Sunday, July 18, 2010

Games, names, and LeBron James

Much has been made of the hour long special "The Decision," aired by ESPN in an attempt to turn LeBron James' next career move into a television spectacle. Most people seem to believe that this was an arrogant, stupid way to simply slap all of his Cleveland supporters in the face, while at the same time getting the hopes of all New York and New Jersey fans sky-high by making the announcement in Connecticut, only to spurn them for the chance to play with Dwyane Wade in Miami. And while people may be correct in their assertion that this was one of the most ego-centric, narcissistic moments by an athlete in the past 20 years, I think the real story is what it says about James the NBA player, not the person.

Maybe LeBron James just isn't all that competitive.

I wouldn't go as far as Dan Gilbert, who claims LeBron gave up against Orlando and Boston in the last two Cavs playoff exits, but would Michael have ever considered leaving Chicago in the early 90's if he were without a ring? Would he have said "I'm taking my skills to the Motor City" and just given up on beating the Pistons to join them instead? Of course not. The cliche "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" is not supposed to apply to the great athletes in the world. It should be "if you can't beat 'em, get better so next time you can beat 'em." Overall this is sort of a mockery of the whole league, and probably will result in a lot of fans tuning out next year. Sure I'll watch them for a few games, but I'm pretty sure it will be a quick descent into boredom with their games. I mean, there are only so many variations on the alley-oop.

UNRELATED: Apparently Nate Montana (son of Joe Montana) was arrested last night in South Bend along with a bunch of other Notre Dame athletes for drinking underage. I thought Notre Dame football players were immune from that sort of thing. I guess Irish football isn't as meaningful after 16 wins in 3 years.

ALSO UNRELATED: The Tour de France is in the Pyrenees. Absolutely brutal. I know most sports fans in the United States have no interest in watching professional cycling, but it's remarkably impressive how well some of these guys manage upwards of seven or eight thousand feet of sun-drenched climbs in a stage. Most impressive was Alberto Contador's stage 12 attack in the Alps. Dude is a beast.

Somewhat related to the previous paragraph, my 2008 Scott Speedster is awesome.

Boom.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The one program in the country having it harder than UMass in 2009

I've been pissing and moaning all year about how bad T Boone Pickens screwed UMass. How he bought our coach for his alma mater (which is noticeably better than they were a year ago under Alcohol and Pills Addict Jr.). I've really never shut up about it. UMass is sitting on ten wins, and without a win tomorrow night against George Washington will likely miss the Atlantic 10 tournament for the first time in 39,000 years (ever). However, that is nothing compared to the team I saw playing on ESPN tonight.

Kelvin Sampson massacred one of the most storied programs in history and left the team in ruins entering this season. Eric Gordon had declared for the NBA draft after his freshman year. DJ White graduated. Terrell Holloway transferred to Xavier. Eli Holman to Detroit Mercy. DeAndre Thomas was dismissed dismissed from the program. After ugly divorces from the school, guard Armon Bassett landed back with Mike Davis at UAB and Jamarcus Ellis is no longer with the team. Yet a group of walk ons and freshmen (two star freshmen at that) had the premier team in the Big Ten on the ropes for all but about 12 seconds of their game tonight.

I speak, of course, of Indiana, which appears it will end the season with six wins, one in the Big Ten. If I were to rank the programs in the Big Ten based on a tradition, it would look something like this:
1: Indiana
2: Michigan State
3: Illinois
4: Michigan
5: Purdue
6: Ohio State
7: Minnesota
8: Iowa
9: Wisconsin
10: Penn State
11: That team that has never been to the NCAA tournament.
Indiana is to the Big Ten as Kansas is to the Big XII, or as UCLA is to the Pac 10. To see them suffer like this is difficult. The amazing thing is that Assembly Hall is going nuts for this team. They love supporting these guys. It reminds be of a situation a few years back when St. John's had to dismiss basically their scholarship players (minus Kyle Cuffe) due to a sexual assault fiasco that occurred during a road trip in Pittsburgh. Much like Indiana, the once-proud program was a wreck. Much like Indiana, they managed to win one game in their conference, at home over Georgetown.

It was impressive watching guys who may not have been the best players on their high school teams giving Michigan State all they wanted. Sad to see them fall short, but fun to watch them compete at such a high level. It also serves as a reminder that the great programs, as tough as times can be, will always be back.

Indiana University, 2015 NCAA Champions.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Thanks Muskies

Remember 2004, when the Big East died as a football power conference? You know, when the ACC proved to the rest of the college sports world that sports are indeed about nothing except money. They raped and pillaged and came away with the two programs in the eight-team Big East that could really compete for national championships, Miami and Virginia Tech. That season, Pitt earned the tie break as quad-Champions in the seven team Big East (UConn played their first season as a member, Temple and Boston College their last). In the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, the Panthers got to play the first ever BCS-buster, Utah, and boy oh boy did that go badly. The Utes smacked Pitt around for four quarters, throwing occasional salt on the wounds with things like a hook and ladder play for a touchdown.
With Temple being excused from the conference after years of failing to produce a competitive 1A program, and BC joining the other backstabbers in the ACC, the Big East was left with just five programs. So what did they do? They turned to Conference USA, and did to those guys what the ACC had done to them: Show your flashy "power conference" perks and steal the best talent. Ultimately, Louisville, Cincinnati and South Florida hopped over to the Big East (as well as Marquette and DePaul in non-football sports, though I still can't figure that one out). Coming off of that horrendous showing in 2004, fans had to be skeptical about whether or not the conference really deserved their automatic bid in the BCS anymore. I mean, they were represented by a four-loss team which lost by four touchdowns to the champions from the Mountain West. That's pretty disastrous.
Adding insult to injury, the one newcomer that people thought might be the solution (Louisville) dropped their first conference game to a heavy underdog (USF), 45-14.
So what happened? Well one team that hadn't really been a national title contender in recent years, but had been a consistently decent program, truly stepped up, and did it behind a slew of talented underclassmen. Freshmen Pat White and Steve Slaton, and sophomores Owen Schmidtt and Darius Raynaud led Louisville to an improbable 11-1 season and a birth in the Sugar Bowl, being played at the Georgia Dome due to the damage Hurricane Katrina had done to the Louisiana Superdome. Making their task in the Sugar Bowl more difficult was that their opponents, the Georgia Bulldogs, champions of the mighty SEC, now almost had a home game.
But West Virginia did not seem starry-eyed on prime-time national television. In fact, they didn't seem affected at all. The Mountaineers came out and put up 38 points on the Dawgs before sealing their 38-35 win with a successful fake punt in the final minutes. The win was a statement for the Big East: Yes, we will compete and we will win big games now and in the future.
The thing about it is... Louisville didn't make that statement. Pittsburgh didn't either. Nor did Rutgers, Syracuse, USF, UConn or Cincinnati. West Virginia single handedly saved the Big East. They made it so that people had to respect the teams in their conference while those other teams rebuilt to the point where they could defend themselves.
Doesn't that seem ridiculous?
That is why today, I think that it is important for UMass basketball, along with Temple, Saint Joe's, George Washington and URI to say THANK YOU to Xavier, for keeping Atlantic 10 basketball relevant for the past few seasons. Dayton is winning as well, but when those programs get back from obscurity, they'll be damn lucky to be in a conference that a few people still give a damn about, and they owe that to the X-men.

So Xavier, from a man who desperately wants his alma mater to be a contender again: Thanks.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

RIP, Kay Yow

Kay Yow won over 700 games (she is fifth all time in major women's college basketball). She had a plethora of 20-win seasons and sweet sixteen appearances while the head coach at NC State. She led the Wolfpack to the final four once and led the US Women's Olympic team to a gold medal in 1988 in Seoul.
However, her greatest impact was as an ambassador for the fight against cancer, and a board member of the V Foundation -- named for fellow former NC State coach Jim Valvano. Jimmy V lost his battle with cancer fifteen years ago. Today Kay Yow, who was fighting breast cancer for the third time, passed away at the age of 66.
R.I.P., Kay Yow. No one did a better job of carrying Coach Valvano's message to my generation.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

BCMess Redux

The amazing thing about the BCS is that it really doesn't seem like anyone is happy with it.
Honestly, who hasn't been screwed over by it? Last year, there were a number of good two loss teams heading into bowl season, vying for the second spot in the title game against Ohio State: LSU, Georgia, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, USC, Missouri and Oklahoma. Kansas actually had only one loss, but it was in their only notable game, and as a result they were relegated to the Orange Bowl. Missouri and Georgia failed to win their conferences, so they enjoyed trips to the Cotton and Sugar Bowls, respectively. Virginia Tech and West Virginia were out of the ACC and Big East, so they went to Orange and Fiesta. USC and OU were the two with the biggest gripes, and USC thrashed Illinois by 32 points in the Rose Bowl (OU lost to WVU in the Fiesta Bowl), leaving people to wonder who the real national champ should be after LSU finished off Ohio State in New Orleans.
Then there was Hawai'i. I wrote about the Warriors last year before the Sugar Bowl, accurately predicting that the Warriors would be trampled by Georgia. This coming one year after I strongly rooted for Boise State's upset of Oklahoma. The reason Hawai'i didn't belong in that game was simple: They were a gimicky team (see: 2008 Texas Tech Red Raiders) that won games over bad opponents and beat their only true test (Boise State) on their little island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, which is one hell of a home field advantage. Not surprisingly, Georgia rolled.
This year, I figured Utah would fare better in the same game, but didn't anticipate them winning. But guess what? One quarter into the Sugar Bowl, Utah led the mighty Tide 21-0 on their way to a 31-17 triumph. Utah's win gives them wins over four legitimate opponents this year: Oregon State, 9-4 with a win over USC and a Sun Bowl victory; TCU, 11-2, with wins over BYU and Boise State and their only other loss coming at Oklahoma; BYU, who finished 10-3 and in the top 20; and Alabama, 12-2 after spending five weeks as the #1 team in the country.
I don't like Utah. Their fans are generally backward, homophobic Mormons, their coach is from the tree of Urban Meyer, and their marching band is downright dreadful. However, I've seen enough of this game to know that, had Michigan played the exact same schedule -- put TCU in Ohio State jerseys, there isn't much of a difference -- and gone 13-0, they would be the undisputed national champions of college football.
That being said, arguments can certainly be made for Southern Cal and Texas as well. So, I'm going to refer back to the tried-and-true method I've used each of the past several years. Who did you beat and who did they beat and who did they beat, etc.
UMass beat Holy Cross
Holy Cross beat Lafayette
Lafayette beat Liberty
Liberty beat Elon
Elon beat Georgia Southern
Georgia Southern beat Austin Peay
Austin Peay beat Eastern Illinois
Eastern Illinois beat Illinois State
Illinois State beat Youngstown State
Youngstown State beat North Dakota State
North Dakota State beat Southern Illinois
Southern Illinois beat Northern Iowa
Northern Iowa beat UNH
UNH beat Army
Army beat Louisiana Tech
Louisiana Tech beat Mississippi State
Mississippi State beat Vanderbilt
Vanderbilt beat Ole Miss
Ole Miss beat Florida
AND!
Ole Miss beat Texas Tech
Texas Tech beat Texas
AND!
Texas beat Oklahoma
AND!
Oklahoma beat TCU
TCU beat Stanford
Stanford beat Oregon State
Oregon State beat USC
See? UMass wins again. This year's was a little tougher. Because... you know... we didn't win any games against good teams. Plus you have to throw out Utah. Because... you know... they didn't lose...
Okay, I'm done.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Super Arenas of the Atlantic 10

So when the conferences realigned in 2004 and 2005, the Atlantic 10 conference decided to do what all the cool kids were doing: Screw someone over. Due to the ACC stealing Miami and Virginia Tech from the Big East in 2004 and following suit with BC in 2005, the Big East suddenly needed three new football programs to get their membership back up to eight (really the smallest a power conference can logically be for football). How did the Big East do this? By stealing Louisville, South Florida and Cincinnati from Conference USA. That should have been where it ended, but it wasn't. For some reason, they brought in two other schools for non-football sports (even though the Big East is already massive for, say, basketball). They grabbed Marquette and DePaul, two very storied programs, away from C-USA just to rub some salt on the wound.
The A-10 apparently thought this seemed like a lot of fun, and invited Charlotte and Saint Louis from C-USA, increasing the number of teams playing hoops in the A-10 to 14, and leaving Memphis without any real conference competition (no offense to Houston and UAB).
One thing that St. Louis and Charlotte have brought to the A-10 are a couple of first-class facilities that bring the total number of high-end arenas in the A10 to eight. Six schools: George Washington, St. Bonaventure, St. Joseph's, La Salle, Duquesne and Fordham basically play in glorified high school gymnasiums (though St. Joe's is renovating Alumni Fieldhouse, so we'll see how that goes). The schools that make the cut are, in reverse order:

#N/A: Saint Joe's: Temporarily at the Palestra
This one doesn't count, it just gives me a chance to talk about the Palestra. There are some venues that are timeless, and therefore can't be measured the same way as most other places. This is the perfect example of one of those places. The official home of Penn, the temporary home of Saint Joe's and the unofficial building of the Big Five, this place is appropriately referred to as "a basketball cathedral" by many. It is an icon in college hoops.

#8: Chaifetz Arena - Saint Louis University
The Billikens moved out of the Scottrade Center this season and into their own arena. And while it's always exciting for a school to ditch their dad's Porsche for their own Cadillac, I don't love this one. After the home opener, I went through photo galleries of the arena, and it really has nothing interesting about it. It's a cookie-cutter arena that is just one consistent deck of seats around the floor, with no suites or other especially interesting aspects to it.

#7: Robins Center - University of Richmond
Very similar looking to the previous venue, but with a permanent floor and some suites around the perimeter of the stands. Doesn't it just have a better feel to it?

#6: Halton Arena - University of North Carolina, Charlotte
It seems like forever since the 49ers were major players in the NCAA picture, but they do have a nice pad, and at least judging from their home game against UMass in 2007, they can still fill it up.

#5: Ryan Center - University of Rhode Island
Very cool arena, and it's more or less brand new. However, I have a few beefs with this place. First of all, the seats are spread way out so that even though the capacity is only about 7,600, it looks as big as some of the places on this list that are about 50% bigger. This means a lot of fans are a lot further from the action than they need to be. Secondly, I don't know about the big CVS decals on the floor. Not as tacky as, say, Texas Tech, which covered their floor in ads a couple years ago. But still, it's not the CVS Center.

#4: Mullins Center - University of Massachusetts
Yeah baby. And unlike my list of football venues, I'm actually serious about this one. Great place to catch a game, especially if BC or a big conference opponent is in town. The house that Marcus, Harper and Jon built.

#3: Liacouras Center - Temple University
The top three are really in a different league, meaning that this arena would suffice in the ACC. Fortunately, it's all ours. A lot of people probably saw it for the first time a couple weeks ago when Temple smacked Tennessee, providing pretty good evidence of what kind of home-court advantage the Owls have there.

#2: Cintas Center - Xavier University
The Muskies have been the most visible program in the A10 this decade, and they get some great support in this place. They actually lost at home last night to Butler... not good timing for my selfish purposes.

#1: UD Arena - University of Dayton
One of the top dozen or so facilities in college hoops. This place hosts the NCAA tournament play-in-game every year and often two rounds of the tournament itself. It's bigger and nicer than any other arenas in the league despite also being one of the oldest.

Probably no more entries for a while just due to the holidays. Hope everyone has a great Hannukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa or whatever else you may celebrate.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

UMass spearheads a great day for the A10

ESPN billed their college hoops doubleheader today as "two games between Atlantic 10 schools and national powers". What it turned into was "Temple and UMass show the country not to sleep on the A10", capped off by an evening match up between Xavier and Cincinnati which the Musketeers won on the road. Per usual, North Carolina rolled again.
The two early showcases for the Atlantic 10 were Temple hosting #8 Tennessee, and UMass playing #23 Kansas in Kansas City. The Temple game was impressive for a number of reasons. First of all, it showed that the better teams in the A10 should still be getting home-and-homes against the country's elite, based on talent and the fact that there are some excellent facilities including the Liacouras Center in Philadelphia. Temple, behind 30 second half points from Dionte Christmas, won by 16. Christmas is an absolute freak.
UMass's game was awesome. Here's my rundown of how the two decided on a venue for this game:
UMass AD John McCutcheon: We've had a great couple of years and feel that in order to take our program to the next level, a home-and-home with a school like Kansas could really help.
Kansas AD: John I'd love to help you, but I don't think we can schedule a home-and-home right now. We may be able to play one game though, neutral site.
McCutcheon: Oh that's fantastic. Somewhere like the Meadowlands?
Kansas AD: Hmm, that might work. I say we go with Kansas City.
McCutcheon: Done! But only if it's during our finals.

So, this game is going under the "neutral" column in the official books, but in my books, we won on the road. There were over 17,000 fans at the game, and about 25 of them were in maroon and white. In fact, if I heard the commentators correctly, KU's season ticket holders got tickets to this game, which really should make it an official home game for the Jayhawks, who also had their own band and cheerleaders on site. Anyway, I was terrified the whole game that something would go wrong and in the end my fears were more or less confirmed when Chris Lowe missed three straight free throws, giving KU a shot to win in the final seconds. Fortunately, unlike C-Lowe, some of the UMass players have stepped up this year, and no one has been better than Tony Gaffney. I don't believe Gaffney is a speck bigger than 6'7, 205, but he took on Cole Aldrich all day and then got a fingertip on Sherron Collins' final shot, and UMass was able to keep the Jayhawks from getting another shot off to close out the win, 61-60.
Electrifying win for a passionate UMass alum. I was ecstatic. An hour or so after the game I checked the school's athletics website, and much like I saw earlier in the year when we took on Texas Tech in football, I found some issues that I wasn't too happy about. The front page brief on the game read as follows:
"Behind a 17-point effort by Ricky Harris and another stat-stuffing performance by Tony Gaffney, UMass upset the defending national champion #25/23 Kansas, 61-60, at the Sprint Center on Saturday afternoon. The Minutemen used a 55.6 percent shooting performance, while holding the Jayhawks to 28.6 percent shooting, to knock off the defending champ for the second year in a row. Derek Kellogg's Minutemen improve to 3-6 with the win, while Kansas falls to 7-2."
There are a couple of problems with that. Problem 1: UMass shot 45.8% from the floor. Kansas shot 33.9%. The numbers mentioned in the brief are only for the first half numbers. This doesn't require much fact-checking, and just looking at the numbers should inspire someone to double check the box score. Because if UMass was one possession from losing a game in which they were +27 in FG pct, there would need to be a federal investigation.
Problem 2: Ricky Harris had 18 points. Not really sure what led to that mistake, just a typo I suppose. The point is, the UMass website is no longer a good place to go to get information about a game. UMasshoops, on the other hand, is a great one. It's a fan-run site that hosts message boards and has articles about virtually every game from the past 15 years.
I digress, it was a great win for UMass and coach Kellogg's first big one at the helm of the Minutemen. UMass is now 5-1 all time against defending national champs, including two in the past nine months. The last one was probably the most fun I've ever had at a game:

UMass beats Florida at MSG.

Xavier's win was a little on the ugly side. Five technical fouls including two for Derrick Brown, my early pick for A10 player of the year (still slightly ahead of Christmas), who acted like a complete idiot before getting tossed. Nonetheless, a win over cross-town Cincinnati is always nice for the X-Men, who are still unbeaten heading into their showdown with Duke next weekend. So of the four games on ESPN/ESPN2 today, three were big wins in the A10, and the fourth was some school from Chapel Hill winning another game by 16.