Saturday, April 30, 2011

Miscellaneous Me

April is sports' busiest month with NBA and NHL playoffs overlapping the MLB regular season and the NFL draft. Nothing says 'sports' like second guessing and using hindsight. It's what separates us fans from the professionals. They have to live with their decisions; we just have to criticize them.

Miscellaneous Me Second-Guessing Edition

- Is everyone ready to finally admit that college football does a better job at finding a national champion than college basketball does?

- Norm MacDonald's new show 'Sports Show' is a redo of Weekend Update but focused solely on sports.
- Ironically, or perhaps not, it is funny and a good concept but does not fit well into a half hour time block.
- Weekend Update style comedy works best in Weekend Update format, i.e. it last less than 15 minutes.

- Drew Carey's new show Improv-a-Ganza is the same exact thing that Whose Line is it Anyway? used to be except it is somehow not as good.

- For all those baseball fans who have unfairly labeled Vladimir Guerrero as a wild, free swinger, be aware that he has never struck out 100 times in a season at any point in his career.

- It's disappointing that Mitch Hedburg never existed at the same time as Twitter.

- Prior to the NFL draft, experts were claiming teams would be more inclined than ever to draft based on need because of the lack of free agency signings.
- The New York Giants used their first three picks this weekend doing arguably the exact opposite of that.
- If they are not able to fill holes through free agency, the skeptics will come out in waves.
- Ironically perhaps, I was on board for their first and second round picks.

- In hindsight, Rebecca Black has to be some sort of marketing genius.
- There are thousands of god awful videos on Youtube, yet she somehow became famous with her's.

- Wasn't it kind of a dick move for Professor Dumbledore to so often wait until the end-of-year feast to make alarming announcements and drastic changes to house cup standings?

- The Fast and the Furious Five just came out and I am upset I never got around to seeing the fourth installment because now I'm afraid I'll be completely lost with the story.

- How many games until we should actually care about a baseball player's hitting streak?
- It is at least 18.
- I don't want announcers telling me about any 11 or 12 game hitting streaks.

- How many games into the Major League Baseball season is it before it stops being "early"?
- We're not there yet.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

No such thing as momentum

Allow me a hockey interjection. For the Canucks' sake.

I am not the biggest hockey fan. I play fantasy hockey and have won my league a few times, so that says something, I think. But I do not watch any regular season hockey games. However, come playoff time, the voyage to the Stanley Cup always gets me. I tune in for the NHL playoffs.

My latest tune-in happened last night, game seven in Vancouver. The Vancouver Canucks, the winners of the President's Trophy for the most points in the regular season, were at one point up three games to none in this best of seven. These same Canucks are, as some bigger hockey fans than myself have proclaimed, kind of the 90's Buffalo Bills of the NHL, for a comparison us Americans can grip. They were often very good, occasionally one of the best, yet could never win.

They had whatever it is in sports that makes fan bases feel like a certain team cannot possibly win, like a psychic was reading their tarot cards and picked a grim.

Vancouver was up 3-0 in the best of seven, with the best team in the league, supposedly. They went on to lose game four and game five. At this point, their star goaltender Roberto Luongo was benched for game six. I assume to help build his confidence...

During game six, Luongo's replacement gets hurt on a penalty shot and he is forced into mop-up action, and Vancouver goes on to lose again. The number one seed loses three straight, forced to return home for a game seven. They are obviously doomed.

Game seven progresses, only one goal is scored for much of the game. Luongo is doing what he needs to, keeping the defending champion Blackhawks out of the net. Vancouver is winning 1-0 with three minutes remaining in game seven at home. And, they get a power play!

Let's recap what I just said for emphasis. The number one seed, best team in the NHL, Vancouver Canucks, after blowing a 3-0 series lead, is back at home in game seven, winning 1-0 with just a couple minutes remaining and they get a power play.

Then Scott Norwood came in and kicked wide right.

Chicago's Jonathan Toews steals the puck around center ice, skates down, splitting two defenders, falling to his knees, forces a wobbly pass over to Marian Hossa, who puts one on net. The rebound trickles out to Toews, still on the ice, who somehow forces the shorthanded tying goal past Luongo with less than two minutes remaining in the game. They are obviously doomed.

The sports fan in all of us, at this point, sees that there is no way Vancouver can possibly come back to win this in overtime. The momentum, the grim is too powerful.

And yet, five minutes into the first OT, Alex Burrows flips in the series clinching goal for the Canucks, for Luongo, for the city of Vancouver and we all remember there is no such thing as momentum.

(Image courtesy of

Friday, April 22, 2011

Too much is never enough

Call it luck or fortune or coincidence. Some may deem it too much of a good thing or an abundance of riches. However it is sliced, one thing is for sure. Roy Williams’ North Carolina Tar Heels will be the best team in the nation for the 2011-2012 NCAA basketball season.

Following a nice run to the Elite Eight in the NCAA tournament, the off-season was going to be full of wonder. This currently constructed Tar Heel roster was packed with young talent, only having one senior who made any kind of contribution all season long. The regular starting five was comprised of two freshmen, two sophomores and one junior. If everyone was going to come back to school, UNC would be a force to be reckoned with.

First came the announcement that star seven footer Tyler Zeller and conference defensive player of the year John Henson would both be returning to Chapel Hill. There was some debate whether both could be lottery picks in this summer’s NBA draft. There was no debate that each would have gotten chosen in the first round of said draft. But rather than pursue professional money and fame, they chose to return, to come back to campus in hopes of winning a National Championship after coming oh so close this past season.

Then came the recruitment announcements. Roy Williams had collected an impressive crop of freshmen to join his team, perhaps topped only by Kentucky coach John Calipari. Made up of two of the top 15 high school players in the nation (according to both Top 150 Prospect Ranking and ESPN’s ESPNU 100), power forward James McAdoo would be joined by shooting guard P.J. Hairston, giving North Carolina two more potent weapons to add to their already impressive display.

McAdoo is an excellent rebounder and shot-blocker, already with a more polished offensive game than new teammate John Henson. Conversely, Hairston is a shooting guard through and through. He has deep range and likes to prove it. He should provide for Roy Williams what he was hoping to get this past season out of Reggie Bullock and Leslie McDonald.

Lastly, and most recently, news trickled out that last year’s first ever freshman AP preseason All-American, Harrison Barnes, would be returning to school. He didn’t let it linger like many projected lottery picks in the past. He could have entered himself in the draft and not hired an agent. Instead, he made it clear he had unfinished business to attend to at Chapel Hill. Making the Elite Eight wasn’t good enough. Barnes wanted to come back.

He would most assuredly have been a top five selection in the NBA draft. He could have gone number one even, depending on who wins the lottery and what their feelings on him were. However, a weak draft and a probable top pick to his name were not enough to persuade Barnes, especially with the CBA uncertainty hitting the NBA as soon as this season comes to a close.

So all the dominoes fell and they all landed where Roy Williams wanted them to. His entire starting lineup would be returning, aided by more experience now coming off the bench and two top recruits would be joining the fray.

Perhaps overlooked in all the will-he-or-won’t-he business with the front court players was the fact that point guard Kendall Marshall was definitely coming back to run the show full time. After Larry Drew III transferred mid-season, Marshall took over and took charge, getting the best out of his teammates, especially Barnes. A freshman point guard without a single senior in the starting five with him, led his team to a regular season ACC title and the final eight of the NCAA tournament.

With the graduation of Nolan Smith at Duke, Malcolm Delaney at Virginia Tech and the departure of Boston College’s Reggie Jackson, it could be argued that Marshall is actually the best point guard in the Atlantic Coast Conference now. Just imagine what he will be able to do with this team around him, actually getting the reins from day one.

The only foreseeable problem for Williams and the Heels may be the aforementioned embarrassment of riches. Who is going to start for this team? Which star players aren’t going to get the minutes they desire and how will they react to it? Who works best as the sixth man and who can make shots cold off the bench with any consistency? All these and more will be questions the coaching staff will have to deal with and figure out.

You would expect Williams to employ the same starting five that carried him so far this spring. Marshall, Dexter Strickland, Barnes, Henson and Zeller are all familiar with each other. However, what if it becomes clear McAdoo is better than Henson or Strickland isn’t talented enough to ward off the incoming freshmen and sophomores? Could we actually see a lineup at some point that includes 6’8” Barnes, 6’8” McAdoo, 6’10” Henson and 7’0” Zeller all playing together with Marshall running the show? Only time will tell if the abilities would mesh but it would be quite the formidable front line.

The good thing is that Roy Williams almost famously goes at least 10 deep on his bench. He routinely shuffles in entire lineups on substitutions, occasionally even using players 11-15 to send a message if his stars aren’t working hard enough.

All of the lineups and the minutes and the roster breakdown are up in the air for now though. What we do know is that North Carolina will have a gigantic team with size all over the court. They will have all kinds of shooting coming off the bench with the freshman Hairston, and Bullock and McDonald returning. Perhaps the biggest weakness will be ball handling and having a backup to Kendall Marshall at the point. It is quite possible that Strickland can make that transition, filling a hole as well as opening a spot in the starting five.

It is much too early to know what the pre-season polls will look like. However, it is more than speculation to claim that North Carolina will have a very low number next to their name come November. Also easy to predict is the worry coming from rival programs around the nation.

(Image courtesy of

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Playoff Chops

The first round of the NBA playoffs is usually terrible television.

The top seeds all advance. There is no wonder or whimsy. In fact, it is the only thing that gives the regular season any credence at all: the teams that battle for 82 games and earn one of the top four seeds in their conference will be advancing in the playoffs.

It is really the leg up the NBA has on the NHL (besides legions more fans and piles more dough). The NHL regular season definitely means nothing. More than half the league makes the playoffs. Once said playoffs begin, anyone can win, regardless of seed. Just look at the Canadiens from a season ago. Most teams with any discernible talent make the playoffs by default. From there, hot goaltenders rule.

However, it seems 2011 may be a slight changing of the tides. The NBA playoffs, dare I say, are having an interesting first round. The "guaranteed sweeps" by the top two seeds in the East have been anything but. Chicago has had to fight and claw for both their victories, while Miami struggled in their first game against the 76ers.

To continue the East surprise, Atlanta has a game lead on Orlando and Boston barely eked out their win over the Knicks. Good thing Ray Allen is still Ray Allen, i.e. a better version of Reggie Miller.

If that wasn't enough for a first round of the NBA playoffs, the West is a minefield. The top two seeds each lost their first game. The Spurs' loss is perhaps explainable since they can't match up with Memphis' size and Manu Ginobili didn't play, but the Lakers losing to the Hornets is almost inexplicable.

Meanwhile, over on the ice, things are taking care of themselves. The overall top seed, Vancouver, is up 3-0. The Detroit Red Wings are as well. Washington and Pittsburgh both have a game lead in their series, as does the defending eastern conference champion, Philadelphia.

It is almost as if our beloved sports have switched bodies, trading playoff manifestos with each other.

Not that this is a bad thing. I am all for more exciting playoff basketball. In addition, I won't mind if the "big boys" duke it out in the later rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Of course, you realize what the other outcome of this turn of events is. Everyone who has touted 2010-2011 as one of the best NBA regular seasons in decades may be in for a rude awakening. It may have been a total waste of time.

What good did San Antonio's season-long battle for the best record do if they are too banged up to get out of round one? What did the Lakers prove by making huge pushes after the All-Star break if they cannot turn it on again before its too late? How can people be calling Chicago the favorite to win the East if they are having so much trouble getting past this Indiana roster of roll-players? And after all the bitching and complaining and nitpicking all regular season long at the expense of the Miami Heat, wondering what was wrong with them, why they weren't better, aren't things shaping up rather nicely for them to stroll their way into the NBA Finals? Wouldn't that be quite the turn of events.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Who knew the Red Sox were wimps?

I've heard of cracking under pressure, but an entire team folding under the weight of week one of an excruciatingly long baseball season? I believe the play at second base to end the game versus the Indians last night may sum up the Red Sox season. The following two words say just about the same damn thing. "Too Far"

A seemingly unknown player, at least I have no clue who he was or why he was even playing for the Red Sox in such a key moment in a game that was definitely must win, ran "too far" on the base paths and killed a potential game winning rally for a team desperate to win anything at this point.

The sports media probably went way, way"too far" in anointing the Sox World Series Champions before the season kicked off. I don't believe any team to start 0-6 has ever reached the World Series, let alone won it.

Now it is definitely taking things "too far" to say the Sox season is over, done with, in the can. They can turn things around enough to say, finish second or third in what can be considered the most competitive division in baseball. But I will say this. If the Red Sox do NOT finish ahead of both the Orioles and Blue Jays this season, Terry Francona will be fired.

That would be too far for Sox nation, for a town that lives and dies baseball.