Friday, December 31, 2010

The X Factors

With the non-conference schedule coming to an end this Sunday against what should be little more than a stepping stone in St Francis, the shape of the 2010-2011 Tar Heel basketball team is coming into focus. Tyler Zeller is the go to scorer. John Henson is a presence in the paint and on the boards and seems to have figured out what does and does not work for him on offense. The point guard position remains an issue of constant debate, but neither Drew nor Marshall are going to score much more than 10 points in most games. Harrison Barnes has fallen short of his astronomical expectations, but can be expected to contribute between 10-16 points on most nights. However, through the first 14 games of the season, the X factors on this team have been the pair of sophomore guards, Dexter Strickland and Leslie McDonald.

Strickland has started at shooting guard all season and over the past month seems to have really elevated his offensive game. With respect to Drew ‘s much improved defense and Henson’s penchant for shot-blocking, Stickland has been the best defender all season. He is 6th in the ACC in steals with 1.62/game. In fact, one could argue that Strickland, who switched his jersey to #1, a number worn last season by Marcus Ginyard, has been a more effective lockdown defender than Ginyard was last season. Playing out of position last season, Strickland often seemed out of control and couldn’t consistently finish in transition despite his impressive speed. This season Strickland looks much more impressive in transition, pushing the ball on fast breaks and finishing consistently. He also has done a good job at the charity stripe shooting a respectable 72.9%. While not an outside shooter, he has knocked down 50% of his attempts from beyond the arc.

Strickland’s backup, Leslie McDonald has also shown marked improvement this season. McDonald is not the defensive pest that Strickland is on the defensive end of the ball nor is he as explosive in on the fast break. However, McDonald has done a pretty damn good Wayne Ellington impression (McDonald is now wearing #2, the number Ellington wore as a freshman) on several occasions this season. McDonald is the most assertive scorer on the team, one of the things that impressed me last season when he seemed at times the only player outside of Will Graves willing to confidently throw up a shot from beyond the arc. While not Ellington, I feel Wayne is best comparison for McDonald who some have compared to Danny Green (McDonald is shooting an impressive 43.2% from 3 point range). While McDonald has certainly disappeared at times this season, he has been an explosive scoring force off the bench who by his junior and senior seasons may be able to do an even better job of making it Wayne on a more consistent basis.

While, Strickland and McDonald’s complementary skill sets do sometimes make fans wish the two could be combined into one player (Lester StrickDonald?), the improvement of the two sophomores show just how silly it is for players to be declared busts or disappointments after their freshman season. The two will continue to improve over their four (or maybe three) years at Carolina and could be stars as upperclassmen. This year don’t be surprised if the Heels go as far as their pair of sophomore guards take them.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A Matter of Perspective

Larry Drew could take a lesson from him
Between having very little free time and my focus on UNC basketball, the UNC football program was pretty much ignored on this blog this fall.  Prior to the start of the season, I wrote a slightly tongue-in-cheek post about going through the 5 stages of grief for UNC's football season after it became apparent that the agent and academic investigations would leave a serious dent in a defensive unit that was being mentioned along those of top SEC schools.  What I thought would be a dent ended up being more of a Crater.  Here's a quick breakdown of the players who missed time (a big thanks to TarHeelFan, an awesome UNC blog that made it a lot easier to find all of this).

Missed Time but Cleared (games missed): Shaun Draughn (1), DaNorris Searcy (2), Linwan Euwell (5), Ryan Houston (season-decided to redshirt).
Suspended (games missed): Deunta Williams (4), Kendric Burney (7), Charles Brown (season), Brian Gupton (season), Jonathan Smith (season)
Declared Permanently Ineligible: Marvin Austin (dismissed from the program), Greg Little, Michael McAdoo, Devon Ramsay

Considering that Austin, Quinn, Williams, and Burney were all projected to go in the first 3 rounds, the fact that UNC's defense was able to field even a respectable unit it a testament to the depth and coaching of the unit.  The fact that the entire linebacker core avoided missing games due to suspension (though Sturdivant did miss a few due to injury) played a big part in holding things together.  Perhaps more surprising than the defense's performance however was T.J. Yates' transformation into a very good college quarterback in his senior season.  While the loss of Little and Houston were significant the offense was more a victim to injuries than suspensions.  Yates' favorite target, tight end Zach Pinalto, broke his fibula and has been injured on all 3 of his collegiate touchdowns.  Johnny White, who stepped up in a big way as a senior and was well on his way to a 1000+ yard season, broke his clavicle against Florida State.  Even with those injuries Yates' stellar play kept the offense together.  Dwight Jones broke out this season and is 105 yards short of a 1000 yard season going into UNC's bowl game.  Ultimately considering how many key players missed time, a 7-5 record and a trip to Nashville for the Music City Bowl and a meeting with Tennessee seems an overwhelming success.  On the other hand though, UNC was picked by some to win the ACC and was even considered a dark horse contender before Marvin Austin's tweets launched the team into a maelstrom.  So the obvious question arises: "Was the 2010 UNC football season a success or a failure."

In attempt to answer this question lets quickly take a look at the high and low points of the season.

High Points
  • TJ Yates' and Jhey Boyd leading a furious comeback against and LSU squad that would only lose 2 games this season despite UNC missing 12 players on the defensive side of the ball
  • UNC's dominant second half against ECU a game in which both Johnny White and Shaun Draughn both broke 100 yards on the ground
  • A home win against Clemson and watching my med school class president, a Clemson alum, wear a UNC shirt the next day as a result of me winning our bet on the game
  • Ending a 29 year draught at UVA with a dominating 44-10 victory
  • The entirity of the UNC-FSU game.  One of the most entertaining games of the year.  And a special mention for Hunter Furr's late game heroics.
  • TJ Yates putting together a great season and taking hold of most of the UNC passing records
Low Points
  • Injuries and Suspensions covered in depth above
  • Watching UNC's depleted defense fail to stop GT's triple option offense
  • Blowout losses to Miami and VT after promising starts to each game
  • Blowing yet another 4th quarter lead against NC State and the resulting explosion of Wolfpack ego
  • Jhey Boyd disappearing from the offense after what seemed like a breakout game against LSU
As painful as the losses were, it deserves to be said that all of the games UNC lost were expected to be tough games even prior to all of the suspensions.  UNC won the games it was supposed to and even a couple it wasn't.  Furthermore, even had the team been at full strength, there is no sure bet that they could have taken down a VT squad that went undefeated in conference play.  And even if the heels had managed to go undefeated (which very few were predicting) they still would likely have been on the outside looking in on a Oregon-Auburn national championship game.  Furthermore, given the state of the program just 5 years ago, a bowl berth at 7-5 is not all that bad of a result.  One other silver lining of all the suspensions is that many younger players on the defensive end of the ball got a chance to develop, especially Donte-Paige Moss.  Factor that in with the fact that some players such as Gupton and Charles Brown will be back next year after their suspensions and UNC may be able to field a pretty solid unit on defense in 2011.

Dwight Jones could be a star next season
Still, one is left to wonder what might have been had Marvin Austin never gotten on twitter.  UNC may have had one of the best defenses in the nation.  They could very realistically taken down LSU in Atlanta (who won the game primarily on special teams) and probably would have fared much better against' GT's triple option.   The games at Miami and against Virginia Tech would have been tough, but few can deny that UNC would have stood a better chance with Austin and Quinn rushing Jacory Harris and Tyrod Taylor.  Couple a full defense with TJ Yates' improvement and an additional target in Greg Little and UNC could have been something really special.  As I said VT would have still been a very tough game, but its not unrealistic to believe UNC would be playing in the Orange Bowl had the academic/agent scandal never happened.

While whether you view the season as a success or a failure is largely a matter of perspective, oddly enough I think the result of UNC's bowl game will go a long way in determining the ultimate answer to the question.  Over the past two seasons UNC posted 8-4 records, but failed to win their bowl game match ups (both of which yours truly attended).  Tennessee is certainly not top competition, but they do hail from the vaunted SEC.  Furthermore, in an enterating twist of irony Tennessee had played millions to back out of a deal that would have pitted the Tar Heels and the Volunteers in a home-away series over the next two seasons.  If UNC wins, I will still always wonder what might have been, but in the end I will consider this season somewhat of a success.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Counting down the 10 Can't Miss UNC Basketball Games for 2010-2011

Brandon Knight and Kyle Singler are just two of the stars UNC will face this season
The Tar Heels kick off their college basketball season in two weeks against Lipscomb.  While I will undoubtedly get over-excited for what (hopefully) shouldn't be much of a game, the 2010-2011 Tar Heel basketball schedule offers a cornucopia of enticing showdowns.  Now that I am done with anatomy and have a bit of my free time back I decided to count down the top 10 can't miss games of the upcoming Tar Heel basketball season.  Given how much of an embarrassment last season was for Carolina, there is a common theme of payback in many of these games.  While preseason polls have built up expectations once again for UNC, to truly rebound and put last season in the past, the Heels will need to take care of business in many of these games.  But that's enough buildup, time to start counting down...

10) College of Charleston at UNC (November 28)
Any other season a matchup with College of Charleston would probably not crack the top 25 games of a UNC basketball season.  However, last year's OT loss in Chaleston proved to be the start of a free fall that saw a team ranked in the preseason top 10 end up in the NIT.  After the loss last season John Henson received criticism for tweeting that the Heels had just made someones college career relevant.  Perhaps this season Henson will make his own college career more relevant with a dominating performance against the Cougars.  I expect UNC to make a statement early in th season with a beatdown of College of Charleston.

9) UNC at Georgia Tech (January 16)
The Tar Heels' visit to Atlanta will allow Carolina to exact revenge on a team that emerged victorious not one, not two, but three times against them last season.  Georgia Tech should take a step back this season after losing Lawal, Peacock, and Favors but still remain formidable in the backcourt with Shumpert and Glen Rice Jr. returning among others.

8) Clemson at UNC (January 18)
One of the few silver linings of last season was that Carolina did not have to play Clemson in the Dean Dome.  If they had, perhaps Clemson may have finally snapped the 54 game losing streak at Carolina.  Fortunately the streak still stands and UNC will look to extend it to 55 games against at Clemson team that will be in a bit of a rebuilding year.

7) Texas at UNC (in Greensboro, December 18)
When UNC played Texas in the new Cowboys stadium last December many felt the matchup pitted two of the best teams in the nation.  While Texas emerged victorious, both teams disappointed throughout the rest of the season with UNC missing the NCAA tournament and Texas exiting in the first round.  Texas will have a different look this season after the departures of Dexter Pittman, Avery Bradley, and Damien James but they add top PG recruit Cory Joseph to a team that still has a very talented, if heretofore underachieving,  roster.

6) UNC at Illinois (November 30)
This rematch of the 2005 National Championship game will pit two programs with strong legacies looking to return to prominence in college basketball.  This will be the first true test for UNC's talented but young roster in a hostile environment.  Illinois has a talented backcourt, but I have a feeling that this game will turn into the Harrison Barnes show as UNC scores a win for the ACC in the Big Ten-ACC challenge..

5) UNC at Duke (February 9)
After four years of dominance at Duke that led many UNC fans to rename the stadium "Hansbrough Indoor Stadium," the Blue Devils laid an absolute beatdown on UNC at home last season.  Duke enters the season as overwhelming favorites to repeat and will likely be ranked #1 going into this matchup.  While I do not expect UNC to be able to win this season in Cameron Indoor, there is no doubt that Harrison Barnes will look to prove he made the right choice.  Also, Reggie Bullock should expect to hear a lot from the Cameron Crazies after his comments this summer.

4) Virginia Tech at UNC (January 13)
Despite UNC being ranked higher in the preseason polls, it was Virginia Tech and not UNC that was picked to finish second (behind Duke) in the ACC.  I for one think Virginia Tech, which exited the NIT earlier than UNC last season, is being vastly overrated.  However, Malcolm Delaney is a contender for ACC player of the year.  Look for UNC to lay their claim as the clear #2 in the ACC in this early January matchup.

3) UNC at NC State (February 23)
Even despite all the issues last year's team had, Carolina managed to take care of NC State in both of their matchups.  Over the past five years UNC has absolutely dominated their "rivals" from Raleigh.  However the Wolfpack returns Tracy Smith and adds three top recruits in Ryan Harrow, Lorenzo Brown, and CJ Leslie.  If NC State hopes to rejuvenate the rivalry with Carolina, they will need to win at home.

2) Kentucky at UNC (December 4)
While Michigan State-Duke will be the most anticipated game of the upcoming basketball season (and with good reason), the December 4 matchup of the Tar Heels and the Wildcats may be the most talent assembled on a basketball court all season.  UK again will depend on a #1 freshmen class to carry the team, featuring Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb, Stacey Poole, and perhaps Enes Kanter.  UNC has slightly more experience, but will still need big contributions from Barnes and Bullock as well as sophomores John Henson and Dexter Strickland.  This game may be sloppy at times, but also will likely be chock full of ESPN highlights.

1) Duke at UNC (March 5)
UNC will likely not be able to pull off a victory in Durham in February.  However, if healthy Carolina should have a pretty good shot to take down the Dookies in the Dean Dome in March.  My guess is that both teams will be ranked in the top 10 entering this matchup.  If UNC can beat Duke in March they may be looking at a #2 seed in the NCAA tournament.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Going Through the 5 Stages of Grief for UNC Football

"Hey Greg, we're gonna be awesome next year, lets go take a trip to celebrate"
Four years ago to the day I was a freshman at the University of North Carolina preparing to attend my first ever UNC Football game.  At the time Jon Bunting was the coach and most students I met at Carolina felt Tar Heel football was just a distraction (and a mediocre one at that) to hold us over until basketball season started.  I soon realized that UNC football did indeed suck as the team floundered to a 3-9 mark only beating Furman (by 3), NC State, and of course Duke (we sucked but we didn't suck that much).

However, when Bunting was shown the door at the end of the season and replaced by Butch Davis, an unfamiliar sense of optimism arose among the Tar Heel faithful.  This optimism was not as much rooted in a belief that Davis was a master strategist, but instead based on Butch's recruiting prowess.  In his first year he managed to bring in a monster (for UNC anyways) class headlined by top recruits Marvin Austin and Greg Little (cue foreshadowing music).

While the team was still unimpressive (amassing a 4-8 record) in Davis's first year, the team showed glimpses of talent.  With the development and addition of the talented recruits Davis was reeling in the Heels managed to put together consecutive winning seasons, each capped with a bowl appearance.  When a large group of talented juniors (mainly on the defensive side of the ball) decided to bypass the draft last spring, excitement was suddenly at almost record highs for the UNC football program.  The 2010-2011 would finally be the year when the Tar Heels established a football program that could at least be mentioned in the same paragraph as their basketball program....that was until about mid-July.

In the past month and a half, an investigation into the source of funding of one of Marvin Austin's summer trips has transformed into a full blown Inquisition into the entire football program.  Shockingly (sarcasm) we've found out that varsity athletes at major programs sometimes don't take their school's honor code seriously, and even have tutors write papers for them.  Regardless of how commonplace this actually is (and I'd venture to say it's pretty DAMN commonplace), UNC got caught and now 12 key players have been suspended for the opening game versus LSU tomorrow, including Marvin Austin who was indefinitely suspended. Given that the list of players suspended on the defensive end of the ball could be confused for Mel Kiper's Big Board, its relatively safe to say that expectations have dropped even lower than Glenn Beck's credibility. Ever since this fiasco began I have been going through the stages of grief for the North Carolina Football Program.

1) Denial- "I bet this is all just backlash of the Reggie Bush fiasco.  Marvin Austin probably didn't know he was breaking rules, but at worst he'll be suspended for a couple games and the team will be fine.  Right now this whole thing is being overblown"

In retrospect I was in more denial than Sammie Sweetheart was over her relationship with Ronnie through first five episodes of Jersey Shore.  And in this metaphor the press conference announcing the honor code infraction investigation was Snookie and JWoww's anonymous letter.  Wait, do I watch too much Jersey Shore?  Maybe I should just stop talking.....

2) Anger- "Why the hell did Marvin Austin tweet about his trip in the first place?  This is why college athletes shouldn't have twitter!  And who the hell brought up the tutor who wrote papers for players during the NCAA investigation? This is so unfair.  No one would have known anything if our players weren't such idiots!"

I still feel this way to some extent, and I am convinced this happens at almost all major programs.  However, I'm proud of UNC for valuing the concept of the student athlete.  I can think of some college basketball coaches who don't have the same values (Hint: his name rhymes with "Dawn Calimari")

3) Bargaining- "How can anyone know who got help from this tutor.  Look, I know Austin is going to be suspended for a significant portion of the season, but just let the rest of the team come out unscathed.  I'll accept a loss to LSU if the suspensions (outside of Austin and maybe Little) are only for a game."

This is ignoring the major bargain I'll always be willing to make.  If it comes down to our entire football program versus our basketball team being tarnished in the least, I'll grab a lawn chair and watch the UNC football team go down in smoke any day of the week.

This face doesn't exactly inspire hope
4) Depression- "This team is screwed.  We're going to go 4-8 because our offense still sucks and our defense is suspended.  Hell, forget this year's team, the entire program is screwed.  All our stars on defense are seniors and we're going to lose all our recruits after this.  Is it really still two months until basketball starts?"

Some of these things are still distinctly possible.  And if the investigation turns out to show that Butch Davis was involved he's out the door.  The man looked like he had just watched a family member die at last week's press conference.  Still I think that in all likelihood the program will not go down in flames, even if this season does.

5) Acceptance- "Unless our team overachieves versus LSU, we're going to lose tomorrow night.  UNC may not make a bowl and almost certainly won't win the ACC, unless the suspensions are only for one game.  Still Bryn Renner has shown promise and our defense still has talented albeit inexperienced players.  This is probably a 6-6 team that will surprise some people, but our shot at a contending football program may have gone down the tube."

In other words:

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Thrill is Gone

Most years by the time August rolls around I have only one thing on my mind when it comes to sports: The NFL. While last season was a disappointing one for the teams I cheer for, at the end of last year's Super Bowl, I was pumped for the 2010-2011 NFL Season.

Fast forward five months and nearly all of the excitement has dissipated. I've tried on several occasions to write NFL-related posts and couldn't come up with jack. I'm sure part of the reason for my dip in interest has to do with the vast decrease in free time that accompanies the start of medical school. I no longer have time to research stats for fantasy football, read training camp previews from 5 different websites, or play the entire upcoming season on Madden between the start of training camp and opening night.

Yet while I won't be able to do those things, their absence is not at the root of my lack of enthusiasm for the upcoming NFL season. I have tried to figure out exactly what happened in that five month span to cause such a drastic dip in interest and here is what I have come up with.

1) For the first time ever, I'm finding it hard to cheer for my team
God I hate him
Look, the Steelers, who seemed legitimate candidates to repeat as Super Bowl champs last August, had a disappointing year in 2009-2010.  There is no denying that.  However, it was not what happened between week 1 and week 17 that made my blood a little less black and gold.  Instead it was just one guy: Ben Roethlisberger. I had always suspected that Big Ben looked at himself as somewhat of an invincible superhero.  From refusing to take a sack in the pocket to his infamous motorcycle crash when he wasn't wearing a helmet, Roethlisberger always seemed to be a bit of an idiot.  But I was fine with that.  People care if their doctors, lawyers, and accountants are intelligent, not so much NFL quarterbacks.

Consequently, I was fine having a guy whose IQ rivaled Snookie's as my favorite team's quarterback.  That all changed however when the news came out that he took advantage of a 20 year old girl in a bathroom stall. A few weeks later, a feature in Sports Illustrated discussed his continued riding of motorcycles without a helmet and a general pattern of douchebaggery throughout the city of Pittsburgh .

Around the same time, the Steelers cut loose of  Santonio Holmes who had a breakout season in 2009-2010, but also had a series of legal issues since he joined the team.  Despite several rumors of attempted trades, Ben Rapelisberger still remains the QB of the Steelers going into the season.  I understand that it's hard for a front office to cut loose of a QB who has brought the organization two Super Bowls, but as a fan I just can't bring myself to cheer for a guy like that.

Ideally, the Steelers would have traded Roethlisberger for a second round pick (or even cut him if it came down to it) and drafted Jimmy Clausen with their second round pick.  This coming season I would probably be cheering for a talented team with Byron Leftwich, Dennis Dixon, or Clausen at quarterback.  Yeah that team would probably miss the playoffs, but at the end of the day I would have fun cheering the team on to an 8-8 finish, knowing my team's quarterback hadn't violated a girl three years younger than me.  Anyways, I've seen the Steelers win two Super Bowls, I could deal with a down year.  Instead I'm stuck with Rapelisberger.

2) On the flip side, I'm don't have a team to hate
Maybe the fact this picture makes me want to vomit is a good thing 
If you took a poll of who was the most hated team in the NFL anytime between 2003 and 2008, the New England Patriots would have won in a landslide.  Two years after David Tyree took down the most dominant and perhaps most hated team in NFL history with a miracle catch, the Patriots dynasty has been officially put to rest.  The fact is that the Pats have not won a Super Bowl since 2004 and that in that time no team has been able to quite take their place.  The Colts blew their chance this February, the Steelers have followed up both their Super Bowl seasons by missing the playoffs, the Giants seem to have been a flash in the pan, and the Saints just aren't that hateable.

Without an antagonist, the exploits of a protagonist become less significant, and that is the case with the upcoming NFL season.  Having a team to cheer against can be just as important as having on to cheer for.  That said I do think there are four possible teams that could take the role if the cards fall right the Patriots, the Jets, and the Cowboys.  If the Patriots get off to a hot start and win 7 or 8 straight games, they could easily regain their title as public enemy #1.   The Cowboys are always a threat to be the NFL's antagonist just based on principle.  The Jets have amassed a lot of talent this offseason and clearly have an air of cockiness to their game, and a coach who doesn't do much to filter his thoughts.

The wild card is if Rapelisberger's suspension gets reduced, the Pittsburgh starts winning, and the Steelers instantly become the most hated team in the NFL (see this season really is lose-lose for a Steelers fan).

3) The NFL offseason storylines have become trite
It seems like at the moment 90% of offseason storylines fall into one of three categories: 1) Player X got in trouble with the law 2) Player X is holding out for more money 3) Brett Favre may or may not retire.  With regards to the first, honestly I just don't care.  Put the person in jail, suspend him a few games, or do nothing (depending on the offense).  Just don't spend 25 minutes talking about it on Sportscenter.  With regards to the second, the NFL instantly needs to go to slotted salaries for the draft like the NBA.  Rookies haven't proven anything and thus don't deserve $50 million over four years.  Just like every job, you need to produce results to demand a higher salary.  As to the third point will someone just man up and take a shot at Favre's knees during the preseason and end all this nonsense.

4) The aren't as many exciting personalities in the league anymore
Back in 2005, you had T.O. when he was still scoring touchdowns and doing driveway sit-ups and you had Steve Smith and the artist formerly known as Chad Johnson seeing who could come up with the most innovative end zone celebrations.  Fast forward to 2010 and all of the great personalities in the league have either washed up (T.O.), toned it down (Steve Smith), or become parodies of themselves (Chad Ochocinco).  Yes the Bengals might as well put Pauly D in the slot this season to cement their reality show at WR, but it all feels a bit contrived.  Outside of Cincinnati the only exciting personality in the league is Rex Ryan.  I'm not sure if this trend is due to a change in attitude among younger NFL players, or if Roger Goodell has actually managed to turn the NFL into the "No Fun League".  Either way, despite what Goodell would like to think the NFL is an entertainment industry whose primary audience is males between the ages of 13 and 40, not a Fortune 500 company.

All of this said, perhaps when the actual season rolls around my excitement for the NFL will be back at full force.  Maybe some team will get desperate at the beginning of the season and offer up a first round pick for Rapelisberger.  Maybe the Patriots or the Jets will unify NFL fanbases by taking up the mantle of NFL Public Enemy #1.  Maybe the Ochocinco & TO combination will have a trickle down effect and make the league more fun again.  Maybe.  All I do know is that when it comes to the NFL offseason the thrill is gone.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

23 Reasons LeBron Will Never Be MJ

A lot of talking heads have said that with his decision to join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami, LeBron effectively destroyed his chance to ever reach Michael Jordan's level.  However if LeBron manages to average a triple double and the Heat win 70+ games, the comparisons will inevitably pop right back up.  While professional journalists and columnists much more talented than myself will no doubt analyze in depth whether LeBron has reached His Airness in the future, here are 23 quick reasons why LeBron won't ever be like mike. 

1) MJ: 6 Rings, 6 Finals MVPs
    LBJ: 0 Rings, 1 Finals appearance

2) Be Like Mike (No Way LeBron ever comes Close to Pulling this off)


3) Dwyane Wade's Miami Heat

No Matter How Many Titles LeBron wins in Miami, He'll never win one of these

5) Speaking of UNC, Video Evidence of Jordan's Superiority #1: NCAA Finals vs Georgetown

6) MJ: 10 Scoring Titles (NBA Record), 7 Consecutive Scoring Titles (NBA Record)
    LBJ: 1 Scoring title

7) Video Evidence of Jordan's Superiority #2: The Shrug

8) Jordan's most memorable media announcement was a two word press release: "I'm Back"
LeBron's most memorable media announcement was an overblown one-hour Sportscenter special.

9) Jordan wanted to beat the best players of his era, LeBron wants to play alongside them

10) 1992 "Dream Team" > 2008 "Redeem Team"
11)  This is how MJ puts a dagger in the heart of Cleveland

12) And this is how LeBron puts a dagger in the heart of Cleveland

One of the Greatest Movies Ever Made

14) "There's Michael Jordan and then there is the rest of us."
       -Magic Johnson (5 time NBA Champion)

15)  Video Evidence of Jordan's Superiority #3: The Cradle

16) The Air Jordans

17) MJ won the Slam Dunk Contest twice, beating out Dominique Williams who also was an amazing dunker.  LeBron has never competed in the Slam Dunk Contest.

18) "90 percent of what I’ve learned and what I’ve figured out comes from [Michael Jordan]"

      -Kobe Bryant (5 time NBA champion)

19) Jordan learned the game under Dean Smith, one of the top college coaches of all time and one of the highest character people in the history of college basketball.  LeBron skipped college.

20) Video Evidence of Jordan's Superiority #4: "The Flu Game"

21) These Three Commercials:

22) Video Evidence of Jordan's Superiority #5: Last Shot as a Chicago Bull

23)"I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."
-Michael Jordan

"I'm going to take my talents to South Beach"
-LeBron James

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Aftermath of the Craziest Tennis Match Ever

In tennis from time to time we come across a 5-set marathon match.  These matches only occur in the Grand Slam events (excluding the US Open which plays a tiebreaker for the 5th Set).  Federer-Roddick was a marathon match last year.  It lasted 4 hours and 16 minutes and was decided at 16-14 in the third.  That was a marathon match.  What just happened over the past three days is something different entirely.

Here are some of the Records set by Isner-Mahut:

Longest Match: 11 hours, 5 minutes (Previous Record: 6 hours, 33 minutes)
Most Games in a Match:  183 (Previous Record: 112)
Most Aces By a Player In a Match: 112-Isner, Mahut-103 (Previous Record: 78)
Longest Set: 138 Games (Previous Record: 45)

And that is by no means all of them (Most serve games held, most points won, most winners, it just keeps going).  Take a good look at the above numbers.  It almost impossible that those numbers are ever going to be broken.  The odds of Wilt's record of 100 points in a game is more likely to fall than those numbers, because while it is possible yet highly unlikely LeBron or someone else drops 100 on a team playing no defense (Golden State Warriors I'm looking at you), another 70-68 5th set is never going to happen again.  In fact it never should have happened in the first place.

So why did it?  Well part of the reason it did (and why it will never again happen) is that Isner-Mahut was the perfect matchup.  Isner owns the best serve in tennis right now, but due to his size, he is not much of a threat returning serve.  Mahut is a very good server and had strong groundstrokes, enough to hold serve fairly easily against Isner (Mahut won more points in the match than Isner) but is not a strong enough returner to break Isner's serve.  Throw in the fact that Isner served amazing in the final set and that the grass courts favor big serves and make breaks more rare and you can see how there at least was a basis for the stalemate that occured for 137 games.  Still, the fact that it lasted as long as it did is a testament not only to how well the two were serving but moreso the focus and willpower that allowed them to engage in the world longest staring contest, with neither blinking for over 8 hours.

In the end Mahut opened up a window in the 138th game with an ill-advised drop shot, followed by two great shots by Isner to bring an end to the uber-marathon match.  The fact that Isner was part of this (and to a lesser degree the fact that he emerged victorious) was particularly cool to me since our paths crossed almost 8 years ago.  Our high schools met in the State semifinals even though neither of us were playing (Isner was ineligible due to being sponsored and I was not in the starting lineup).  Isner was sitting only a couple feet away as we both watched the matches going on.  I was aware of who he was (at that point he was a top-ranked player in the south and had a scholarship to play tennis for Georgia) but did not expect that he would one day be playing in the craziest match in tennis history.

 You'll notice I said "craziest match" and not "best match."  To be honest, for much of the final set, the match was quite boring.  That's not to say it was not well played, simply that the points were ending quickly and amazing rallies were few and far between.  It isn't close to Roddick-Federer last year, Nadal-Federer the year before, or Borg-McEnroe back in the 70's.  For one thing those matches were in the finals and pitted some of the best players to play the game.  This was a first round match that pitted two players who will probably never be ranked in the top 5, maybe not even the top 10.  For another, those matches featured brilliant shot making and a sense that serve could be broken if the server were to play only a couple of loose points.  This match was a classic, but more in the historical, record-setting sense than in the "great match" sense.  However that should not take anything away from Isner and Mahut.  In time we'll get another Nadal-Federer 2008 or Roddick-Federer 2009.  We'll never get another Isner-Mahut 2010.

Monday, May 24, 2010

"Getting" LOST

Well the finale of perhaps the most polarizing and unique show of the past decade is finally over and judging from Facebook, Twitter, and my brother's text that simply read "That was awful," opinions on the finale are divided.  I for one loved the finale and think it did a beautiful job of tying together the narrative of the show.  Given the discussion, speculation, and even argument surrounding the finale, I figure its time for my second ever non-sports related blog post.


Okay you've been warned.

So before I begin dissecting the finale and the show in general.  I want to make a couple points about LOST that are pretty much not up for debate in my opinion.

1) It has some of the best music in television.  Michael Giacchino did an amazing job with the soundtrack.  He just won an academy award for Up! and also conducted the music for Star Trek.  He was pretty unknown at the start of LOST and his great work has led him to most likely be a long time fixture in the movie soundtrack business.

2) The casting and acting were PHENOMENAL for a cable television show.  Every major role was cast perfectly.  Casting isn't easy.  The acting was equally amazing with Ben, Locke, Richard, and Sawyer particularly standing out. 

I could continue waxing poetic about particular episodes or great performances, but I want to keep this as brief as possible.  So now to the finale.

Opinions are understandably mixed about the finale.  Before I explain why I loved it or respond to any criticism of the show, let me first attempt to clear up any confusion about the plot/ending.

First of all the island was NOT purgatory and the characters did NOT die in the crash of Oceanic 815.  The events happening in the first 5 seasons AND the events on the island during the sixth season WERE really happening.  The "sideways" timeline was in fact not an alternate reality at all but instead a "waiting area" before the characters entered the afterlife where they had to remember their lives on the island and realize the significance of their interactions before moving on together (Matthew Fox pretty much confirmed this on Jimmy Kimmel after the finale).  As Christian said, the characters died at different times.  We saw Jack dying in the final minutes.  Boone and Shannon died in earlier seasons.  It can be assumed that Kate, Sawyer, and others died after leaving the island and living their lives.  Ben and Hurley lived out their lives as protectors/leaders of the island and died later.

If this seems somewhat vague that is because it is.  No one has ever accused LOST of being clear cut.  LOST is more like a book than a TV show in some senses in that you have to use your imagination and think, as opposed to shows like 24 (and I also very much enjoy 24) where you can just sit back and watch.

A few more points to clear up before I get into the debate.  The plane Jack saw over him was most likely Sawyer, Kate, and co. escaping (though as Kimmel points out it could be the plane from the "sideways" and that is when Jack moves from the real world to the "waiting" area).  The images of the wreckage during the credits don't suggest they all died in the crash but instead represents (remember the concept of "symbolism" from high school English) what tied all of these characters together.

With those few things hopefully cleared up, lets jump into the finale itself.  The reason I loved it so much is because I feel it did a wonderful job wrapping up the narrative of the characters.  The point of LOST is not the island and its mysteries, but instead the characters who landed on the island and their stories.  More specifically it focuses on a group of individuals who all were flawed and all seeking redemption.  While the question of why they were on the island was certainly a point of interest to fans (including myself) throughout the show, the true significance of the characters were their intertwined paths to redemption, that, without each other, would not have been possible.  So in that regard I felt the finale was hugely successful in emphasizing this point.

The moving on of the characters to the afterlife was also done in a way that did not come across preachy or seem to put emphasis on a particular faith. LOST is a show in which faith is a major theme and one that draws from many religions, however I do not believe it was the intent of the producers to preach any particular religion.

The major criticism of the finale seems to be coming from those who feel disappointed with the lack of answers to questions about the island and mythology of LOST.  While I understand this point of view, I think the lack of answers is for three main reasons:

1) The writers were making it up as the went along up until the end of the third season and have said as much (listen to Bill Simmons podcast with the producers from a couple weeks ago). They had vague ideas of where they wanted to go, but until they were given an end date they could not sit down and plan out an ending.  That actually leads into point two:

2) Raising questions that do not directly impact the main narrative is a good way to keep people interested without sacrificing the narrative of the characters

3) The writers wanted to leave some things open to speculation. Does it really impact the narrative if the island was built by ancient Egyptians? No. I think they want the nature of the island (as well as what exactly the flash sideways was) to be open to speculation. As I said earlier LOST wants you to use your imagination and to speculate about certain mysteries even after the show ends.  Consider what happens when you try to give too much explanation.  You get something like season six of 24 in which the mysterious conspirators behind the plot in season 5 end up being Jack Bauer's family.

Consequently, I liked the decision to spend the finale focusing on bringing closure to the narrative of the characters instead of distracting from this with a bunch of answers to the mythology.

Lastly, none of this is to say I wouldn't have wanted more answers. Where they really messed up was not the finale (which as I said I loved) but the Jacob flashback episode. That was their real chance to delve into island mythology and explain things and instead they wasted a lot of time with two kids running through the jungle and some strange mother character.  I thought the episode was one of the weakest of the series.  It, not the finale, was the best time to answer island mythology and it completely disappointed.  Either the writers did not have a good idea of what was going to appease the answer-hungry fans, or they thought it was best to leave the answers to some questions open to interpretation.

The finale, much like the show throughout its run is destined to create division among those who watch the show.  Some will express their disappointment.  Some will get frustrated and antagonize those who liked it.  Some will think it was the best finale ever.  However, I hope most can agree that LOST was something unique and special.  It became a pop culture phenomenon.  It may be the last really successful sci-fi show on network television.  It introduced  us to interesting characters and was filled with twists and turns (the first flash-forward in the season 3 finale springs to mind).  And, love it or hate it, it was able to go out on its own terms.

Goodbye LOST. And Namaste.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


While I don't have time to post I took 5 minutes to come up with this picture to commemorate the four years in which Cameron Indoor Stadium Belonged to Tyler Hansbrough.  ALL YOUR BASE ARE BELONG TO US!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Good times

Today was my final day of classes at UNC.  That thought in and of itself is scary (also I am dangerously close to possibly having to rename this blog).  Anyways I was looking at Twitter and saw that former Tar Heel Bobby Frasor had tweeted:

BFrasor: The past 4 years this day has been like Christmas to me.Last Day of Classes(LDOC). To everyone at UNC: I envy you. Now go jump off a balcony

Obviously this struck a chord as I am a graduating senior and have partaken in my fair share of celebrating during the last day of classes, one of which actually overlapped in a weird LOST kind of way with the incident that Frasor is referring to.  It happens to be one of the cooler athlete stories I have from my time here at Chapel Hill and one I've told many people, but I figure now is a good time to share it to a larger audience.

On the last day of classes during my sophomore year, I along with several other friends attended Slugfest, a large party/concert hosted by one of the fraternities here at Carolina.  I myself never pledged a fraternity (in fact that was probably the last day of my college career I spent a significant amount of time at fraternity houses) but one of my close friends was dating a guy in the frat and she had convinced a group of us to all attend Slugfest (which was actually a lot of fun).  After arriving in the early afternoon and visiting everyone for a bit and downing a couple (okay, perhaps more than a couple) cold ones, I decided to venture over to another fraternity that three of my freshman year suitemates had pledged.  Their fraternity front lawn was packed with people with the exception of an area in the middle of the lawn where they had set up an above ground pool.

While hanging out on the lawn and catching up with my old suitemates, the news came down that Tyler Hansbrough had decided to stay for his senior season.  Obviously everyone celebrated when we heard this, as the Final Four beatdown at the hands of the Kansas Jayhawks was still fresh in the minds of most students.  After mingling and catching up with everyone I knew downstairs I went inside the frat house to say hey to one of my former suitemates (Mike) who was hanging out in his room.  Mike's room opened up to the balcony on the front of the house, so occasionally people would come through the room to jump off the balcony into the pool (I refrained... you're welcome, mom).  After I had been hanging out up in Mike's room for about 15 minutes reminiscing about freshman year, Tyler Hansbrough and Bobby Frasor suddenly walked straight through the room out onto the balcony.

Once I realized they were about to jump I immediately thought that it probably wasn't a good idea.  After all Bobby was coming off an ACL tear and Tyler Hansbrough was the key to any possible run at a title the next season (earlier in the day Ty, Wayne, and Danny had all announced they would be testing the NBA draft waters).  I thought for a second about trying to stop it but realized that any attempts to do so could quite possibly end with me being thrown off the balcony into the pool by Tyler Hansbrough.  As such I made the decision to quiclky run downstairs to the front yard to watch the two jump (and hope like hell they didn't get hurt).  In retrospect I kind of wish I had stayed on the balcony as photos Tyler and Bobby jumping made their way onto PTI the next day.

Both landed their jumps fine, and everyone at the party wildly cheered them on.  I ran up and gave Tyler a high-five (my hand hurt like hell afterwards) then quickly snapped the photo shown above of him standing in the pool urging others to jump with the assistance of a bullhorn.

Shortly after, I left to rejoin my friends at slugfest and continued to celebrate the last day of classes.  Two years later here I am again, having just finished my final course at college about to go celebrate my final last day of classes.  I urge all Carolina students to go out and celebrate today.  After all, you only get to go through college once.  

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Going the Distance

When Gordon Hayward's desperation shot bounced off the backboard and then off the front of the rim ensuring Duke its fourth national championship a small part of me died.  More than anyone, I know sports don't always end up with the poetic ending, but for the past 39 minutes and 59 seconds of basketball Butler had come out and proven that they could fight their way to their storybook ending with stifling defense.  I guess I had bought in to the Hoosiers comparison that had been constantly thrown around in the media over the past few week.  So when the chance for the comparison to come to fruition came just short, I like many others was disappointed.

Once I started thinking though, I realized that the real sports movie comparison wasn't Hoosiers at all.  It was an even better sports movie.  One that won the Academy Award.  One not about basketball.  Yep, you guessed it, Rocky.  While I enjoy every movie in the Rocky series (well except Rocky V, but that never happened), the first movie is undoubtably the best film.  The thing that makes it so unique is that the hero loses the fight at the end.  But that's not the point.  Unlike 99.9999% of sports movies, the point of Rocky is not winning, its proving you belong when others don't think you will.  Its about going the distance.

So now, a few days after a tantalizingly close missed buzzer beater crushed the hopes of pretty much all college basketball fans, I realize that even though Butler lost, the real storyline of the tournament was that they went the distance.  Don't let the typical post championship articles about Duke fool you either.  They were Apollo Creed.  Duke had 6 McDonalds All-Americans.  Butler had all of zero.  Duke had the coach who many feel may be the best the sport has ever seen.  Butler's coach just finished puberty.  Yes Duke and Butler weren't separated by that much in the polls entering the season.  Yes Butler was on the longest active win streak entering the game.  But Butler seemed to eek out every one of their games and never looked dominant.  Duke on the other hand picked Baylor apart late in their Elite Eight matchup and then delivered a haymaker to a West Virginia team who had just knocked off Kentucky.  Duke wasn't the collossus that last year's UNC team was (lets just say if Duke was Creed, last year's UNC was Ivan Drago and we all know what happened there) but in the context of the national championship game, Duke was the overwhelming favorite.  While the usual media hype accompanied it (I mean some tried to sell last year's UNC vs. MSU final as a great matchup) there was an overwhelming sentiment that Duke was poised for a blowout.

Much Balboa-Creed, Butler came out and surprised everyone including Duke by giving them their best shot.  Duke was never really able to get into a rhythm and couldn't get the open threes that had carried them through the tournament.  By the last few minutes Butler looked as if they could not only stand toe-to-toe with Duke but could actually pull the huge upset. In the end Duke never delivered the knockout punch, they survived and won in the end by a few centimeters with their opponent still standing, a team that had emerged victorious in every manner except on the scoreboard (NOTE: by no means am I implying Duke won unfairly.  Personally I thought the refs were very fair and Duke did deserve the win).

So when you're busy reading all the stories on ESPN and Sports Illustrated about how you should appreciate Duke's hard work, or Brian Zoubek's transformation into an effective basketball player, or how Coach K needs to be praised for being able to win with a lineup of 4 upperclassmen McDonalds All Americans (okay so that last one is a bit sarcastic, but the other ones are true), just remember that sometimes the team that loses can be the best story.  That is the case with Butler.  They went the distance.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Why Do We Hate Duke Basketball?

I turned on ESPN a few minutes after Duke's win over Baylor and the first thing I heard was Dick Vitale (who does little to hide his affection for Duke basketball) passionately demanding to know why people hate a group full of players who play hard, technically sound basketball and care about academics.

Well Dickie V, I (with a little help from the Sports Guy) have got your answer baby!

The more regular readers of this blog may have picked up that I am a big fan of ESPN's Bill Simmons (aka the Sports Guy).  As someone who favors a style of writing that is more based on fan opinions and interpretations of sports rather than simply reporting the facts while also making frequent pop culture references, I have to give it up to Simmons as the master of this craft.  It's no coincidence that he was able to make a 700+ page book (not named Harry Potter) in which he exhaustively shared his opinions and observations (albeit very well researched and strongly based opinions and observations) on the NBA a NYT bestseller.

Anyways, as I am wont to do, I was listening to Simmons' podcast, the BS Report a few weeks back, on which pop culture guru (and another very entertaining writer) Chuck Klosterman was the guest (to listen to it in full click here).  After touching on the controversies surrounding Tiger Woods and John Mayer, the topic switched to Duke Basketball and why they are so unanimously hated (specifically whether this was related to race).  As Duke is back in the Final Four, I figured I'd post select quotes from the podcast and give my own input.  I would like to point out that neither are Carolina fans, though Simmons has expressed distaste for Duke in the past and throughout this year's tournament.

After establishing that Duke is unquestionably the most hated team in college basketball Klosterman opens up the discussion:
"You could argue that this is a class based thing... but people don't think the same way about Stanford... Is it that people see Duke as racist... or is it that they seem to be playing basketball in a way that puts them in the past which of course makes them beloved by older people, but is the reason say, young people... don't like Duke so much is because it feels like they are a team of Steve Blakes?"
The question of whether the fact that people hate Duke is related to their disproportionate amount of white stars is not a new one.  Personally I don't think it's necessarily an issue of race as much as it an issue of class.  As I've said before despite my UNC allegiances, Duke is one of the top universities in the country.  Duke has embraced this reputation and has fashioned itself as the Ivy of the South and prides themselves on their selectiveness.  To those who don't attend this can come across as arrogance or entitlement.

Consequently, those who attend other institutions, especially those in the region cast the archetypal Duke student as elitist and perhaps intellectually condescending.  As a result these schemas carry over to the realm of basketball and people look for examples in the play of Duke basketball players that fit into this archetype.  Things like confidence and celebration which are displayed by many players are suddenly cast in the light of arrogance and elitism furthering the hatred.  So in answer to the question of race, I would contend that it is not that caucasian Duke players engender some type of reverse racism but rather that these caucasian players are viewed as elitist, cocky, and entitled by outside fanbases.  Furthermore, though Simmons and Klosterman failed to come up with such examples (and used Grant Hill as an example of how people don't seem to hate African-American Duke players as much), some past Duke players of other ethnic background also came to be despised by outside fans such as Dahntay Jones, Trajan Langdon, Carlos Boozer, Chris Duhon, and Gerald Henderson (well at least by Carolina fans).

The latter argument, that Duke's style of play seems archaic and its lack of modernity contributes to younger people's distaste for the team, does seem to have some merit.  In this current era of NBA stars like LeBron showcasing astronomical levels of athleticisism and talent, Duke's very technically sound style of play stands in direct contrast.  Duke tends to play tenacious defense and work the ball around to hit open threes.   While this is a very effective style of play and, in my opinion, one to be respected, it does not have the flashiness that the breakneck pace of UNC (at least in the past several years) and the dribble drive offense of Kentucky have.  While the ability to shoot the ball as exceptionally well as the Redicks and Scheyers of the world is to be admired, Duke's style of play relies more on cerebral players with a particular skill set, rather than the raw athletes that tend to dominate the SportsCenter top 10.  In this regard, Duke's style of play could understandably lack appeal to the Dunk Contest generations.  Furthermore, Duke unabashedly seems to attempt to tweak the rules in their favor, kicking their legs out while shooting threes to draw foul calls, setting uncalled moving screens, and flopping on defense.

Another extremely important part of what makes Duke dislikable that Simmons and Klosterman do not directly touch on is their prolonged success over the past several decades and the subsequent media attention that has come as a result.  Firstly, no one hates a team that is only marginally successful, only those that achieve success.  Just as the general football audience did not hate the Patriots until their dynasty in the first half of this past decade, Duke's success in the past two decades (3 national championships) along with their high profile rivalry with fellow powerhouse UNC (who at least to some plays the Jacob to Duke's Man in black, more on the rivalry HERE) has been a cause of their high profile and the consequent dislike from the rest of the basketball world.

Lastly, this is only a small point, but you can't discount the fact that the team is called the Blue Devils.  When a team already has several factors aligning against it, the added satinic imagery of their mascot may subconsciously reinforce the role of Duke as the villain.

Now lest you begin to question my own allegiance to the Tar Heels and antagonistic feelings toward their rival 8 miles down the road, I do think there are certainly some things that Duke basketball does to further their role as the antagonist of the College Basketball world.  As Simmons points out, much of this starts and ends with the coach:
"You can't discount Coach K... He's more emotional than the typical coach... he almost seems like he's going to break down every time that they lose... He's almost like a high school teacher with his students, like it's very 1950's"
This is not to say that Coach K is a bad person.  Actually a very well written piece by Andy Katz that appeared recently on ESPN proves quite the opposite.  However, regardless of how good a person he is off the court his on court demeanor, which Simmons highlights, certainly makes him easy to loathe on the basketball court for those outside of Durham.  He curses at his own players and the refs, never too afraid to drop an F-bomb or four.  It is pretty undeniable at this point that he does coach his players to flop (including while shooting 3-pointers, which can be infuriating).  He pretty much gives off a "I'm a great coach, my system works so I can do what I want" vibe.

However, it is not just Coach K.  Over the years the players have certainly helped Duke gain its antagonist status.  Per Simmons:
"You also can't discount the legacy of the types of guys that they've had: Danny Ferry, Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley [not to mention Wojo].  These were people that nobody liked at the time and that's now become  " Oh yeah, Its Duke, they have these types of guys. Now it's Paulus, Scheyer... Redick"  
It's hard to argue with any of that.  While some players like Singler, Battier, and Shelden Williams were solid players who did little to engender the ire of opposing fans other than wearing a Duke jersey, a select few have seemed to embrace the role of the royal blue villain.  Since Laettner was before my time, and I only remember a bit of Wojo, Redick unquestionably is the largest example of this type of player.  I'll let Simmons briefly take over again.
"Redick  was inherently unlikable... you watch him and there's just something about him... he's like someone you would have cast in a movie from the 1960's where the all white team is playing the all black team."

You can argue the degree to which Redick truly was this way, but it's hard to dispute that this was the way most people not living in Gothic dorms thought of him.  Scheyer, however, is actually a really interesting case as he is less abrasive and plays intelligent and technically sound basketball.  Honestly, the hatred for him is more a product of his predecessor's actions than his own. People see a sharpshooter wearing Royal blue and he is assigned the attributes which have become associated with the others who came before him.  In some cases (Paulus comes to mind) the assumptions prove to be correct, in others (Scheyer, Nolan Smith) they are off base.  Putting it another way, if you were to put Scheyer on a team like Cornell or Butler he would be a likable player.  However if you were to put Redick, Paulus, or Laettner on one of those teams they still would be villains in the college basketball world.  Devendorf of Syracuse last year was perfect proof of this, as it was his own attitude and nothing about the team he was on that made him so dislikable.

So why do we hate Duke basketball?  The answer is that it's a combination of the elite nature of the school (which it blatantly embraces), a legacy of several unlikable players who embraced their role as a villain, and prolonged success.  In the end while there may be nothing innately evil or bad about the players or the program, the aforementioned factors are enough to make Duke the antagonist of the basketball world.

Duke hasn't won a national championship since 2001.  Not many people stopped hating Duke during that time as they still have consistently made it to the NCAA tournament.  However, the Duke hatred should be ratcheted up now that they are returning to the Final Four for the first time since 2004.  A large portion of the people tuning in next weekend will be cheering for Duke to fall short once again.  Will all that Duke hate be completely logical? Maybe not, but it sure is fun.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Every time I think I'm out...

...They pull me back in!*

Already this year I have written at least two posts that I thought would be my last post addressing UNC basketball.  Let's go ahead and admit it right away: This season has been an unmitigated disaster for a team that was ranked #4 in the ESPN Coaches Poll.  The reasons have been discussed and speculated on ad nauseam but it can basically be boiled down to three things: injuries, inexperience, and lack of developed talent. UNC failed to play with any consistency during ACC season and suffered several beatdowns at the hands of ACC opponents, the magnus opum of which was the final game of the season at Cameron Indoor Stadium.  Being the optimist that I am I still hoped they could put together an ACC tournament run and had almost convinced myself they could do so when they held a 10 point lead going into halftime against Georgia Tech in the first round of the ACC tournament.  About an hour later UNC was one and done in the ACC tournament and I was finally ready to put UNC's season to rest.

When I found out UNC had gotten a debatably undeserved bid to the NIT tournament, I was not particularly excited until I found out they would be playing the first round game in Carmichael due to not wanting to play in a half-filled stadium renovations to the Dean Dome.  I really wasn't particularly excited about the prospect of watching a team that was so disappointing, the allure of a game played in a throwback stadium seemed well worth the $5 price of a ticket (plus I had written this letter to the editor in the DTH suggesting games be played in Carmichael at the beginning of the semester).

When I arrived at Carmichael at 8:30 last Tuesday night I was not disappointed.  I had only been in the stadium once during my freshman year before renovations, and had never actually watched a game there.  The arena was jam packed by tipoff and due to the smaller size, every seat in the house was a good seat (trust me I had about the worst seats you could get).  As much as I loved the atmosphere, I still was only cautiously optimistic about UNC, hoping that I wasn't putting in jeopardy the fact that the last home game I attended as a student was a win (Miami was the last before then).

Then the game got going and I was instantly swept up into Carolina Basketball in a way I had not been since before ACC play.  The atmosphere was more electric than any game I had been to all season with the possible exceptions of Michigan State and Duke.  William and Mary proved to be a significant challenge (after all they had beaten Maryland and Wake Forest on the road during the season), tossing up a redonkulous 43 three pointers and connecting on 16 of them.  However, UNC looked more composed and hustled harder than I had seen in at least two months.  Leaving Carmichael Auditorium that night I could not think of a better last home game to watch as a student at UNC.

I hoped UNC would be able to build on the momentum from their win on Saturday but I realized they were playing a Mississippi State team that had a legitimate NBA draft pick in Jarvis Varnado and a backcourt that could shoot very well from distance.  Furthermore, the team had struggled on the road all season and didn't have the adrenaline boost of playing in Carmichael.  Once MSU came out draining threes to take a double digit lead in the first several minutes, I decided to go outside and start grilling as felt like I had watched this show at least a dozen times this season.  UNC was letting the opponent go on a big run and would not be able to recover due to a lack of scoring.  Several minutes later I walked back in and the game was neck-and-neck, with UNC actually taking a lead into halftime.  Once again I was cautiously optimistic but not the least bit comfortable with a halftime lead after watching a 10 point lead against GT disappear in a matter of minutes.  The game stayed close all the way to the end and before I knew it UNC had the ball with 8 seconds left.  Larry Drew II, who has come under as much criticism of any player on the team, aggressively drove to the basket and dropped in a left handed layup over the nation's leading shot blocker to ice the game. 

Sunday morning, following a great slate of NCAA tournament games including UNI's earth shaking upset of Kansas, I am watching sportscenter and suddenly I see the highlights of the UNC-MSU game being played.  It basically just summed up what I was thinking about UNC after their win: For the first time in a long time this season, UNC is fun to watch again.

UNC plays its third NIT game tonight in Birmingham against UAB.  The Tar Heels haven't won three games in a row since December.  They will again be playing in hostile territory in front of a sold out crowd.  UAB absolutely decimated NC State, forcing them into 35.8% shooting from the field and 13 turnovers.  The Tar Heels, will have to keep their offensive woes that plagued them in the ACC season behind them if they want to win.  However, UAB is not nearly the three point threat that William and Mary or Mississippi State were and also have a smallish frontcourt that UNC could take advantage of, especially if Zeller is in the lineup.

If UNC does pull off a win they will be headed to Madison Square Garden for the final four of the NIT.  The final four is kind of a dubious honor, and on more than one occasion I have called the tournament the Not Invited Tournament.  Even if UNC cuts down the nets in New York (do they cut down the nets for the NIT), it won't change that this was a disappointing season and it won't mean that they should have been in the NCAA tournament.  What it will mean is that the season can end on a positive note, and hopefully restore some of the damaged confidence of the current freshmen and sophomores who will be looked at to lead this team next year in pursuit of a minor "return to glory."  For me though it will mean that I got to legitimately enjoy the end of my final basketball season as a UNC student.  And the possibility of that is why UNC has once again pulled me back in.

*Yes I realize the original quote from Godfather III was "Just when I thought I was out..." but I took the George Costanza version instead.  Why?  Because George Costanza rules, and the Godfather part III kind of sucked.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

With Drew II Considering Transfer, Wolfpack Recruit Ryan Harrow Considering Changing his Committment

UPDATE: Drew II has denied this rumor, specifying that he isn't even dating Eddie Murphy's daughter and proving that Brinson and Buster sports have no credibility whatsoever. Still I think this post is funny and I'm keeping it up.

Recently, reports have emerged from sports website Buster Sports that UNC point guard Larry Drew II is considering transferring after the season. You know Buster Sports is a credible source on the matter as its main writer, Will Brinson, is a diehard Wolfpack fan who hates the Tar Heels. Brinson's bio also claims that he "plays basketball with LeBron James and races with Dale Earnhardt" so you know he is in deep in the sporting world.

Unfortunately for Brinson just hours after he "broke" the story about Drew II transferring, 2010 NC State point guard recruit Ryan Harrow heard the news. Reliable sources in a relative proximity to the situation tell VFSS that Harrow now is seriously considering transferring away from NC State and committing to UNC. Harrow is claimed to have stated "I had always wanted to go to a school where I could compete for a national championship, I actually committed to NC State under the false assumption it was UNC. I quickly realized my mistake after UNC swept the season series this spring."

Until the Drew situation emerged there was not going to be much room on the roster for Harrow, who is a quick point guard who seems fitted to UNC's fast paced offense. While the decision to decommit may seem strange, there certainly is a precedent. Fellow member of the incoming freshman class C.J. Leslie decommitted from state this summer and is likely to end up at Kentucky or even UNC next year. Harrow seems excited about the opportunity to play for a contender. "I can't thank Brinson enough for bringing to light the situation, I really feel in his debt and will make sure to thank him when UNC plays State next year. He really gave me hope with regards to my college career."

Note: This piece is meant to be satirical and in no way has any truth to it whatsoever. The quotes as well as the situation are made up. It is intended as a humorous response to the "serious" report from a sports website (run by an NC State fan) which claimed "reliable sources close to the situation" (aka this one guy he read on a message board) were reporting Drew II was considering transferring. Frankly VFSS is most disappointed with the DTH which found fit to report this unsubstantiated rumor without evidence from any more reliable sources. I think this whole thing is a load of BS, so Larry please don't make me look stupid.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Life and Times (So Far) of the Charlotte Bobcats

While college basketball talk has run rampant on this blog for the past several months, I haven't touched on the NBA in quite some time. Other than my favoritism to college ball, part of the reason is that I am still becoming reacquainted with the NBA after pretty much abandoning it throughout most of the past decade (though honestly the era between the Jordan's second retirement from the Bulls up to the past couple years is one of the more forgettable eras in NBA history) As such I'm not familiar enough with all of the players to give insightful input on all the trades that went down around the deadline. Instead I figured now would be a good time to share my thoughts on the Charlotte Bobcats, who are fighting to make the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.

Like many Charlotteans I was a big fan of the Hornets in the 90's and felt like the franchise was stolen from the city and moved to New Orleans. I think much of Charlotte viewed the Bobcats the same way a kid whose parent's had divorced would view his mother's new fiancee. It didn't help that the city decided to build a new arena despite the fact that its construction had been voted against by the citizens of Charlotte. The Bobcats seemed like impostors, trading a team named after a cool part of the city's history (see my post from this summer for more on stupid team names) for a team arguably named after the CEO of BET. In comparison to the Hornets, who in the 90's were among the best teams in the NBA in fan attendance, the Bobcats had a harder time selling tickets than Miley Cyrus at Ozzfest. However, there were certainly some redeeming qualities to the team. The ownership made a point to avoid the character issues that marred the Hornets late in their Charlotte existence as several players and more notably owner George Shinn ran into off the court issues. Additionally, Time Warner Cable Arena turned out to be one of the nicest venues in the NBA, even if it is never sold out.

The team itself got off to a semi-promising start despite a bad record in the inaugural season, as draft pick Emeka Okafor won the Rookie of the Year award and expansion draft pick Gerald Wallace emerged as one of the better players on an understandably weak roster. The next three years however were marred by a lack of significant improvement, poor decisions in the NBA draft. Michael Jordan, who became an partial owner (and now is bidding to buy the team from Bob Johnson) was accused of making team decisions on the golf course, the worst of which was drafting Adam Morrison over Brandon Roy in the 2006 draft. By the end of the 2007-2008 season, my apathy toward the franchise was at an all-time high.

Then in 2008, the Bobcats made what may have been their first step toward NBA relevance by hiring Larry Brown. Brown took no time in living up to his reputation as one of the most trigger happy coaches in NBA history when it comes to trades and quickly acquired Boris Diaw and Raja Bell in exchange for Jason Richardson and Jared Dudley. The team still lacked overall talent but finished the season strong and ended up with a franchise high 35 wins. My own interest in the team was trending upwards for the first time as the playoffs seemed like a legitimate possibility. Heck the team even altered the uniforms (2005 vs. 2009) which ditched a lot of the orange and now resemble the original Hornets Uniforms even more than the current New Orleans Hornets uniforms.

With an early trade that shipped away Raja Bell and Vlad Radmanovic for Stephen Jackson, the Bobcats finally added another legitimate scoring threat to pair with Wallace, who became the first player in the franchise's short history to make the NBA All Star Game. Sure, Jackson has a bit of a shady past and occasional attitude problems but Larry Brown is experienced enough to deal with Captain Jack. The Bobcats came on strong in December and January and are now making their first serious push at not only a spot in the playoffs but also a winning record. Before the trade deadline the team acquired Tyrus Thomas in exchange for Acie Law and Flip Murray. Regardless of whether you agreed with the deal the team has gotten undeniably more talented since Brown arrived. Just compare these two depth charts:

PG: Felton/McInnis
SG: Richardson/Carroll
SF: Wallace/ Dudley
PF: Hollins/Davidson
C: Okafor/Mohammed

2009 (as of Feb 23)
PG: Felton/Augustin
SG: Jackson/Augustin/Henderson
SF: Wallace/Graham
PF: Diaw/Thomas
C: Chandler/Mohammed/Ratliff

The team has upgraded at every position with the exception of center, where Chandler has been injured (though everyone knew the real value of the trade was avoiding Okafor's huge cap number for next season). The PF spot has been severely upgraded with the additions of Diaw and Thomas. Thomas has All-Star talent who can really make an impact on the defensive end and take some of the rebounding load off Wallace. Diaw has been a solid player who played better last season but over the past few games has stepped his play up, perhaps due to the acquisition of Thomas. Charlotte now has the potential to go small by putting Thomas at center and Diaw at power forward, which could cause matchup problems for a lot of teams. The loss of Flip Murray hurts, since he provided scoring and depth at guard. Going forward the Bobcats need D.J. Augustin who has been somewhat of a disappointment this season to step up his play. They also can't afford many bad nights from Stephen Jackson who had his worst game as a Bobcat in last night's loss to the Clippers.

A playoffs appearance would go a long way in getting the people of Charlotte invested in the team but as of today the team sits in 9th place (Milwaukee currently holding the tiebreaker against them). The Bobcats are in a four way race with the Bulls, Bucks, and Heat for the final three playoff spots in the east. The team will need to get tougher mentally and start winning more on the road if they hope to make the playoffs. Last Friday's win over the Cavs (which made the Bobcats the only team in the east to win the season series against LeBron and Co.) shows that finally the team has the talent to be a playoff contender. If they can sneak into the playoffs there will be a lot of teams hoping they don't have to match up with the Bobcats. And even more importantly it will be the first time in a long time the city of Charlotte can get legitimately excited about professional basketball.