by Justin Walsh
No. 10 Maryland vs. No. 7 California
Ladies and Gentlemen, let’s bring some east coast/west coast bias into the building in Kansas City, Missouri (cue up the Tech N9ne). In this corner we have Jerome Randle & Patrick Christopher for the California Golden Bears with a 22-10 record and some of the best three point shooting percentages in the country. And in this corner, we have Greivis Vasquez and Greivis Vasquez’s mouth with a 20-13 record and the biggest swagger for any 10 seed in the tournament.
Maryland starts out with a couple buckets, leading the way 4-0 early on in this first round match. Scratch that, make it 7-0, Cal turns the ball over. Turnovers are going to be important in this game, both teams have problems keeping the TO numbers down. J. Boykin finally scores to put Cal on the board (transfer from Duke) and we’re underway.
– Mosley & Gutierrez tie it up, and after the inbound Boykin draws the foul. He misses the first, makes the second. The score is 8-3 Maryland.
– Dave Neal hits a mid-range jumper off the elbow and the “future YMCA star” has a quick 5 so far. Randle makes a crowd pleasing hesitation move and gets a quick two. The score is 10-8 Maryland. Sidenote, Jorge Gutierrez and Sean Mosley are going at it today, we could have a player rivalry blossuming in front of our eyes.
– Randle hits another basket and we lead out to commercial with a slight 14-10 lead by Maryland. If anybody was wondering the YMCA line I dropped earlier, that was a quote straight from Maryland’s own Gary Williams.
– Vasquez draws the foul on Christopher, a Compton product. GV drops both and we have a 16-10 lead. Christopher comes down on the other end and gets a put-back off a Cal miss. Score is now 16-12. Milbourne draws the foul and makes 1/2 FT’s. Randle hits another shot, this time a trey & we have a 17-15 game. After a quick little run in the opening by the Terps, we have a close match.
– Out of the break, Vasquez drops a jumper (SPLASHDOWN like Top Gun). Randle hits another jumper, that’s 9 points on 4-5 shooting. And Vasquez says GOOD DAY SIR and answers with a bucket of his own. 22-19 after a couple Theo “Huckstable” Robertson.
– Cal switches to a zone to see if they can limit the looks Maryland is getting. Hayes hits a jumper, making it 24-21. Knezevic just shot what might be the weirdest looking release of the tournament. A lefty release that makes Marion seem picturesque mid-jumper. Cal gets blocked, Bowie responds by walking. This ends the Maryland has no turnovers party that Gary Williams was hosting in Kansas City. 24-21
– Another Maryland turnover, and Cal responds with another Randle score. Maryland: 3 turnovers in the last 3 possessions. I have officially decided on an anthem for Randle- “It’s a mans world” by James Brown. Seriously, everytime he scores, I scream in a broken tune “This is a maaans world.” Boykin fouls Neal on the offensive end, it’s 24-23 Cal down one. 5:11 remaining in the 1st half. As the color commentary says “This is Hoosiers versus Hoosiers.”
– Vasquez has hit a cold streak, missing his last 3 shots. We go out to commercial after a Cal foul, Maryland to shoot two after the break. Did anybody think Cal would be out rebounding Maryland at this point? 17-13 just now in the ol’ boards category.
– A few quick points for us to over analyze, Cal and Maryland both only have 9 field goals on 25 and 26 attempts respectively… But, Cal has 10 second chance points to Maryland’s 1. Also 1 field goal and 5 turnovers in the past 6+ minutes for Maryland. Score is 26-23, Maryland leading with 3:32 remaining & Wilkes at the line. Wilkes hits the first with one heck of an ugly facemask a la Wally S., and hits the second. Maryland responds with a bucket and it’s back to four. Patrick Christopher responds with a jumper of his, then G. Vasquez gets his groove back like Stella with his own response jumper. And DJ Seeley hits a jumper. Then Maryland responds. The defensive presence by both teams are invisible at this point. Amoke draws a foul and is at the line. Bricks the first, toes up, does that J. Kidd fake release, then misses the second, again like J. Kidd- sans jumper. Randle finally misses a jumper, the score is 32-30 with less than a minute on the board in the half.
– Theo “from the Cosby Show” Robertson draws a foul, and bricks the FT. These teams aren’t in the tourney for their charity stripe prowess, that’s for sure. Maryland calls a timeout- Is Gary Williams trying to ice the shooter? Is Theo the new JJ Redick? 25 seconds remain in the half. Theo squares up, bottoms. One point game, the ice wars was all for naught. Maryland will hold for one. Christopher fouls for the second time tonight. Hayes makes the first FT, hits the second. 34-31 with 11.3 seconds remaining. After a kick-ball call, Cal to inbound with a second left, and they don’t get the shot off. At the half Maryland leads by 3, 34-31. And a small sidenote- Maryland is using… Not gatorade squeeze bottles, nor powerade or even quick kick…They are squeezing Vitamin Water out of those bottles according to the label. Eyes like a sniper folks.
Not only did Waddell likely complete the only backflip dunk in NCAA history, he probably is the only 6-10 guy to complete a backflip, without an accompanying quick trip in an ambulance.
by Matt Caputo
Millions of users from around the world are hooked on the instant gratification of seeing themselves on YouTube, the world’s foremost video website. Team Flight Brothers, a group of nearly two dozen of the best dunkers from around the planet, have built their reputations off constantly uploading videos of their mind-bending dunks for YouTube’s huge audience—forcing an alternative hoops mini-revolution in the process. Eleven thousand subscribers, 700,000 channel views and nearly 13 million video views later, TFB rivals only the NBA in YouTube’s basketball content catalogue.
“Team Flight Brothers are a great YouTube success story,” says YouTube Sports Editor Andrew Bangs. “They started out as a regular user account, started getting lots of views and becoming more popular, we got them into our partnership program and now we promote them on the site. In the YouTube universe—if you will—production values are not king. It’s opposite. It’s about substance and content and those guys just hit on a formula. Their videos are very YouTube friendly. They did it guerilla style, they did it smart and went right for what the kids want: the dunks!”
Some might say that dunking is the most overrated part of the game of basketball. They’ll argue that the two points scored by stuffing the rock through the hoop and hanging on the rim could be tallied with much less energy via a simple lay-up. Others will argue that dunking is the sport’s most exciting play and, no matter what the score is, a good jam is sure to keep the crowd live, inspire the dunker’s teammates and dishearten their opponents. There is also a growing faction of basketball fans who can appreciate dunks for their aesthetic value, degree of difficulty and creativity—irrespective of when the dunk takes place—in or out of game. That is, essentially, the basis of TFB’s appeal.
“I always thought there was a way to get these guys paid for this stuff,” says Team Flight Brothers founder and operator Chuck Millan, himself a dunker of some note. “But I never imagined we’d be getting millions of views on YouTube. It’s brought us a lot of exposure, and as time went on our guys just starting getting paid decently to do dunk shows. Now there’s talk about sending us overseas to tour.”
Millan, who is 5-10, began earning props as a dunker himself at age 16. He later traveled to Taiwan as a member of the Slam Nation dunking crew. He visited and performed in dunk shows in places he’d only dreamed he’d see. When he got back to the States, Millan unofficially formed TFB in 2004 after realizing there was no comparable dunking outfit serving North America. The idea was to gather the best dunkers in the country and commence touring—much like the AND 1 Streetball Tour format, except strictly dunks. And so, on a small level, Team Flight Brothers was born.
Although Millan was living in Lowell, MA when he launched, TFB consisted of less than a handful of dunkers from Millan’s home state of Florida, including Brandon “Werm” Lacue, Robert “Shayboi” Parker and Tim “Flight” Lowe. The first TFB shows took place in the Lowell Boys & Girls Club, as well as local parks and by invitation at small venues in New Hampshire. While crowds were impressed with the seemingly natural ability of TFB’s members, there was little indication that their early performances were the birth of a phenomenon.
Before returning to Florida in 2008, Millan recruited Terrell “TDub” Cournoyea, a slight, Minnesota-based high jumper generously listed at 5-9. Like many of the TFB members, Cournoyea wasn’t a highly touted prep prospect and he didn’t play college ball, but nevertheless he’s a large part of the group’s mystique. His name has flopped around the streetball scene for a while and TFB was the perfect opportunity for him to display his freakishly organic abilities.
“I was just sitting back at home when Chuck hit me up and at first I thought it was a joke,” says Cournoyea, who hasn’t played organized basketball since high school. “I always knew I wanted to be a famous basketball player, but I never really thought I would be this famous just for dunking.”
Once he officially joined the group, Cournoyea became TFB’s hottest asset. He captivated live audiences and YouTube’s viewers by proving that, even at minimal height, he possessed a rocket-launching leaping ability seldom seen by a person of his stature since Spud Webb in the 1986 NBA Dunk Contest. Besides his hardcore hops, Cournoyea’s command of the basketball during his leaps is strong and well thought out. His manipulation of the rock is probably equally as difficult as the actual jumps and over the past few years, people have begun to notice.
Although Millan had been posting TFB videos since 2006, Cournoyea’s clip entitled “5-9 Best Dunker in the World,” was nominated by YouTube for its “Best Sports Video of 2007” during their annual awards voting. The video, which has eclipsed two million views, featured Cournoyea completing a “540 with two hands,” a “360 between the legs” and other difficult dunks that have never been done in the NBA, nor probably anywhere else for that matter. In a matter of hours, the video received tens of thousands of hits and rested atop YouTube’s main page for nearly two days.
As demand for TFB videos on YouTube grew, so did the demand for live performances at halftime shows, dunk contests and other exhibitions, which in itself created a need for the team to expand. In ’08, TFB added two of the world’s most well-known dunkers—Ryan “Special FX” Williams and Taurian “AirUpThere/Mr.720” Fontenette—to an already strong arsenal that is now about 20 deep. They include Brandon Lacue aka “Werm,” Kareem Ward aka “Air Bama,” Justin Darlington aka “JusFly,” Troy McCray aka “Rudeboi/TFly,” Kevin Kemp aka “Golden Child,” Zach Jones aka “Jonsey,” Quintin Slaughter aka “Elevator,” Guy Dupuy aka “Easy Jumper,” Danny Ford aka “4D,” Mike Villa aka “Murda,” Haneef Munir aka “Easy E,” Kyle Rische aka “2Easy,” Raphael Hall aka “Windmill Prince” and Chand Wickran aka “Area51.”
“In the last two years, dunking has really skyrocketed,” says Justin “JusFly” Darlington, a Canadian member of TFB. “I feel that Team Flight Brothers has really had a big impact on that. We push each other and we push anyone else who is trying to dunk to do better. I can’t see anyone comparing to us out here.”
In the last year, TFB’s presence stretched beyond YouTube. At the ’08 AND 1 Mixtape Tour Finals, Kareem “Air Bama” Ward won $25,000 in prize money and a chance to play in the ’09 Tour. Similarly, Ryan “Special FX” Williams won the ’08 Dunkman (Shaq’s signature shoe brand) Dunk Contest to collect a prize of $10,000. Brandon “Werm” Lacue won the Rudy Gay Dunk Contest, while Cournoyea collected Dunk titles at both the Super Bowl Celebrity Hoops contest and the Sprite Slam Dunk Showcase in Atlanta. The list of TFB accomplishments goes on and on, with many of the biggest moments preserved on YouTube.
While the future is not so clearly mapped out, TFB’s mission is still pretty clear. They’ve continued to raise their rep by using YouTube—even releasing a series of vids challenging the NBA to allow one TFB member, Dupuy, into the ’09 NBA Dunk Contest in Phoenix. They’ve signed into a partnership with K1X and will be heading out to Asia this spring to promote both brands via a dunk show tour. While the dunk is nothing new, Team Flight Brothers is changing the way people look at the slam itself.
“You don’t see the things that someone on TFB does every day,” says Ryan “Special FX” Williams, who played college ball at St. John’s and is probably the best true basketball player associated with TFB. “You can’t go to a gym and see a 5-9 guy put the ball between his legs and jump over somebody or a 6-5 guy do a 360, behind-the-back dunk. It’s just stuff that you don’t see every day.”
by Ryan Jones
Our current Basketball Diary writer, Xavier Henry of Putnam City HS in Oklahoma City, wrapped up a state championship over the weekend — you can read more about that in the next issue of the magazine. Assuming you’re one of those people who actually does follow the Diary, you’ll appreciate some footage of Xavier that turned up in the past week or two: This all-access feature from The Oklahoman, OKC’s daily newspaper, breaks down Putnam City’s state title win over Jenks HS of Tulsa. Top-three highlights?
1) Xavier’s drive and dunk around 3:10
2) Xavier fouling out with the game in hand so he could get an ovation (we see you player)
3) My man Brandon Chatman’s voice on the narration. Gus Johnson needs to watch his back.
I’ll also take this opportunity to shout out Jenks’ senior Bryson Pope, a University of Tulsa signee who, from the look of things here, is pretty nice.
And then I just stumbled across this (hat tip to Google News Alerts!): The local Fox affiliate in Memphis did a feature on Xavier for a recent broadcast (I couldn’t get it to embed, but it’s the video on the left). It’s a little bit dated but gives a decent sense of Xavier’s story to date. Plus, it’s got an Auto-Tune soundtrack, so you really can’t lose.
Not exactly a shocker here: “Growing up in McLeansboro, Ill., Jazz coach Jerry Sloan’s family didn’t get a phone for the first time until his junior year in high school. So you can only imagine the fun Wednesday in trying to explain Twitter to the soon-to-be 67-year-old. One of the local television stations asked Sloan about Charlie Villanueva sending a tweet (update) from the locker room at halftime of Milwaukee’s game Sunday against Boston and the resulting fallout with Bucks coach Scott Skiles. ‘I don’t follow that,’ Sloan said. ‘I don’t even have a computer. I don’t know how to turn one on. I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m going to be totally honest. How would you do that?’ Sloan was told that Villanueva could do it through his cell phone. This brought more confusion. ‘I have a phone, but I don’t know how to use it that way,’ Sloan said. ‘I wish I did, but I didn’t want to be aggravated. I’ve just kind of been that way all along.’”
by Marcel Mutoni
Tired of playing against some of Europe’s fiercest men, according to SI’s Chris Mannix, Ricky Rubio would like to enter the 2009 NBA draft.
Of course, Mannix is the same guy who erroneously reported that Marko Jaric was facing sexual assault charges last week, so take this latest report for what it’s worth:
Spain’s Ricky Rubio, a dazzling point guard with Pete Maravich-like skills and the facial features to match, is considered a lock to be selected in the top 10 of the NBA draft. Several league executives believe the 6-foot-3 Olympian will be a top five pick. The question is, when?
It could be this June. Rubio has made it clear that he would like to enter the 2009 draft, according to sources close to the situation. The 18-year-old Rubio is draft-eligible because he will turn 19 before the end of 2009.
But it’s not that easy. Rubio has a complicated, multimillion-dollar contract buyout with his Spanish team, DKV Joventut Barcelona. NBA teams are allowed to contribute a maximum of $500,000 to buy out the contract of a foreign player. That means if Rubio seeks to leave Joventut, he could be forced to use most of the money from his first NBA contract to pay for the buyout.
Therein lies the rub: How much money is Ricky prepared to lose in order to jump to the NBA?
We’ll be finding out soon enough.
Age limit. What age limit?: “This year or next year, Vaccaro predicted, a player will turn pro and head to Europe after his junior year of high school. If that seems like one more sign of the basketball apocalypse, consider that many of the Europeans who populate NBA rosters began playing professionally as young as 14. In any case, Vaccaro believes Europe should be a destination only for exceptionally talented and relatively mature players. And Jennings has cautioned that his Italian sojourn hasn’t been one big scoop of gelato: ‘I don’t want anyone coming over here thinking it’s easy,’ he wrote on his Under Armour blog.” (Via: SbB)
Word on the street is that the Nets have grown tired of his antics and may cut him loose soon: “The Nets suspended Sean Williams for two games for conduct detrimental to the team…You also have to wonder if Williams, who rejoined the rotation on Feb. 23 and had been playing well, will ever play again for the Nets. There is no word on whether they will waive Williams outright, which a source said yesterday they could at some point. But it might be hard for coach Lawrence Frank to play him after Williams let the team down the way he did in Denver in what was a very critical game.”
by Marcel Mutoni
Forget the fact that he’s expected to miss very little time after getting shot a couple of nights ago, Carl Landry is thankful and lucky to be alive.
Landry spoke publicly for the first time yesterday about his ordeal, and according to the Rockets forward, the shooting was likely a case of mistaken identity. It was also an unimaginably harrowing experience.
The Houston Chronicle reports:
“I could have been dead,” Landry said. “The shooter was 10 yards or less away. I’m 6-9 and I had a bright shirt on. I don’t know how he missed, but thank God he did and he hit the lower part of my leg. Yeah, definitely, I could have been dead. And you guys … would be talking about the funeral that you were probably going to go to in a couple of days. I’m blessed and lucky to be alive.”
“I was sideswiped once and turned around,” he said. “Hit me again on the other side. I ran into a big street light. The car was totaled at the time and I knew something was going on, like they were looking for somebody. Both of the guys got out of the car. I tried to plead my case, saying I’m not the guy they were looking for. But immediately they start shooting. The second shot hit me in the left calf.”
“I ran about six blocks. After they fired two shots, one of the guys chased me for about a block. I was able to outrun the shooter and I hid in between a house and a fence. I was so frightened, so I started to knock. I was ringing doorbells like crazy. One person came down and said he was going to call the police. He said he was going to call 911. I saw a cop car drive by about 20 minutes after he said that. I went up to the cop car and they helped me. I feel good just to be alive, blessed at the same time. The situation that happened was really scary. It could have happened to anybody. I’m just happy to be here.”
Jay Triano must be loving this: “A few eyebrows were raised yesterday when Marc Iavaroni attended Raptors practice. Respected throughout the league, Iavaroni will spend the week ‘observing’ the team, a Raptors official said. When he ran the Phoenix Suns, general manager Bryan Colangelo brought in Rick Carlisle for a similar purpose.”
by Holly MacKenzie
Big night on the schedule to discuss today since of course, it was Wednesday.
Before we begin. I beg of you, please, please, please, read this article. The best thing I’ve ever read about Lamar Odom. Beautifully written piece.
I often say that Lamar Odom is my favorite Laker not named Kobe, that more than just a favorite Laker, he’s one of my favorite people in the entire league. I can’t really explain it, except to say you can feel his heart. He’s just good. I wrote about LO for our Top 50 this summer and I encourage every single one of you to check this piece out. Read it now, read it later today, save it for the weekend. I don’t care when, but do make sure you read it.
I skipped out on the Miami/Boston game because I had some other writing work to finish, felt better about it when I realized half of each team was missing, then wanted to kick myself when I saw that it went into overtime. Gutsy showing from the rooks, Chalmers and Beasley.
I said last week I really have been impressed with Mario and I had no fewer than a a handful of people jump down my throat. Sounds like he was doing alright, last night.
Honestly, I am OFFICIALLY officially on the Twitter bandwagon. I know we’ve all heard more than we needed to about it since yesterday and the Skiles/CV31/Twitting@halftime debacle, but man. If you can’t catch something live, fire that thing up and you will get instant updates from every arena (and ball fan watching at home). It’s fantastic.
Okay, bball. We’re going the short recap route again today because to be honest, 11 games are just too many. Not to flip through, but to recap, yup. At least on the eve of…. March Madness!
And….. my bracket still has not been filled out.
I somehow convinced (or charmed, I’d like to think), a friend who just happens to have been a part of the Orange into passing along the team hoodie from their senior year. I think we all know what I will be living in for the next few weeks. At least on game days. You know it.
My word. I’m so behind and am failing at this week! Okay basketball.
The Hornets escaped with a 94-93 victory over the Timberwolves after Randy Foye’s jumper rimmed out at the buzzer in NO last night. Chris Paul set up David West for a dunk with 12 seconds remaining that gave the Hornets the lead and the game. CP3 finished with 26 points, 10 assists and 5 steals. West had 14 and 8, Rasual Butler had 14 and 7 and Hilton Armstrong added 12. Kevin Love had 23 and 11 for the Wolves as Ryan Gomes added 17 points in the loss.
The Kings went to Charlotte and got blown out by the Bobcats. Rashad McCants had 30 points in the start for Sacramento, Francisco Garcia had 17 and Jason Thompson added 12 points and 11 boards in the loss. Gerald Wallace led the Bobcats with 25 points and 12 rebounds as Emeka Okafor added 16 points, 10 rebounds and 4 blocked shots and Raymond Felton had 14 points to go with 7 assists as the Bobcats outscored Sacramento 26-18 in the fourth quarter to run away with the game, 104-88.
Boston took down the Wade-less Heat 112-108, but it took them overtime and 21 fourth quarter/overtime points from Paul Pierce. Without Wade, his rookies stepped up as Mario Chalmers scored 19 points to go with 9 assists and Michael Beasley added 21 points to give the Celtics a scare. Jermine O’Neal had 17 points and 6 assists for the heat. Paul Pierce was the savior for the Celtics with 36 points, 11 rebounds and 5 assists while Rajon Rondo continued to show his worth, scoring 27 points and dishing 10 assists as Eddie House added 16 off of the bench. With the Heat trailing 100-99, Chalmers hit a free throw to tie the game at 100 and send it to overtime. In the extra session, the Celtics ran out to a quick eight point lead before Chalmers hit back to back three-pointers to keep it close. In the end, Pierce iced the game on free throws for the C’s.
The Pacers lost another game to the Blazers, this time falling, 95-85, behind Brandon Roy’s 20 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists. The Pacer offense died in the fourth and they were outscored 30-19 in the period. Travis Outlaw scored 15 off of the bench and Joel Pryzbilla had a 10-point, 11-rebound double-double. Danny Granger appeared to have found his footing in his second game back, scoring 35 points to lead the Pacers offensively. He grabbed 10 rebounds as well. Jarrett Jack scored 13 points and Roy Hibbert added 14 in the start for Troy Murphy.
Orlando killed Milwaukee, 106-80. They were up 30 after two. Bring back twittering @ the half! Dwight Howard had 28 points, 12 rebounds, 7 assists and 2 blocked shots. Charlie Villanueva had 17 for the Bucks.
John Salmons has been enjoying his time in Chicago. Last night he had 20 and Derrick Rose added 25 as the Bulls defeated the Thunder 103-96. Kevin Durant scored 28 points for the Thunder while Jeff Green added 18.
Denver won a close one against Memphis, 111-109. In the race for playoff seeding, it was a crucial game for the Nuggets. It was one Carmelo Anthony wanted and he made sure they got it, pouring in 35 points on the night as Chauncey Billups added 18 points and 12 assists, Nene had 19 and JR Smith added 21 off of the bench. Rudy Gay scored 30 for the Grizz as Hakim Warrick and OJ Mayo each added 16 and Mike Conley dished 10 assists in the loss.
Houston and Detroit was a good game that went into double overtime before the Pistons finally ran out of gas. Without Rasheed Wallace and Rip Hamilton, Antonio McDyess and Aaron Afflalo stepped up again, (14 points and 20 boards for Dyess, 24 points for Afflalo), and Rodney Stuckey added 21 points to go with 10 assists as the Pistons forced overtime on a free throw from Stuckey. In the first overtime, again, the Rockets were in control and again, it was Stuckey who tied it up. By the time the second overtime hit, the Rockets were ready to finish the game off and rang off a 10-0 run to put the game just far enough out of reach for the Pistons. Yao Ming finished with 31 points, 15 rebounds and 4 blocked shots, Ron Artest had 26 points as Aaron Brooks and Luis Scola each added 14 points.
The Suns were able to pull away from the Sixers in the second half, thanks to the Sixers road weary legs after a buzzer beating win against the Lakers Tuesday night. In the final quarter the Suns outscored Philly 33-25. They also outrebounded the Sixers 44-31 on the night. Jason Richardson had 25 points while Shaquille O’Neal had 26 points, 11 rebounds and 3 blocked shots. Steve Nash added 24 points and 10 assists as the Suns had 25 assists to only 8 turnovers. The Sixers were led by 23 points apiece from Thaddeus Young and Andre Miller while Louis Williams added 21 off of the bench in the loss.
“Add Wally Szczerbiak to this list of Cavaliers wounded. The guard-foward left the game against the Orlando Magic with 3:33 left in the third with a left knee sprain. The team had an MRI performed on Szczerbiak today at Cleveland Clinic Sports Health and is expected to miss 2-3 weeks.”
by Marcel Mutoni
Enough to refuse to visit one despite pleas from his team’s medical staff.
“Crash”, well, crashed yet again last night, and appeared to have badly injured his left knee. Doctors, teammates and fans thought he was done for the night; Wallace had other ideas.
From the Charlotte Observer:
“I think I kind of forced them’’ to let him play, Wallace said after coming back from a sprained left knee to push the Bobcats to a 104-88 victory over the Sacramento Kings.
“They wanted me to go to the hospital. I’m sick of hospitals. The only time I want to go there is to say hi to the doctors.’’
Thursday he’ll give in to a magnetic resonance imaging of the knee, which he sprained with about three minutes left in the first half. Wallace slipped, rolled and clutched his knee, leaving coaches and teammates gasping at the potential ramifications.
G-Wallace scored 14 of his 25 points following the knee scare, and kept the Bobcats’ Playoff chances alive.
Though he gave local doctors one less patient to worry about last night, it remains to be seen just how much longer Crash can avoid the hospital going forward.
by Ryne Nelson
I learned a nice lesson today, and it’s something I feel is important enough to pass on. It’s more of a pattern, actually and it’s something most people—especially hoops fans—should be aware of. I’ve noticed that, if you convince yourself that it’s there, this lesson can be taught about pretty much anything. It’s not a Law of Nature. It’s not even a theory yet. It’s just a lesson, a parable, if you will. So enough already, let me see if I can put it semi-succinctly here:
The only thing that can result from an unfortunate disposition is more unfortunate dispositions.
OK, so that didn’t quite enlighten any minds… Basically, bad situations and events lead to even more bad situations and events. It’s a self-stirring bottomless whirlpool that can only be stopped with a conscious effort to change. You can’t flip it around: Good situations and events do not always lead to more good situations and events. Not at all. If you’re have a positive attitude and good things are happening to you, there’s nothing that will ensure those good things to continue. As a matter of fact, if I’ve got a couple good things going in a row for me—the train comes as soon as I swipe into the station; my Lean Cuisine doesn’t explode in the microwave—then I automatically wonder what negative event will follow. But the bad events are too easy to snowball, and they’re damn difficult to stop. Bad begets more bad, said the wise man. But if you notice a streak of unfortunate happening to you, it might be best to lock yourself in front of the television and think long and hard about what’s wrong. Minimize the damage. Focus on what needs to change.
This was one of the lousiest games of the Knicks’ season, and I think they caught my infection before the game. I’m afraid the team’s Contradictory Club performance can’t be blamed entirely on the players. They caught the bad luck snowball.
When teams begin poorly, they will find their offensive rhythm at some point, especially against a sub-par defensive team like the Nets. I haven’t been exactly kind to D’Antoni ball, but even I was surprised at the team’s ability to not just play terrible defense, but just as terrible offense. It truly was an awe-inspiring performance. An outlying specimen that you want to dissect on replay. There were countless missed layups, almost no easy fast break points. I’m convinced an early Al Harrington super-ugly clanger must’ve rotated the basket on its stanchion. Either that or Kadeem Hardison was sitting invisible on top of the rim.
Of course, there are numerous basketball reasons as to why the Devin Harris-less Nets were able to rim apart the Knicks, but what it all comes down to is getting into that negative slide. It touches the psyche, which translates to the court, which seeps into the crowd and before you know it, you have an epidemic on your hands. Bad situations and moods are the fastest spreading disease in the world, especially in the sports realm, and even more so in the greatest arena in the world.
I’m sitting here in its aftermath and it feels like you just had the wind sucked out of you. You see, I got caught in a series of unfortunate events early today, well before it made its way to the Garden. I woke up with the bad allergies—the dry head cold type, where you toot your nose into completely dry tissues and float away in your balloon of a head. I was able to focus for a few hours after taking a CVS Sudaphed knock off pill with my granola. The allergies cause more problems. Whenever I swallow, my ears pop. My mouth dries up. I continue to toot my nose into dry tissue. I have trouble responding to email. I have even more trouble processing information at a quick pace. Reading is like I’m in first grade, carefully going over each word in every sentence. When I talk, I first swallow to wet the throat, pop the ears, and blurt out something in a high pitch. I stutter. I can’t breathe. I look pale. I’m a mess.
But I push through and head down the street to Madison Square Garden. Being outside in the fresh air does me good, but mostly because I can relax my mind for a moment. I feel like the hardest thing in the world to do is smile. It’s not easy, because I don’t do it often enough in the first place, but it’s just gotten 10 times less appealing, feeling the way I feel with sinuses that feel like they’ve been injected with Botox. Some part of me feels like it can only get better from here. That part of me didn’t know what I know now.
I payed $8 for the worst dinner in my life—pasta, runny mashed potatoes, the leftover scraps of a tuna salad with some microwaved lima beans. Yum. I guess I just missed what looked to be a cross between a beef stroganoff and General Tso’s Chicken. I wonder why I was stupid enough to buy a plate full of pasta in the press room and not just buy a burger and fries just like everyone else in the stadium.
I’m again perched in the rafters of the Garden. It was somewhat difficult making my way to the top this time because of my heavy, high-starch dinner. I take a seat and minutes later a loud and drunken couple stroll in next to me. Apparently, Garden employees can give friends free “tickets” to watch the game next to the media up in the stratosphere. Make no mistake, I’d have no problem with this couple… if I was at a bar. They’re drinking Miller Lite out of clear 32 oz. cups with lids and straws. He’s shouting obscenities toward the court at the top of his lungs. During timeouts, he’s either on the phone with his pal (“You better call me at 10 o’clock or I’ll punch you!”) or lending wise advise to his girl (“If you say shit too many times, you’re going to puke up your intestines.”). She keeps looking over my shoulder to see what I’m writing, and probably wonders what I’m doing here, talking about lima beans and stuffy noses. It’s tough to write when people are watching.
While I try to ignore this couple, the entire first quarter goes without event. Vince Carter is the highlight, moving in his typical slow-motion. He’s playing point guard, palming the ball at mid-court, waiting 20 seconds and jacking up a 25-foot bombs. He makes them. The closest thing the Nets now have to a true point guard is 6-3 Keyon Dooling, but he’s not getting into the game.
Wilson Chandler is the lone bright spot for the Knicks. David Lee is quiet. Nate Robinson is quiet. Chris Duhon has, in a single season, proved all his doubts wrong… and right. Even Mike D’Antoni is uncharacteristically quiet.
If you watch enough basketball, you’ll notice when teams tend to make runs. No matter how poorly a team plays in the first quarter and early second quarter, they’ll usually finish the half on a hot streak. Why? Teams shoot relatively the same percentage nearly every night. Poor shooting doesn’t last the entire game, unless they’re playing a truly great defensive team. New Jersey isn’t one of those teams. NBA players are too skilled offensively to shoot at such a poor rate for the entire game. Getting back to that average percentage will happen as long as they move the ball and shoot the open shot. Offense is rhythmic—you go in and out of streaks. In D’Antoni’s system, getting back on track is almost inevitable, yet it never happened tonight.
But that’s not the entire story. The Knicks caught themselves in a more powerful series of unfortunate events: the trap of playing poor defense. Defense doesn’t come as easily as offense—teams don’t all of a sudden begin to stop opponents. If you don’t make defense a priority, you won’t ever have it. And if you’re letting teams score often, it affects the offense. Most of all, it affects the psyche. Ever feel like you’re powerless against something? That’s what it was like for the Knicks, who, on their home court, are outscored by 14 points in the 2nd quarter alone. All this is without Devin Harris, who has had nothing but field days against Chris Duhon this season. You’re starting to get the picture.
Meanwhile, I asked the blabbering fan beside me to quiet down a bit so I could write. I feel bad that I shut up the loudest Knicks fan in the building, albeit for two minutes. By the end of the quarter, he was again cursing out every Knick as only a true New Yorker could. He told me he’s never heard of SLAM Magazine, but he’s going to buy it on newsstands tomorrow (“If you remember any of this,” I grumble to myself.).
Chris Douglas-Roberts gets some decent action tonight. Whether it’s due to injuries or otherwise, he’s no longer the 11th man off the bench. He shows off a nice pump fake and a couple dribble drives to the basket. His game is similar to Chandler’s but without the range. His athleticism is actually on a higher level than Chandler’s—CDR put down a dunk in the fourth that drew ohhs and ahhs that rivaled Vince’s dunk in the previous quarter. But I’m always worried about players like him—young second round draft picks without strong fundamentals and who rely heavily on superior athleticism. As time wears on him, Douglas-Roberts could become a quick and easy target of fans’ angst. Sure, Douglas-Roberts has that ever-so-dangerous potential that teams like. His future is likely over with an injury or a off-court misstep. I’m not saying this will happen, I’m just saying I’ve seen it before. Just look at Jared Jefferies and Desmond Mason. What about teammate Sean Williams? CDR is a lesser version of Minnesota’s Rodney Carney, so it’s easy to see how one mishap could cause big implications for his NBA career. Because he doesn’t have a guaranteed three or four seasons to prove himself, I’ll put the over-under on his NBA career at six seasons and lean toward the under.
Fellow rookie Brook Lopez on the other hand, has super solid fundamentals. Right now, I’d say his future could be just as bright as Andrew Bynum’s. Lopez doesn’t have as high of a ceiling as Bynum, who could be a perennial All-Star, but Lopez certainly will be in the L for at least 14 seasons. He has an innate sense of where the proper place to be on the court is at all times. He has a long-range jumper in his arsenal. He can hurt a team at the free throw stripe. He positions himself well in every offensive situation. With all this talk about Derrick Rose, Kevin Love, Michael Beasley and Eric Gordon being just 20 years old, don’t forget that Lopez is same age as well. He’s exceeded almost every expectation I had for him this season. He just quietly gets things done. His toolbox has many polished go-to offensive weapons, and there’s much more room to add to it. He’ll be on the court 80 games per season as well, which is something Laker fan can’t count on Bynum to do. The only great advantage I think Bynum carries is a toughness on defense. Brook, by no means, will be collapsing lungs of his opponents if they try to drive his lane.
That said, there are only four Nets I’d protect, and Lopez without question is one of them. (The other three, if you’re curious, are Devin Harris, Ryan Anderson and Yi Jianlian.)
In the second half, I move to quieter nook on press row. I know “quiet” in a basketball stadium is a bit of an oxymoron, but believe me, there truly is such a thing. I move down about 30 seats, where it’s just me, my notebook and the crowd’s flowing din in the background. I imagine I’ll be able to bring much more detailed and “clairvoyant” analysis without the distraction to my right. It’s not happening. I’m just sitting next to more fans, with more beer with less noise.
The Knicks gain some ground in the third quarter, but not much. Vince Carter continues to impress. Russ joked at halftime that the only way the Nets can make the Playoffs is if Vince Carter becomes a Michael Jordan reincarnate. I responded that he’d have to start shooting within 24 feet of the basket first. Playing according to the flow of the game, Carter starts to work his “interior” game. He makes a vicious attack at the rim and sinks a couple mid-range fadeaways. Carter’s penetrating and dishing at times—he’s truly still one of the few players in the L with such a complete skill set. More importantly, he doesn’t force a thing when he’s out there, much like Kobe Bryant. These two players can feel the pulse of a basketball game better than anyone in the League right now.
The Nets are converting on offense—they finish the 3rd with 90 points—but they definitely don’t look like themselves. New Jersey has clearly shifted into a one-man operation, with everything going through Vince Carter. Some might think that this offensive barrage shows some hope for the Playoffs. Don’t be deceived—without a point guard, this team is done. Devin Harris is likely done for the season. But don’t tell Nets fans—they won’t remain interested in the team.
After the game, while enjoying a post-game brownie or two, I try to get a better understanding of Nets fans from Jake. To me, their fans are the most enigmatic group out there. Grizzlies also don’t have people show up for games, but the reasoning behind that is easy—there’s just no interest in professional basketball in Memphis. There’s clearly interest in pro ball in New Jersey, as evidenced by great turnouts during the Jason Kidd era and the diehard fans on the NetsDaily blog. I mention, though, if a game was being played this close in any other city, there would at least be a recognizable fan base at the game. With the Nets’ proximity to New York, you’d figure that there would at least be some Nets fans at the Garden. You’d figure with a pasting like this, you’d hear some cheers at some point. I listened carefully during the entire game, but there’s not a single wave of cheers. If they even up moving to Newark, would anyone shed a tear? Better yet, will the only way for the Nets to get true fans—you know, the ones who rep the team outside of after work business occasions and family outings—to move to Brooklyn, where fandom rides no bandwagon? Jake and I can’t come to a good conclusion. I lean this way: The Nets might be in a better location in Newark, but true fans who care about the team are in the Big Apple. I’m unsure why a couple miles separation makes such a big difference in fandom.
About 10 percent of the crowd gives Carter an ovation when he’s subbed out with about 3:00 remaining in the 4th. That’s certainly not bad considering the New York crowd has cheered only two players on opposing teams this season. Don’t twist it: New Yorkers haven’t gone soft. Judging from the number of profanities, copious cries of “you suck!” and trash talking (mostly to Knicks players tonight), they’re just not feeling the Knicks’ unfortunate disposition.
by Brett Ballantini
He was found by the Bureau of Statistics to be
one against whom there was no official complaint,
and all the reports on his conduct agree
that, in the modern sense of an old-fashioned word, he was a saint
–W.H. Auden, “The Unknown Citizen” (1940)
After contributing consistently here for a couple of months and reading for much longer than that, it seems it’s long since past time to come out of the closet.
The stats closet, that is.
Yeah, the only thing less cool than admitting you’ve just turned 40 on SLAMonline is to pump up the cause of statistical analysis in basketball. Yup yup, pocket protector in the house!
This isn’t prompted as much by reaction to the Michael Lewis piece on Shane Battier in the New York Times Magazine as it is the overall tenor of discussion on SLAMonline when it comes to numbers. It’s a bit odd that there seems to be so much fear of stats, what with all the “eff PER” and +/- chides rife on these pages. Really, are the metrics folks that close to overtaking the games?
We want so desperately to believe our eyes as the first and last evidence needed to inform our opinions and handicap our favorites in the game we so love that the idea of supplementing our own personal game notes with numbers is akin to some sort of betrayal.
Numbers can be jimmied. Every stat, including the final score, is ripe for manipulation, at least by some small measure. But in the end, that final score is the only statistic that matters.
In the game box, there are scads of seemingly unalterable statistics: points, rebounds, assists, steals, and so on. But every one of these numbers are contingent on judgment calls, haphazard timing or good and bad luck. A basket is credited to the player who appeared to score on a tip-in; a rebound can be juggled, tapped or dropped entirely; assists are routinely credited without regard to the spirit of the pass-to-score nature of the rule; and even the most blatant pickpocket earns his steals contingent on team defense.
So the notion that game stats are “pure” while secondary stats like the PERs and Efficiency Ratings and Player Wins of the stats world are somehow tainting the game and altering perceptions is ludicrous. And it makes those who shake angry fists at or shed tiny tears over basketball encyclopedias seem, well, rather short-sighted.
Advanced statistics are a sign of progress when it comes to basketball analysis, not the overmanagement or mangling of it. They are an essential part of the evolution of the game.
Think about it. The year I was born, 1969, the NBA awarded all its statistical titles to cumulative category winners, not for averages. So in ‘68-69 Oscar Robertson finished fifth in scoring with 1,955 points rather than fourth, with a 24.7 average. Dave Bing finished fifth in assists with 546 instead of fourth, averaging 7.1. Nate Thurmond finished fifth in rebounding with 1,402, instead of second, averaging 19.7.
You might think this statistical subjectivity is as relevant to today’s NBA as a .400 hitter from the 1890s getting plopped into the major leagues of today. So let’s take a more recent, and relevant, example.
Defenses were long measured by points allowed, the lower the PPG, the better. The fact that by this measure a “bad” defensive team could win a whole buncha games 120-115, or a “good” defensive team could lose just as many 90-85, leaves such a simplistic statistical measure of defense in tatters.
These days, defensive field goal percentage has overtaken PPG as the supposed best measure of a defense. And that certainly is a step forward. But still, how directly does a low defensive field goal percentage correlate to a great defense, or wins? If a club is stocked with lousy rebounders, for example, it’s of little consequence how many shots they force opponents to miss; those opponents can launch bricks with impunity, knowing they’ll have two or three or four cracks at a basket every trip down the floor.
Savvy fans have moved on to possession and pace statistics to most accurately judge teams on both sides of the ball. Defensive and offensive ratings even the hardwood for all teams by judging them per 100 possessions. A fast-paced team won’t be penalized for its cheesecloth-appearing D, while a sluggish club won’t be scored poorly for clay feet on offense.
Standardizing statistics in order to measure team efficiency per possession seems about as true to the game as the final score: maximize scoring on your possessions, squelch opponents on theirs.
For the past couple of years I’ve had some interesting exchanges with some veteran (read: older) writers, on the subject of the Denver Nuggets defense. Denver is a tricky team. The franchise still carries a tag of no-defense as a holdover from its ABA days, the run—n-stun Doug Moe Nugs of the 1980s, the thin Rockies air, laissez-faire stars like ’Melo or AI, or a combination of all of this.
Well, I’m not expecting anyone in the SLAM universe to back me, but the Nuggets under George Karl have been anything but a poor defensive team. In this season to date and his three full seasons previous, Denver has never had less than the 13th-best defensive efficiency in the NBA. Chauncey Billups has been heralded, rightfully, for all he has brought to the Mile High, but when it comes down strictly to the team’s efficiency on both sides of the ball, the Nuggets are pretty much identical to a season ago. On offense, they’re up to the 10th-best offensive efficiency (from 11th last year); defensively they are ninth in the League this year (106.4 points surrendered per 100 possessions) and 10th last year (106.3).
Last season one of my colleagues, who would consistently harp on the Nuggets and their propensity to quit on plays and play “horrible” defense, half-mockingly asked me if I actually ever watched Denver play. Heh. But calling Denver a bad defensive team (or, here’s one I love, Marcus Camby an overrated defensive player because he’s more of a weak-side help defender; perhaps if he got down on all fours and growled like Kevin Garnett, Gumby could get a little more love) wasn’t just a disservice to Denver, it simply wasn’t accurate.
Suddenly, because Billups is in town, the team’s pace has slowed to seventh in the League (from first or second in the AI years) and the antiquated points allowed per game from 107 to 100.1), and Denver has a great defense. Please.
All right, one more example before I go, so let’s look into the eye-popping world of standardized stats, an innovation fathered by Michael Goodman and beginning to gain some true traction among savvy fans. A great recent example of the power of standardized stats is in Neil Paine’s astounding column on Justin Kubatko’s Basketball-Reference, which has literally changed the way we’ve seen the game since the site’s inception five years ago. Paine suggests that Oscar Robertson’s magical triple-double season of ‘61-62 (as well as Wilt Chamberlain’s preposterous 50.4 points and 26 rebounds per) was heavily influenced by the pace of play in the game of 47 years ago. Back then, teams averaged almost 125 possessions per game; today, teams get 92.
You think a lotta tasty numbers might get gobbled up in the process of losing 33 possessions per game?
Big O is one of my favorite all-time players, and interviews. He’s dead honest about the game, with just enough cranky old-schooler sprinkled in to be a delicious quote any time, on any subject. And when Big O grouses about “giveaway” assists these days, that the assists of his day were “true” assists, no one bats an eye; hey, he’s Big O—and he’s right. But if you suggest that at the pace of today’s league, Robertson’s 30.8 points-12.5 boards-11.4 assists would be downgraded to 22-8.9-8.1, and you’re sure as hell going to serve some detention with David Stern.
Naturally, we can’t just slap a new coefficient on a season and say, boom, here are the “real” stats and, roasted, here’s your new digits, O. There are a lot of other things to take into account (not the least of which: How the hell did those fellas sprint and pound their way through possession after possession on loose floorboards strapped into Chuck Ts and not die of shin splints and related maladies?) so no one should suggest taking an eraser to the record book.
The illuminating aspect of Paine’s piece may be what it sheds light on from today’s game. The NBA’s newest triple-double troublemaker, LeBron James, would be rocking 40.1 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 10 assists if his molasses Cavs were playing at a ‘61-62 pace.
Point is, there is revelatory research going on all around us today. Pioneering possession-stats researcher (and author of the amazing Basketball on Paper) Dean Oliver works now for the Nuggets. Kubatko reinvents his site, and the way we see stats, every day, with his four factors and acknowledgement of “advanced” statistics like PER and win shares. John Hollinger at the omnipresent Big E has developed and evolved his all-encompassing Player Efficiency Rating, and you can eff it all you want, but when it comes to player prognostication, there’s not a better and more entertaining writer in the business. Goodman created EWins and has pioneered research in standardizing numbers to better understand how individual players contribute to team wins. Interesting debates and discussions go on every day at APBRmetrics (“the statistical revolution will not be televised”). And, oh yeah, basketball metrician Daryl Morey is the GM of the Houston Rockets.
There are several sites beyond B-R and APBRmetrics that will revolutionize the way you think about basketball, from 82games.com to Knickerblogger.net, and so many others. These sites and statisticians have forged a statistical renaissance that been long overdue in basketball. The movement has changed the game forever, and for the better.
The anti-stat sect wants to penalize stats that seem to minimize or skew the game, while leaving unacknowledged all the dumpster-ready “traditional” stats that can skew perceptions. You can’t have it both ways. If you pick and choose which stats to believe in, whether or not they’ve made it onto the back of your basketball cards, you’re…gulp…manipulating the game just the same.
Twenty-one hours and counting until The Dance begins. By now, you’ve surely filled out a fair number of brackets and forked over some significant cash to go with them. We hope you waited to complete your best bracket last because here’s how SLAMonline’s college experts think the Tournament will play out.
by Justin Walsh
Louisville (1) vs. Wake Forest (4)
Both teams are fairly matched in the post, as well as the wing with Johnson/Aminu and Clark/Williams respectively. The No. 1 overall seed Louisville has one major weakness: lack of quality PG play. Wake Forest has the most explosive PG in this region. Expect Jeff Teague to pick apart Edgar Sosa and be the difference in a close victory for the Demon Deacons.
Kansas (3) vs. USC (10)
USC PG Daniel Hackett is probably the best perimeter defender in this region—he held down James Harden to just 4 points and Darren Collison to 1-9 shooting in the regular season. But Sherron Collins will be too much for the Trojans to handle. The key matchup in this game is going to be between Tyshawn Taylor and Demar DeRozan. DeRozan has been on a tear as of late, and it will be Taylor’s assignment to try and limit his production. At the end of the day, Cole Aldrich will be too much to handle for Taj Gibson, and the Jayhawks should come out with a win.
Wake Forest (4) vs. Kansas (3)
Wake Forest is probably the most athletic team Kansas will face all year. With all their length and size in the frontcourt, Cole Aldrich is going to have problems being effective offensively. On the other hand, Wake Forest will have some difficulty limiting Sherron Collins’ productivity. The key question here will be whether Tyshawn Taylor can stop Al-Farouq Aminu. Don’t count on that happening, the Demon Deacons will dance all the way to the Final Four.
Final Four Pick: Wake Forest (4)
Wake Forest is solid from top to bottom with Jeff Teague and L.D. Williams in the backcourt, Al-Farouq Aminu and James Johnson at the forward positions, and a workhorse Chas McFarland anchoring the frontcourt. The key for the Demon Deacons to win a national championship, outside of Jeff Teague consistently scoring, is to getting quality production from the rotational players coming off the bench. If L.D. gets in foul trouble, Ishmael Smith needs to step up and lead the way. That’s the main question for the Deacons, and if they can answer it, look for Wake Forest to have a shot at getting to the title game.
Key players: Terrence Williams, Earl Clark (UL); Jordan Hill (ZONA); Jeff Teague, Al-Farouq Aminu, James Johnson (WF); Sherron Collins, Cole Aldrich (KU); Demar DeRozan, Taj Gibson (USC); Tyrese Rice (BC); Kalin Lucas, Raymar Morgan (MSU).
by Adam Fleischer
Connecticut (1) vs. Purdue (5)
Purdue’s trio of Robbie Hummel, E’Twuan Moore and Keaton Grant had Boilermaker fans eying a deep tournament run back when the season first started. Since that time, the team has had its ups and downs, but they have the ability to present trouble for opponents on any given night, as evidenced by their march through the Big Ten Tournament. The biggest question in this game, as in most games UConn is involved in, is how their opponents deal with the Huskies’ interior play. Although many have been high on the play of Boilermaker big JaJuan Johnson of late, a lurking Hasheem Thabeet and double-double hungry Jeff Adrien will prove too much—even if Hummel & Co. are reigning shots like they’re capable of.
Missouri (3) vs. Memphis (2)
In J.T. Tiller and Zaire Taylor, Missouri has two sure-handed guards who rarely turn the ball over, something that will be key if Mizzou hopes to move past Memphis and their stifling D. The Big 12 champs’ up-tempo, high scoring style is exactly the way Memphis doesn’t allow opponents to play, however, as John Calipari’s team has let up just 50 ppg since the start of February. Missouri’s ability to effectively pressure the ball—earning over 10 steals per contest—will be their best shot at preventing a Memphis-UConn matchup in the following round. In the end, though, Mizzou will have no answer for Tyreke Evans, as the freshman will carry the Tigers to their fourth straight Elite Eight.
Connecticut (1) vs. Memphis (2)
Look for this battle of two of the top defensive squads to be a struggle, with whoever doesn’t let up coming out on top. Year after year, Memphis’ out of conference schedule comes into question, and they haven’t fared well in their few games against non-conference ranked opponents this year (1-3), but they’ve caught fire as of late—well, as of the last three months, as they ride a 25-game win streak into the Big Dance. With only some turnover on the roster from the successful Tigers teams of years past, their inexperience could play a factor in a match up against UConn. Look for A.J. Price to go off against Memphis’ rotation of point guards.
Final Four Pick: Connecticut (1)
UConn’s only losses all season have come at the hands of Pitt (twice), Georgetown and Syracuse in last week’s unforgettable marathon, and none by more than 10 points—so we know that they can play with anyone and keep it close ’til the end. The biggest question surrounding Jim Calhoun’s guys heading into the Tourney is if they’ll be able to bounce back from losing Jerome Dyson, something that they’ve thus far been unable to prove, having gone a mediocre 4-3 since he went down. Missing Dyson has highlighted UConn’s already weak perimeter game, which may hurt them and will force either Kemba Walker or Craig Austere to step up. That said, they have the leaders to put them in position for wins and the role players to help them pull games out. Senior A.J. Price is sure to be eager to leave his mark in the Dance, especially after last year’s injury while Thabeet and Adrien can and must own the paint and glass on both ends of the floor. The Huskies have the experience, core, coaching and enforcers down low to carry them to the Final Four and give them a shot at the title.
Key Players: Hasheem Thabeet, A.J. Price, Jeff Adrien (UConn); Tyreke Evans (Memphis); Greivis Vasquez (Maryland); Lee Cummard (BYU); Jon Brockman (Washington); Robbie Hummel (Purdue); DeMarre Carroll (Mizzou).
by Cub Buenning
Pittsburgh (1) vs. Florida State (5)
I foresee the Seminoles making it a through a tough Boise sub-region and coming out to face the Panthers. Unfortunately, for those that made the trip up to Boston from Tallahassee, Pitt should survive this game and advance to the Elite 8. FSU’s Toney Douglas is a marvel to watch score the basketball, but when he struggles, so does his team. Pittsburgh, behind their wall of talent, defense and depth will frustrate the ‘Noles’ senior guard and dominate inside for the win. Too many weapons versus too few.
Duke (2) vs. Villanova (3)
This might be one of the better Sweet 16 match-ups this side of Gonzaga and North Carolina. Nova should be fresh off the heels of two impressive wins at home in Philly, and, although Duke will be afforded the same hometown draw (they’re in Greensboro for the first weekend), this might be a tough match for Duke. The triumvirate of Scottie Reynolds and the two Coreys (Fisher + Stokes) will make life difficult on both ends of the court for the likes of John Scheyer, Nolan Smith and Greg Paulus. The frontcourt might a bit of a push, but I see the Wildcats flexibility (up-tempo scoring or slowed-down defensive grind-out) as the difference in this game.
Pittsburgh (1) vs. Villanova (3)
The ‘Cats won the only time these two conference foes faced in the regular season in a New Year’s Eve battle to shutdown the Spectrum in Philly. This game will be played in Boston, so neither team has a huge advantage. I do, however, like the idea of Pittsburgh losing relatively early in the conference tournament to give their dinged-up point guard LeVance Fields time to rest. His match-up with Reynolds will be huge and will likely determine the game’s outcome, so I will go with the experienced player here. Pitt in a squeaker.
Final Four Pick: Pittsburgh
In recent years, Pittsburgh is a team that has enjoyed first weekend success like no other. But this year should be their chance to break through and play into the tournament’s final weekend with their combination of talent and experience. DeJuan Blair is the horse in the middle and has proved his mettle against the nation’s most intimidating frontlines (ask UConn). Somehow, senior wing Sam Young flies under the radar but can and will score 25 on you with relative ease. His size, athleticism and strength are underrated and at this level he will be a tough match for any small forward. Against a balanced, Villanova team, the Panthers will need (and should get) some contributions from their bench. A potential meeting with North Carolina in the national semifinal could be epic.
Although my picks above surely fall into the “chalk” category, I see this region as loaded with first-round upset possibilities. My folded-up/back-pocket home bracket has Portland State beating Xavier (then losing to Florida State) and VCU using the “home-court” advantage against a travel-weary UCLA squad (before facing Villanova in the second-round), so keep your head up with the EAST!
Players to watch: DeJuan Blair, Sam Young, LeVance Fields (PITT); Scottie Reynolds, Dante Cunningham (Nova); Kyle Singler, John Scheyer (Duke); Toney Douglas (FSU); Jeremiah Dominguez (Portland State); Eric Maynor, Larry Sanders (VCU); Dexter Pittman (Texas); DJ Rivera (Binghamton).
by Tzvi Twersky
North Carolina (1) vs. Gonzaga (4)
Even with a questionable Ty Lawson (injured toe), the Tar Heels should have no real problem advancing to this point. Gonzaga—pronounced GONZAAAGA–similarly will find itself unchallenged until it meets up with UNC at the FedEx Forum in Memphis. At that point, the catalyst of UNC’s high-powered attack, which averages 90.2 ppg, will need to be at close to full-speed to deal with the Bull Dog’s equally ferocious defense (61.3 points against). If Lawson is healthy, look for UNC to pull-away from the Zags late in the game, behind the inside play of Tyler Hansbrough (21.4 ppg, 8.7 fta), the shooting of junior Wayne Ellington (15.2 ppg, 2.1 3pt-m) and their deep bench (four players on the pine play 10+ mins.).
Gonzaga (26-5), a team with two straight first-round exits, will need its eight-man rotation to be firing on all cylinders for the upset to occur—even if Lawson is feeling the effects of his injury. If guards Jeremy Pargo (2/1 A/T) and Matt Bouldin (13.7 ppg, 45 3pt%) hit their shots, take care of the ball and keep Ellington in check, then the game could be close. The same goes for Josh Heytvelt (14.9 ppg, 6.7 rpg): If he can keep Hansbrough off the glass and limit his open-looks, anything can happen.
At day’s end, look for UNC to leave the court victorious.
Oklahoma (2) vs. Syracuse (3)
Jeff Capel’s Oklahoma team may be given a run for its money in the second round by Michigan/Clemson; however, they should find a way to advance this far. Syracuse, fresh off of a tiring run to the Big East Tournament Championship, will have enough left in its legs to run by Arizona State/Temple and reach this point.
The knock on Ok. is that they are overly reliant on a single player, Blake Griffin (21.9 ppg, 14.3 rpg), and if he gets in foul trouble they really are no better than an average team. As long as he avoids that, and Willie Warren (14.7 ppg) doesn’t suffer from freshmen jitters, the Sooners (27-5) will be in this game.
Syracuse (26-9), a chic pick to go all the way, has a lot going in its favor: They showed an abundance of heart and toughness in the Big East Tourney, have one of the best PGs in the nation in Jonny Flynn (17.5 ppg, 6.7 apg), aren’t too reliant on either the J or inside play (24 fta, 19.5 3pt-a) and they have Hall-of-Fame coach Jim Boeheim. All in all, that’s a good tourney resume.
These two teams are hard to separate. They shoot the same percentage from the field (49 percent); they both shoot middling free throw percentages (mid-60s); they both rely heavily on sophomores (Griffin for the Sooners; Flynn and Rick Jackson for the Orange); and they both beat opponents by an average margin of around 10 ppg.
The deciding factor will be who is more valuable to his team: a potential No. 1 pick (Griffin) for the Sooners, or one of the greatest coaches of our time (Boeheim) guiding the Orange? I call it in favor of the old man.
UNC (1) vs. Syracuse (3)
Once again, if Lawson’s foot is good to go, than the Heels are good to go. With him absent in the ACC Tourney, the Tar Heels only averaged 76 ppg; a 14-point dip from their regular season total. He is the straw that stirs the drink. Without Lawson, they do a lot of standing around and do not penetrate to the cup nearly as well. If he plays, and plays like he can, however, Lawson is every bit as quick as Flynn and will neutralize him as a threat. The same goes for Wayne Ellington. If he is patient and waits for his shot, he has a decent advantage against ‘Cuse shooter Eric Devendorf (15.9 ppg, 2.24 3pt-m). Throw in Hansbrough, going up against a young Jackson, and it seems like UNC has advantages all around the court. And with Roy Williams standing on the Heel’s bench, four years removed from his first NCAA title, look for the No. 1-seed to do what it needs to do, as it clinches a bid—before the year thought guaranteed—to the Final Four.
Final Four Pick: North Carolina
With arguably the strongest starting five in the country (Lawson, Ellington, Danny Green, Deon Thompson and Hansbrough) leading the way, guards Larry Drew and Bobby Frasor coming off the bench and shot-altering Ed Davis joining them, look for the Tar Heels, after defeating the East Region’s representative, to engage in an epic battle with Louisville (Not if Justin Walsh has anything to say about it — Ed.), with the winner going home with the National Championship in hand.
Key Players: Ty Lawson, Tyler Hansbrough, Wayne Ellington (UNC); Tasmin Mitchell, Marcus Thornton (LSU); Orlando Mendez-Valdez (WKU); Matt Bouldin, Josh Heytvelt (GU); James Harden (ASU); Dionte Christmas, Lavoy Allen (TU); Jonny Flynn (SU); Blake Griffin, Willie Warren (OU).
Here’s how SLAMonline’s experts called it. There isn’t enough time in the week for us to agree upon a consensus winner, so let your imagination run wild after that Final Four.
It was Kentucky’s first NIT appearance in three decades and junior Perry Stevenson didn’t disappoint the small but boisterous crowd. Stevenson drove the middle of the lane, took off from about five feet out and buried it over UNLV’s Joe Darger. UK grabbed the momentum and held tight, sprinting out to a 20-point lead.
Said the team’s star Patrick Patterson: “I just started laughing, I couldn’t stop smiling the entire time. That’s Perry for you. It killed anything I’ve done this season.”
Like offering up the services of their wives, for instance: “Sixers point guard Andre Miller, playing through the discomfort of a strained right calf, is getting all sorts of unsolicited medical advice, but one fan is willing to take it to the limit. Tim Paradise has offered the services of his wife, a native of Thailand who, he said, attended the Wat Pho school of massage in her native land. ‘She makes the lame walk,’ Paradise states.”
by Marcel Mutoni
Just when you think things couldn’t possibly get any worse for New Jersey, they invariably do. As their season implodes, the team must now face the prospect of not having its best player for an extended period of time.
The Nets have just learned that Devin Harris’s shoulder injury is more severe than previously thought:
The Nets announced that the MRI taken on Devin Harris Tuesday confirmed that he has a sprained left shoulder, but also that he has a strained (with a T) deltoid muscle.
But here’s what you want to know: They also say there is no timetable for his return. You can assume that’s another way of saying they’ll reevaluate it next week, and that he’s a scratch until further notice.
It’s not time to throw in the towel, yet. But we’re getting awfully close.
Hope you like college hoops, Nets fans.
Dwyane is aiming for a career first: “For now, Wade’s goal remains to play in all 82 games for the first time in his six-year career. And whatever Wade wants, the Heat makes every effort to make sure Wade gets it…’I know it’s important for him, considering where he’s been the last two years, when he wasn’t healthy. He wants to play all 82,’ Spoelstra said. ‘He’s really gotten his body ready for the battle of 82 games. But you also have to be smart. If the injuries ever get to a point where they’re not getting better with days off in between, then you have to re-evaluate it.’”
by Marcel Mutoni
You hear that, Charlie Villanueva? That’s the sound of your tweeting dreams dying, by the small, yet shockingly strong hands of your coach.
You’re not gonna believe this, but Scott Skiles (and his renowned joie de vivre) has told Charlie V to never use Twitter again during halftime of an NBA game. From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
“We made a point to address Charlie and the team that it’s nothing we ever want to happen again,” Skiles said. “We don’t want to blow it out of proportion, but anything that gives the impression that we are not serious and focused at all times, is not the correct way we want to go about our business.”
Skiles said he chose not to fine Villanueva for using the online service. The Bucks allow players to use cell phones in the locker room before and after games.
“My personal opinion is, it (Twitter) doesn’t have any place in the locker room,” Skiles said. “The locker room is a private place for the players. Once you get out of the locker room or whatever, I’m not into getting into guys’ personal lives.”
Playing the role of the good soldier, Charlie says his twittering days during NBA contests are behind him.
@Scott_Skiles: Learn to relax.
Frustrated now? Just wait until Bynum makes his return, Pau: “The Lakers failed to take full advantage of a torrid shooting night from Pau Gasol for a second straight game. Two nights after he made all 10 first-half shots against Dallas but only attempted three more after the break, Gasol made six of seven in the first half against Philadelphia yet finished just 9-for-12. ‘I’m shooting really well right now, but I wish I could just get a couple more looks even if the percentage goes down a little,’ Gasol said. ‘Obviously they come and they try to double, but let them keep coming. That means somebody else is open and somebody gets a wide-open shot.’”
I’m surprised he hasn’t burned Jamal’s jersey by now: “Warriors coach Don Nelson doesn’t hold back about why a backcourt of Monta Ellis and Jamal Crawford won’t work. ‘I don’t think that the mix is good enough, it’s just like with oil and water,’ Nelson said before Tuesday’s game. ‘They’re both really good players, but we need somebody that can guard a 2. Especially when you get into the good teams, the 2’s are 6-foot-7, and Monta’s not a very big guy.’ Nelson sat Crawford against the Clippers to get Marco Belinelli some playing time - a process the coach said will be repeated against the Lakers in Los Angeles on Thursday.”