in January, Teague disappeared for the most important part of the season. Aminu, Teague, and Johnson should all come back as it would be best for both them and Wake.
  • Syracuse does not look too fatigued by the BEast tournament and should not be an easy out for anyone. Mizzouri continues to wear teams out by playing suffocating defense and also will be a pain in the ass to any team that draws them. The Siena-Ohio State game was very entertaining and had a great finish.

Friday, March 13, 2009

College Basketball Observations

Some quick hit thoughts from the conference tournament action so far. UPDATED Sunday at 5:00.
  • Missouri is not exceptionally talented and does not have many great shooters, but Mike Anderson has his team giving great effort and playing great basketball. The Tigers execute the press better than any team I have seen this year.
  • Missouri showed that they are for real by winning the Big 12 tournament and may even sneak out a 2 seed. They may be a threat to make the elite eight instead of the sweet sixteen like I wrote earlier.
  • Kansas' loss to Baylor most likely eliminates them from consideration for a number two seed. I think they will probably end up with a 3 or 4. Oklahoma lost any chance of a one seed with their loss to Oklahoma State, and also may be pushed out of the last two seed (Memphis, Wake Forest, Michigan State are my other 2 seeds). I think it will be a competition between Oklahoma, Duke, and Mizzou (if they win the Big 12 tournament).
  • Uconn may have actually benefitted by losing the 6OT epic last night, as they will get a chance to rest. If they had won last night and made it to the Big East final, I think they would be at serious risk of coming out flat early in the NCAA tournament. Additionally, Connecticut showed a toughness absent the past couple years that I think will carry them to the Final Four.
  • Louisville should get a #1 seed and once again Rick Pitino has his club playing great basketball in March after a slow start to the season. Last year UNC had to put forth a great effort to beat them in the elite eight, and Louisville should make the final four.
  • Virginia Tech has the worst Karma in the NCAA, and are headed to the NIT after a second year of losing to UNC in the last minutes of the ACC tournament. UNC showed a great amount of character to pull off the win against a desperate team without their most valueable player (Ty Lawson). While Tyler Hansbrough is the best player on UNC (as he proved with a 28 point effort), Lawson's court leadership and ability to score makes him the most valuable player for UNC.
  • Memphis could possibly end up ranked #1 in Monday's poll and still be denied a one seed. While this seems like an injustice, I reall cannot convice myself that Memphis is better than Carolina, Connecticut, Pittsburgh, or Louisville.
  • Say Hello to the NIT Kentucky. The loss to LSU should cement a bid to the Not Invited Tournament for the Wildcats. While this honor is dubious, it should actually help Kentucky keep a little more space between them and UNC on the all-time wins list.
  • I was right about FSU beating UNC, but dead wrong about Wake. Wake clearly peaked too early and will make it no further than the Sweet 16. They are a young talented team like UConn was the past couple years whose lack of experience is catching up to them. Look for them to be a title contender next year if Teague and Aminou return. Duke on the other hand showed a clutchness missing the past few years and may even be a final four contender if they get a good draw. As for UNC they are still the best team in the nation with Lawson (who should be fine by Thursday), but without him they can't make it past the second weekend.
  • My Elite Eight Right now look like this:
  1. Carolina- get a pass for losing without Lawson with very little to gain
  2. Louisville- see above for thoughts on how they are playing.
  3. Pittsburgh- also had little to gain with a #1 seed already locked up
  4. UConn- Gave a great effort in the 6OT game, still may not have the character to win it all
  5. Memphis- I know they will be a #1 seed, but I can't see them making it past the elite eight.
  6. Duke- suddenly playing good basketball again and could make a run at the final four
  7. Missouri- can probably beat the middle of the road teams with tenacious defense before falling to superior talent in the elite 8
  8. Kansas- Michigan State is not impressive, Oklahoma is fading fast. Kansas gets the spot partly due to respect from las year, and partly because they have one of the best guard-big men combos in the game.

This Year is Shaping up to be one of the Craziest in Sports

This year is sports so far has been so surprising, its starting to remind me of LOST (which is a great show by the way). The year kicked off with undefeated Utah beating an Alabama team in the Sugar Bowl, leading many to call for a BCS playoff. Then the Arizona Cardinals, a franchise who up until this year was probably most famous for Rod Tidwell, made it to the Super Bowl, then came within an amazing catch by Santonio Holmes of winning it. Alex Rodriguez, who like him or not, many though was the best chance of a clean player to break Barry Bonds' home run record*, admitted he was on the juice (once again I beg you Albert Pujols not to use steriods).

Then last night I watched UConn and Syracuse duke it out for six overtimes (ten minutes short of two full regulations). Apparently a game once went into seven overtimes, but I personally had never seen more than triple overtime. By the end of the fourth overtime, the players on both sides had to think they were stuck in the movie Groundhog Day. Both teams deserve recognition for fighting so hard, but you have to think that UConn may have been the real winner by losing. Syracuse will have to play at 9pm tonight and will be completely exhausted. The toll that these two days will take on the players may hurt their chances in the real tournament if the players are still fatigued. Either way both teams deserve props for one hell of a game. With how crazy this year has been, the one seeds better not overlook the sixteen seeds next week.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Jump Around Danny!

While this season has been awesome for the most part as a UNC student and fan, one thing has been tragically absent. I refer of course to Danny Green's pre-game dance to the song "Jump Around." On a quick sidenote, the House of Pain (who sings the song) is a 90's hip hop group comprised of 3 white Irish-American rappers. I can't decide whether I am really surprised or unsurprised by this. Anyways, as Danny has been in the starting lineup all year (and thus not on the sideline to dance), he has refrained from his dancing. While this is understandable, as it may come across disrespectful to be dancing on the court right before tip-off, I still feel it was a source of team unity that is now not present.

What makes this worse is that Greg Little (who plays on the football team) didn't walk on this year, as he was almost as enthusiatic as Green during "Jump Around." Another quick aside: my favorite stat last yeat was that UNC was undefeated in games in which Greg Little saw the court, prompting a long-running inside joke that he was the best player on the team.

Anyways, with tomorrow being Green's final game in the Dean Dome, facing Duke, it would be a travesty if Danny didn't dance one last time to "Jump Around." And trust me, if he does (I have a hunch he will), myself and everyone in the Dean Dome will go crazy. So Danny, I respecfully ask you to Jump Around!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Blood of the Best Rivalry in Sports Runs Blue

The moniker "best rivalry" gets thrown around several times a year. When the Red Sox and Yankees clash in October. When Ohio State and Michigan meet in November, usually with the Big Ten title on the line. When the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers meet up at any point during the NBA season. When Sampras and Agassi met at the U.S. Open (or now when Federer and Nadal meet at Wimbledon. And when the two schools separated by eight miles of US highway 15-501, meet up to do battle in February and March. All of these rivalries have a claim as best in sports, and a sport having such rivalries makes it that much better.

Indeed, rivalries in and of themselves are one of the best elements of sports. Every athlete wants to win every game they play. But when the opposing team is your rival, it gets kicked up a notch.

As a fan, the intensity and occasional hatred between rival fanbases is even more palpable. Whether is be high school football, college basketball, or professional baseball the allegiance to your team is increased tenfold when its gameday against your rival. The Cleveland Browns have been consistently bad since re-entering the NFL, but on game day against the Steelers, they may be the most passionate and venomous fanbase in all of sports. The Red Sox spent years losing to the Yankees in big games, but every time the teams met the Boston fanbase was in full force.

Since all good rivalries have a strong sense of passion from each fanbase, it becomes somewhat arbitrary to declare one is the best in all sports. It is pretty clear that the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry is the best in baseball, and that the Carolina-Duke rivalry is the best in college basketball (I know the Louisville and Kentucky fans will have something to say about this, but the large majority rules when I say that UNC-Duke is best).  Still, I would argue that the UNC-Duke rivalry is in fact the best in all of sports.

UNC and Duke are two schools that simply don't like each other. Yet for all their differences, some striking similarities exist. Both are part of the research triangle, and are regarded as some of the best institutions of higher learning in the south, as well as the nation. Both schools have contributed to major breakthroughs in research, especially in the fields of science and medicine. And both are among the top programs in the history of college basketball. I will not go into the history of how the rivalry started, because I was not alive for this period. Thus this argument will be mainly based on the rivalry during my lifetime, and my firsthand experience over the past three years as a UNC student.

The first thing that makes any rivalry good is the fans. While this seems somewhat ironic, as they are not the ones out playing the game, the atmosphere they create is instrumental in the greatness of a rivalry. In the case of Carolina and Duke, the animosity between fanbases is, to put it lightly, intense. This stems not only from the wars that occur on the court, but the differing ideologies between the universities. Carolina students view Duke as a snobbish university, deeply invested in being considered the Ivy league of the south, with students whose outward academic competitiveness give off the stench of nerdiness. Duke students most likely view Carolina as an inferior academic university, and feel Carolina students are cocky and too caught up in seeming cool. Duke is private and tries to attract the valedictorians of prestigious high schools across the east coast, UNC is public and looks to enroll the best students in the state of North Carolina. Carolina's has beautiful girls, Duke has uh....beautiful gothic buildings.

When the two teams meet, fans at Duke will camp out for weeks (even risking meningitis) in order to get tickets. In the stadium, Duke students heckle Carolina players by doing their weird hand waving thing and taunt Carolina players whenever they get the chance (which led Ty Lawson to yell "F*** you" to Cameron's student section). It's even claimed that the Dookies first invented the term "Air Ball" when when a Carolina player hit nothing but nothing years ago. Carolina fans will be just as relentless in letting the Duke players hear it in the Dean Dome and will wear shirts saying things such "Dook Blue is Just Past Tense for Dook Blows," and making signs like this one. As much as the fans hate each other, they need each other to exist. To put it this way, I would not be that upset if we didn't play NC State every year, but I could not imagine not getting to play Duke twice each year.

The legacy of both teams also makes Carolina-Duke great. Both teams have produced some of the best players in college basketball history such as Jordan, Laettner, Jamison, Hansbrough, and as much as I really don't want to say it, Redick. Also, the best player in NBA history (and one of, if not the only one to have a leading role in a movie), came from Carolina. Yes, THE Michael Jordan. Oftentimes players who do battle against each other, are actually good friends and will talk amicably throughout the game. While they all may not be bitter enemies, you don't get the feeling that much love is lost between the players of UNC and Duke. Elbows have been thrown and Pauluses have been teabagged.

The coaching legacy is just as great with two of the best to ever coach the game (Dean Smith and Coach K.), alongside another well on his way (Roy Williams). Even the styles and approaches clash as UNC runs a fast-paced offensive attack, while Duke's strategy involves tough defense, perimeter shooting, and strategically falling down. Coach K. has no qualms with being caught cursing while Roy Williams finds it necessary to apologize for approximately 31/2 hours for dropping one F-bomb (Seriously Roy, we're all adults, and your goshdern, gee-willikers approach becomes quickly tiresome).

What puts this rivalry past its college football equivalent (Ohio State-Michigan), is the national interest. While many people tune in to watch the Buckeyes and Wolverines on the gridiron, most outside the midwest really don't have a strong rooting interest in either team. This is in direct contrast to UNC-Duke. Duke has built up one of the largest non-rival hater fanbases in the nation. If you don't go to Duke and care about college basketball, there is about a 75% chance you hate them. UNC on the other hand is a little more well liked by many who did not go to UNC, including famous rapper and View From the Student Section's favorite sports fan Lil' Wayne. That said, a large contigent of UNC haters do exist, most whom's wrath is focused on Tyler Hansbrough. The UNC-Duke game is always hyped up on ESPN, and, love him or hate him, Dick Vitale has become an iconic announcer for his coverage of the games.

The games usually live up to the hype, too. From Jeff Capel hitting a half-court buzzer beater to send the game to overtime (UNC went on to win), to Duhon's reverse layup to take down the Tar Heels, to a UNC freshman named Tyler Hansbrough making the national player of the year cry on Duke's senior night, this rivalry has produced some epics. The last one I mentioned was the most watched college basketball game ever. And those are only the ones that immediately came to mind from my lifetime. The overall series lead is held by Carolina 127-97 (as of March 4, 2009), however Duke was 14-5 against UNC from 1997-2003 (a period we would prefer to forget here at UNC). Additionally, for the past 124 meetings, at least one team has been ranked in the top 25. Regardless of ranking, when the two teams play each gets the others best shot.

All of these things make UNC-Duke stand above all rivalries save one. The big one. The behemoth. Red Socks-Yankees. There is no doubt that the two baseball powers have larger fanbases than Duke and UNC, and may even have an edge in fan passion. I could go the cheap route and say that the Yankees and Red Sox play more times, making each meeting less meaningful. But that would be a cheap way out, and not a good argument. When the Yankees and Red Sox meet in the playoffs, the intensity and hatred is just as strong if not moreso than UNC-Duke. So why is UNC-Duke better? Two words: Player Allegiance. Once a Tarheel, always a Tarheel. Same goes for Duke. You would never see a former UNC player cheering for Duke, and you would NEVER see a Carolina player transfer to Duke. This is in stark contrast to the Johnny Damon effect that occurs in professional baseball. Damon, with his Jesus-esque facial hair, led the amazing playoff run to break the curse in Boston and win the World Series. What did he do shortly after? He shaved, and left for a big contract with the rival Yankees. Many other players have switched between these two organizations as well. This could and would never happen with Carolina-Duke, and for my money, is why UNC-Duke is the best rivalry in sports, above Red Sox Yankees, and why I'll feel so privileged to be in the seats of the Dean Dome Sunday night.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Separated at Birth?

Almost done with the Mock Draft and also working on a large post about UNC-DUKE. To hold you over I present you with the possibility that Brian Zoubek may be related to the tall ugly monster from Space Jam.