Tuesday, March 18, 2008

March Madness Preview


North Carolina has to be a prohibitive favorite to emerge from the East and make the Final Four. They have the benefit of playing the first two weeks in the state of North Carolina. UNC has been the best team all season long, and the team appears to be fully healthy heading into this tournament. There are some interesting contests along the way. Butler vs. South Alabama features two at-large selections from mid-major conferences. Either of these schools would test Tennessee in a prospective second round game. Notre Dame could prove a threat, considering they have the Big East Player of the Year in Luke Harangody. I’ll take North Carolina to win, conquering Louisville in the Elite 8 round.


Kansas is the #1 seed in the Midwest bracket. I see this bracket going close to form. We’ll get to see a great 1st Round contest between Kansas State and USC. Maybe Pat Riley will be in Omaha to scout this one. Either O.J. Mayo or Michael Beasley would be at the top of the draft board if Miami does secure the 1st pick in the 2008 Draft. But Georgetown is the pick out of this region. They have the experience, having been in the Final 4 last season. Their big man, Roy Hibbert, will be awfully hard to stop.


Memphis earned a deserved #1 seed in the Houston region. While Conference USA was down this year, they did play tough out of conference games. The Tennessee loss shouldn’t be a bad mark on their resume. Pitt comes in with a lot of momentum, having won the Big East tournament. And Tom Izzo looks to take Michigan State to its fifth Final Four. Miami is the hometown favorite, but it’s hard to see them making it past Texas. With the benefit of home-court, Texas should come out of this region a winner.


UCLA appears to have the easiest path to the Final Four. They play what amounts to home games in the first weekend at Anaheim. Duke at a #2 seed is slightly overrated. If they are to emerge to face UCLA in the Regional Finals, Duke has nobody to stop Kevin Love. Duke, a predominantly perimeter team, will be in trouble. Connecticut at #4 and Drake at #5 are possible surprises. My upset pick is West Virginia, led by surging Joe Alexander, to win a prospective 2nd round game against Duke.

This leads me to the Final Four. UCLA vs. Texas would be one regional final. UCLA has made the past two final fours, and is probably deeper and more experienced than Texas. It would be ironic if Texas makes it farther than last year (when they lost in the Round of 32) without the services of Kevin Durant.

North Carolina and Georgetown makes for a attractive National Semifinal. Last year, Georgetown pulled off an upset victory in OT against UNC in the Elite 8. But this year should be Tyler Hansbrough's time to shine.

I'll go with North Carolina over UCLA, even if that matchup is a little like chalk.

Monday, March 03, 2008

NBA Musings (Part I of many)

Stephen Jackson, current Warriors swingman and alleged gentlemen's club shooter

Recently, on a whim, I plunked down the $100 to purchase the remainder of the 2007-2008 NBA season on Comcast’s League Pass package. Part of it stemmed from my annoyance with Comcast. Advertisements, both on television and the Comcast website, promised a week of free games. Wanting to watch a Boston Celtics game, I spent the better part of two hours calling Comcast to get the service. Time after time they said it was fixed, but when 7:00 came around there was no Celtics vs. Timberwolves game on the screen. Aggravated, I called back and said I’d pay for the remainder of the year. Of course, the feed was transmitted instantaneously to my digital receiver.

Therefore, my knowledge of the NBA has increased greatly over the past month. Instead of being forced to watch only the local Heat coverage on SUN Sports, and the national TNT and ESPN feed, I can select from almost every out of market game. While I still follow the Heat, it’s mighty difficult to continue to diligently make time to watch a team that is so thoroughly dreadful.

One delight has been the ability to follow the Golden State Warriors on a consistent basis. After last year’s stunning upset over Dallas in the 1st Round of the playoffs, the young-gunning kids from Oakland were the toast of the NBA. Even after losing to Utah, things looked bright. But they struggled early on this season, in part because of the absence of suspended Stephen Jackson for the first seven games. But the team has rebounded, and currently is in the mix to make the Western Conference playoffs.

Dan LeBatard, of the Miami Herald, joked on his radio show that the Warriors became good when they got rid of their tall, prodding white guys and brought in black guys with questionable character. While racially insensitive and somewhat stereotypical, LeBatard did have a point. Before last year’s trading deadline, Golden State sent Mike Dunleavy and Troy Murphy to Indiana for Stephen Jackson and Al Harrington. Ever since that point, Golden State has ascended and Indiana is in the toilet.

Golden State plays such an exciting brand of basketball, but they are unlikely to win a championship with the team as it’s currently comprised. No team in recent memory, excluding Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls, has won without a top-notch big man. Shaquille O’Neal and Tim Duncan have been part of eight championship teams. The only exception may be Detroit, who won with the defensive wizard but offensively challenged Ben Wallace. Rasheed Wallace, the other big man, is more of a perimeter threat. However, Golden State plays a fun brand of basketball. Monta Ellis, the emerging Shooting Guard who came to Golden State out of high school, shot 60 percent from the field in the month of February. Baron Davis is an excellent distributor, but can take the team on his back when Jackson and Ellis have off scoring games. Coach Don Nelson seems to understand that the best five players should be on the court. If that means essentially starting four swingmen and a Center, as they did last year with the lineup of Davis, Ellis, Jackson, Matt Barnes, and Al Harrington, then so be it. Once the playoffs come around, Golden State surely won’t be in the top-tier of teams with the Mavericks, Lakers, Spurs, and Hornets. But for now, I’ll enjoy every bounce and basket of the high flying Warriors.

Finally, I’ll end with a Heat update. Miami has remarkably won two games this week, defeating Western Conference dregs Sacramento and Seattle. The win over Sacramento at home was cathartic for players and fans. Every shot was going down, and for one night there was joy in South Beach. It will be interesting to see where the Heat goes from here. By most accounts, the Ricky Davis and Mark Blount trades were flops. On the other hand, Antoine Walker and Michael Doleac hardly fit into Miami’s long term plans. I contend that the loss of James Posey and Jason Kapono have been devastating. I can understand that perhaps Boston and Toronto, respectively, overpaid for players who may not be at the elite level of the game. And at the time, Miami appeared set to sign Mo Williams from Milwaukee. That trade would have gone through had the Bucks not put together a huge financial package to keep him. Williams wanted to come to Miami, but it’s hard to turn down the $20 million extra that Milwaukee was offering. Kapono and Posey were both great spot-up shooters. Davis hasn’t been able to fill that role, and first-round pick Cook out of Ohio State is back in the developmental league.

If there is one thing Miami needs to learn, it is whether or not Dorell Wright is a starter in the future. Wright, in his fourth season out of High School, has played sporadically the past two years. The fact that he’s friends with Dwyane Wade makes it hard for management to get rid of him. Wright’s initial drafting was a mild surprise. Pat Riley is known for leaning on veteran leadership, and never taking a player out of High School. The Heat would be best served to cut Davis’ minutes, and give them to Wright. He has shown instances of great talent, but never the consistency over a full 82-game season.