Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Peace Out, Barbaro

Well, Barbaro's dead. Didn't see that one coming.

That wasn't sarcastic; I genuinely had no idea they were even discussing euthanizing him. That horse was getting better medical treatment than hundreds of retired NFL players and the media was irrationally obsessed with bringing the nation all the irrelevant minutia of the horse's progress and setbacks. I actively tried not to make myself aware of anything Barbaro-related and even I knew about laminitis and all those screws in his leg (29, I think) and the thousands of people with nothing better to do than make crappy cardboard signs and hang them on Barbaro's fence.

(Let's be honest: those signs sucked. I mean, if you are gonna hang a sign wishing the horse well, don't hand in some half-ass effort that looked like you did it in the car ride over. At least get a stencil or something. You want the horse to live, and yet you can't be bothered to stay inside the lines? Nice.)

I wasn't hoping the horse would die - really, I didn't care either way - but I'm glad he's going to the glue factory in the sky (actually, that makes no sense; he's going to the glue factory here on earth) just so I don't have to here any more breathless updates on Sports Center (Honestly: how the hell wasn't Pedro Gomez assigned to this beat? What lottery did he win?) or see headlines on SI. I'd rather hear about Brett Favre's retirement plans or about Barry Bonds' contract negotiations. The horse was like highlights of split-squad exhibition baseball games during Sports Center. It isn't even a real game, and only half the team is there. Can we move on now? I wouldn't be moved in the slightest if those games got the ax, and I'm equally reactionless that Barbaro is sleeping with the fishes. (Incidentally, how do they kill a horse? A huge needle? An electric stable? Cut his head off, Godfather-style? I wouldn't mind knowing this.)

The amount of time and energy devoted to this animal drove me nuts. I think it was like seeing Peyton Manning in all those commercials: he didn't really do anything to me personally, but I don't really care, and I would like you to go away. Now. (Actually, that analogy doesn't work either because I have totally lol'ed at every commercial Peyton has been in. But you get the point.)

The whole thing baffles me. I really don't get it. If someone can explain to me how this horse can galvanize a nation and move seemingly normal people to tears, I would love to hear it. I mean, it's a horse, correct? It doesn't have a personality, he never connected on an emotional level with anyone, no one can relate to its plight...really, what is the appeal? If anything, wouldn't the inordinate amount of time and effort being given to a horse piss of the average citizen? It's not lke there's a shortage of horrific things involving actual human beings - New Orleans is still in tatters, thousands of soldiers are dying overseas - but a horse is worthy of tears and vigils? Why?

I guess I can see the level of sadness and grief from those who where around the horse, the trainers, owners, grass pickers - I guess - but the people who have never met him, who saw him once on TV or maybe twice at the race track, how did they become this emotionally attached?

I think it is fair to say that if the jockey riding Barbaro was thrown from the horse, was stampeded by the rest of the horses and was on life support for a few months before finally reaching stable condition, he wouldn't have received nearly this much attention. There certainly would not have been a wall covered in posters wishing him a speedy recovery or a message board set up where endless amounts of people would wish him well, that's for damn sure.

Admittedly, I don't really understand people wailing and sobbing when famous humans die, either, so maybe I just don't get the whole concept. Like all those Americans who were so saddened when Princess Di died...it was tragic and awful, but you never knew her or anything and she never really did anything for you. Why the tears? But at least that's a human; I'm not going to criticize anyone for crying over the loss of a human life, regardless of their connection to it. At least that's a person.

I understand crying over the death of a pet, too. Hey, it lived with you for years. Tears are legit. But would you cry if your neighbor's dog died? Would you even be sad? Maybe for your neighbor - and only if you really liked your neighbor - but would it really tear you up that the dog was gone? I'm doubting it, and this was a dog you saw running through the neighborhood all the time. A lot of these people never even saw Barbaro in person!

The other thing that confused the hell out of me was that Barbaro died without passing on his, ah....seed. Wasn't that the entire point of keeping him alive? I thought the owners wanted him alive so they could make millions of his sperm. This makes it seem like they just wanted him alive because they liked him. I always thought those insane Barbaro supporters were missing the boat here; the horse was being kept alive solely so the owners could profit from him later down the line, but I guess I was wrong. Learn something new every day, I guess.

Either way, he's dead and the updates are finally over with (Jeremy Schapp had a touching piece on him; I'm sure he was thrilled with that assignment). My Sport Center viewing just became a little bit more pleasurable and I enjoy reading headlines just a little bit more now. If my convenience requires a horse being put to sleep, so be it.

Read the Rest After the Jump...

Monday, January 29, 2007

:35 Second Shot Clock

Since we are all up-and-running again and what not, why don't we try to start a regular post that I'd like to do every Monday morning, but that we all know will last three, maybe four weeks, mysteriously dissapear for a couple of weeks, have a brief resurgence for a week or two, and then die forever a week before March Madness?

We'll call this little Monday morning segment "The :35 Second Shot Clock" for a couple of reasons: 1) it's gonna be all about college hoops, and that's how long its shot clock is and b) it is should be relatively short, but it will drag on much longer than it needs to, much like the college shot clock. (Really, does the damn thing need to be 35 seconds long? That's absurd; the NBA has it right, but I'll settle for even 30 seconds. If you are down 4 with 1:07 left, you know you are only getting the ball once. That just doesn't seem right to me.)

Since we're a little late to the party, let's start at the top: Who's the class of '07? Seems like there are two, maybe three choices here: North Carolina or Florida, and Ohio St. just because no one has any idea how good Greg Oden is going to be once The Dance starts.

UNC, at least to me, is the odds-on favorite to go home with the hardware in April. Yea, they are ridiculously loaded (witness the dismantling of Arizona without Brandan Wright). Yea, they are the deepest team in the country. Yea, they have a brilliant (yes, brilliant) coach. But the thing about the Heels that has to scare the hell out of every team in the country is its up-tempo transition game. No one in American runs like the Heels and it isn't even close.

Carolina's transition game is like a devastating rushing attack in the NFL. If your defense is a little suspect, or your stretch-the-field passing attack takes the occasional day off, or your offense is having trouble executing between the twenties, you know that grind it out rushing attack can bail you out. Just hand it off to your clock killing running back and let him run behind his mammoth offensive line, you'll own the time of possession and field position categories and cover up a few deficiencies. It makes the rest of your team look better.

This is what the Carolina transition game does. Even if UNC isn't shooting particularly well (this has happened, and will happen in The Tourney) or if the defense is getting exposes (no one is confusing Carolina with the Bulls or even Pitt for that matter) or their half-court sets are being well-defended, they always have the transition game to rely on. It is relentless, and it is available every single game.

As deep as they are, they can run all game, although it is much more effective with human blur Tywon Lawson pushing the ball, and it changes the way teams have to play. Teams can't send as many rebounders to the rim as they'd like; if they do, they risk easy 2-1's at the other end. Long jumpers, not high-percentage to begin with, come with long rebounds as consequences; those are death wishes disguised as open invitations to run. The less you execute on offense, the more you pay for it on defense. Even if you score, Carolina has it out of the net and past half court before you've finished your follow through. If there was a stat for "most layups made within 5 seconds of an opponent field goal" UNC would easily be the nation's leader.

Lawson is the reason this is all so effective. I loved Ed Cota back in the day (his fake behind-the-back passes for no reason at all always made me smile) and of course everybody loved Raymond, but Lawson - gulp - may be my favorite Tar Heel point guard. Ever. His speed is...well, really, really fast. He uses the behind the back dribble as a regular move, like a crossover, not just as a change of direction. I've never seen anyone get end to end faster; you can't make it through a game without sitting up in your seat and saying - out loud - "holy shit is he fast!" Now that his decision making and general understanding of the system has matured, he is one of the top five weapons in college basketball. I'm not even kidding.

Could I see Florida's experience getting them a tough, March Madness win? I guess (although I refuse to admit they are good; something about them rubs me the wrong way and that something is Joakim Noah). Could I see Greg Oden dominating a game at both ends for the upset? Sure. Kevin Durant handing in a virtuoso performance? Absolutely. But the point is, to beat Carolina, some team is going to have to play a brilliant game and get a monster effort from its best player. Carolina doesn't need to hand in their A game to win the National Title. That's the difference.

As of right now, who are the four No. 1 seeds? Seems fairly straightforward: UCLA, Carolina, Florida and Wisconsin. Those four seem to be the consensus top-four in the nation right now and I think anyone would be hard pressed to see another team sneak in there. Maybe Ohio State. Maybe.

That maybe all hinges on Greg Oden. He opened up the Michigan State game with seven straight points, all on unguardable baby hooks, from both the right and the left. Izzo had the absolute right strategy - make him make actual moves, limit his dunks and second chance points - and by the end, it nearly worked for the Spartans. Oden's physical ability is light years - light years - ahead of his actual skill, but he's playing with a bum right hand for God's sake. That's why he's the x-factor in the tournament: how good (read: healthy) can he be by March? If he plays the way he did in the first five minutes of the MSU game - hooks from either block over either shoulder, pinning shots all over the place - Ohio State is a very real title contender. If he's up and down, their chances decline considerably.

(The best line I've heard about Oden: "He looks like James Worthy right now...I mean he looks like James Worthy, the 50 year old man." I can't remember who said it - Tom Brennan? - but its the clubhouse leader right now. And you know how people refuse to believe he's 19 or whatever age he says he is? Why don't they believe it? I mean, why the hell would Oden lie about being 19? What would be the benefit of actually being 35 and playing in the NCAA? To waste years and years of your athletic career not being paid and going to classes? How does this make sense? This isn't like Danny Almonte, where being a few years older was actually worth it. If Oden was actually older and he actually is, it would be the dumbest single move in sports since the Texans said "Mario Williams."

That said, who would you take No. 1 next year, Oden or Durant?

(Quick aside: how pissed is Rick Barnes that he gets a talent like Durant to come and he doesn't have a title-worthy team around him? Imagine Durant a few years ago with PJ Tucker, LaMarcus Aldridge, Daniel Gibson, that Paulino dude who bombed threes and that huge white guy with really, really blond hair? I mean, I'm sure Barnes isn't mad, per se...but he really has to be frustrated with the timing, I think.)

I think Oden can be a Bill Russell-type and dominate both ends of the court. (Not win 11 title - shutup. Just that style of player.) He has a long way to go offensively - can he face up? his a mid-range J? does he have any actual moves? - but I think will be able to do it all eventually. and defensively...no one scores on Ohio State in the paint. Ever. He gets everything, or he alters it, or guys are so conscious of him they don't even drive. He gets help side blocks and few times has someone scored directly on him. He's just a defensive terror.

Durant, on the other hand...I don't even know who to compare him to. A Dirk who can explode to the rim? KG with three point range (thank you, Simmons)? I think he's a 6'9" Ray Allen. Everything he does is so damn smooth, you don't even realize how impressive he is. It's effortless. A taller Tracy McGrady, maybe? I don't know. He is rail-thin though, although he'll bulk up.

One thing that is completely arbitrary: I can see Durant hitting game winners in the playoffs; I can't see Oden doing that. I don't know why, maybe its because Durant is already so polished and Oden isn't exactly the most suave public speaker (but, hey - that's why he's in school, damnit!). I really don't know why; chalk it up to an irrational gut feeling.

That said, I'd still take Oden. He has the potential to dominate at both ends. Few players today can make that claim. Kobe? Yao? Artest, maybe?

A few quick thoughts:

Speaking of the draft, Alondo Tucker reminds me of Dwyane Wade. Not their style, necessarily, but just the way they go nonchalantly about their business. They both have that same uber-confident, unfazed look in their eyes.

I caught a little of Stanford's upset of UCLA last night...could someone inform Stanford that they have a basketball team in the friggin' PAC 10 and that they aren't some I-AA school splitting court time 50/50 with the freakin' volleyball team? Their home court has more lines on it than a mirror at Tony Montana's house. It looks ridiculous. My lord, build the volleyball team a 7,000 seat gym, tuck it in some remote corner of campus, and have some self-respect. You upset the No. 1 team in the nation and you had to storm a court that looked like it belonged at the local YMCA. Apologize.You can't get Tiger to spring for a line-free court?

Virginia Tech is overrated. They beat a Duke team that isn't that good to begin with (and it was a revenge game to boot) and then played the game of their life against UNC (and if you think this is all a not-so-subtle attempt to make UNC look goo by comparison, well...you're correct).They have lost to Marshall, GW and Western Michigan for God's sake. They have one-and-done written all over them in the NCAA Tourney. Although I did love that guy putting his nuts right in Greg Paulus's face. Made my day.

That's alot to talk about - Who's the four No. 1 seeds? Oden or Durant? Name one reason UNC won't win the title?

Read the Rest After the Jump...

Friday, January 26, 2007

D'Antoni's Right: Gilbert WOULD Kill Duke

My appreciation of Gilbert Arenas' candor and my hate of Duke basketball collided beautifully the other day. In case you haven;t come across it yet, here's Gil's response to D'Antoni's statement that Gil would kill Duke:

"One college game, that's five fouls, right? 40-minute game at Duke, they got soft rims...I'd probably score 84 or 85. I wouldn't pass the ball. I wouldn't even think about passing it. It would be like a NBA Live or an NBA 2K7 game, you just shoot with one person."
There's so much there - so, so much - that I'm not entirely sure where to begin. First, it's terrific how serious Gil took it. He contemplated the different rules of the college game, the type of court he would be playing on and even adopted a strategy for gettin his "84 or 85" (with a superb analogy thrown in for good measure). I can't think of any player in the NBA that would seriously take the time to figure out how many points they would score in a college game, even if he is having fun with it, and I'm not entirely convinced he is. Maybe old Kobe, before his new found maturity began to seep through.

Personally, I think Gil underestimated himself. If he plays the whole game, and really gets it going, he could score 100. Definitely; especially with the much closer three. Really, who would stop him on that current Duke team? Even a box-and-one wouldn't do anything; they would have to double-team him from the time he crossed half court. (I love semi-colons; really, they are really special.)

Is 100 reasonable? It might be in the high end, but I think its definitely doable. If I was reading that Arenas snuck onto one of those teams from Russia that play exhibition games against colleges, and he scored 100 points, I wouldn't be remotely surprised. I mean, there are dozens of guys that could drop 100, I think, if they were really motivated.

How many? Let's get the "Who Could Drop 100 on Duke" List going.

Arenas also throws this in:
"I thought it was funny because if I have the chance to go back to college, I’ll give up one NBA season to play against Duke."
In the words of Seth and Amy, Really?!?!

It is a pretty harmless thing for Arenas to say; after all, he can't go back to college - unlike Jim Mora's secret desire to go coach Washington, this has no possibility of ever happening - but it is interesting. Arenas would willingly give up a full year of being paid over 10 million bucks a year to go back to Arizona and play with like the ninth Marcus Williams? I think it's a cute thing to say, and something that he'll obviously never have to back up, and that's that. It would be like me saying

Would any pro willingly give up his salary and lifestyle to go back to college? Does the grind just get to you after a while? Would it be good for every pro to take a break, like a college professor going on sabbatical or MJ going to play with the Barons, and go beat up on some college kids for a year? Or how about the 11th, 12th guys on the roster, just barely hanging on? Would they go back to their scholarships and a chance to crush kids five or six years younger than them? Would a top 25 program even want Stephon Marbury?

If somehow David Stern could make this happen, would any pro ever take advantage of it? Probably not; the money is just too good and roster spots are just too hard to come by, but the TV ratings would be phenomenal. If anyone would do it, though, it would be Gilbert, just because. Or Mike Dunleavy.

Read the Rest After the Jump...

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Told You So.

A couple of days ago, Deadspin mentioned in it's Leftovers section that only one blogger in the entire blogosphere was able to correctly forecast this season's Super Bowl match up: Dan Shanoff was, apparently, the only blogger able to foresee the Bears meeting up with the Colts for XLI. Look, here's the proof.

While props are certainly do to Mr. Shanoff, I, unlike Obie Trice, need to toot my own horn here (because I have to): Back at the beginning of September, I predicted the Bears and Colts would be meeting in Miami. The whole entry is pretty surreal; it was an NFL Preview, and here's how it started:

Before the start of every season in the National Football League, I seem to make one sweet prediction. Granted, that one sweet prediction comes amongst about 30 or 40 inane ones, but I still get that one. So here's 40 or so odd things that most certainly will not pan out, but I guarantee one of these will be a real gem. A diamond in the rough, if you will. Your job is to find it.
That...that is just unreal. The rest of the entry is absurd, of course; it's like one of those commercials on the NFL Network where the guy is like "of course I didn't draft Drew Brees.."
Just listen to some of this stuff: "Everything seems to be falling in line for the Dolphins, doesn't it?" "I will say this: Larry Johnson is overrated! Yea, I said it..." "Shaun Alexander is cracking 2 grand on the ground and gettin 30 TDs. Mark him down. Right now. Do it."

What a train wreck. But at least I warned you going in, and there was that one dead-on prediction: "Super Bowl: Bears 2, Colts 0. Print it." I don't have any other reason for brining this to your attention other than my own ego gratification (I didn't even remember I made this prediction until I saw that Shanoff was the only one who got it right, wondered who I had picked, and looked it up).

So, yea. I was right.

Read the Rest After the Jump...