Sunday, March 25, 2012

I got a basketball jones...

Well the Final Four is set and I am sure everyone out there had Kentucky, Louisville, Ohio State, and Kansas in their office pool. It has been a great tournament to this point with some great games that have gone down to the wire. I know I didn't pick Kentucky to win; however, they are looking especially great at this point. They are playing with enthusiasm and are chock full of potential pros. They have shown their quicker and faster than the teams they are playing and are shooting lights out from the free throw line. It is a deadly combination for teams that are trying to guard them. They are able to blow by defenders and are forcing them to react which is resulting in multiple fouls and many trips to the charity stripe. It is working tremendously to this point. What they haven't had yet is a close game where the last few possessions decide the game. This is where youth can be a factor.

They do now face a Louisville team that plays wonderful defense. They played earlier in the season and it was a 7 point game that Kentucky was able to win. Lousville is a very different team than the one who played before. They have really changed and are peaking at the right time. They have showed an ability to comeback and finish a game as they did against Florida. Coach Pitino is a great coach and it shows by him taking 3 different schools to the Final Four in four different decades.

I see this game being close like before as these are bitter rivals and the state of Kentucky will no doubt be going berserk. The way both these schools fan bases travel it will be crazy. I am sure the Wildcats are obviously happy to be in the Final Four but not happy to be playing Louisville. Guard play for Louisville will be the key to this contest. Peyton Siva will have to be extremely careful with the ball and keep his turnovers to a minimum. He doesn't have to score big points he just needs to manage the game and distribute to his teammates. It sounds simple but the rest of the Cardinals will have to make shots. If Louisville can minimize turnovers and their transition defense stays steady then they should do well. Kentucky will score and want to run. Kentucky's combination of Kidd-Gilchrist and Davis will be too much ultimately and Kentucky wins by 10 sending them to Championship Monday.

The second game will be a total dog fight. The Ohio State Buckeyes verses the Kansas Jayhawks. Kansas has a distinct advantage in the interior with Robinson and Withey patrolling the paint. Sullinger is a beast down low but has been prone to getting in foul trouble. He needs to stay on the floor if they are going to play for a National Championship. The perimeter is loaded with talent on both teams. Kansas's Elijah Johnson and Tyshawn Taylor are studs and really compliment each other. Johnson has been clutch in victories over Purdue and N.C. St. Taylor was super in the win today against UNC. E.J. strokes threes with such ease as well as finds his teammates for easy looks and Taylor attacks the rim with fervor. Ohio State will need a great game out of William Buford and this is when seniors should deliver. They also will need an extra special defensive effort from super on-the-ball defender Aaron Craft. He has such quick hands and feet and will need to get in the head of the Kansas guards who have been turnover prone. Kansas has been knocking on the door of losing since the Purdue game and this is a much better team from he B1G Ten. I see Ohio State winning by the slimmest of margins and meeting Coach Cal and the boys from Kentucky for the National Title.

I will reserve my thoughts on the championship game until this Sunday afternoon.
Hopefully my predictions are right like I always am. At least that is what my wife tells me!

Additional Thoughts...

I have been thinking about the search for Illinois next head basketball coach. The public perception being that Shaka Smart was the man to get and Illinios didn't deliver the #1 choice or that he turned them down. We really don't know what the process is or was. He may not have even been contacted and just wanted to dispel any rumors or thoughts for his family and fans that he was staying at VCU. I totally respect him more now than I did before. I am thinking back to when Bill Self left Illinois for Kansas way back in 2003. People were so upset that he left and how could he leave and why didn't he want to stay here and build something of his own. I feel that the "grass is always greener" logic works for those of us here but not for anyone else that we want for our head coach. I think by him staying and building a culture and life at VCU speaks volumes about the person he is and what is most important to him. If you are happy somewhere why would you leave. Is money that important? Is power that important? Or is family stability and well being most important? I think he answered that loud and clear with his decision.

Now this brings Illini Nation to who is going to be the next coach.

There are a great deal of candidates but the one that fits the Mike Thomas mold is John Groce of Ohio U. He is a MAC coach who has Midwestern ties and has been successful in the tournament this season. He was an assistant coach under Thad Matta and was instrumental in recruiting players like Greg Oden and Mike Conley, Jr. to Columbus. He is realivelty young and shows an enthusiasm for winning that was evident during their game against North Carolina. I feel he could recruit the players Illinois wants and needs. He would retain Jerrance Howard to keep the continuity of the program and making the current players feel comfortable with the new coach.

He would though need to build a staff that reflects two things. One would be a coach from the inner city of Chicago. This is most important to keep Chicago in the loop and appease those in the Windy City. Two he needs to add a well respected former Illini player to his staff in the addition to Jerrance Howard. I have looked around the landscape of teams and just for my own personal interest I check various assistant coaches to see who they are and if they are former players from that school. You see this the most at Duke where the coaching tree is littered with former Dukies. This is very attractive to prospective players as they can relate and give experience of life as an Illini.

There are a few players I think would be great in this role. One is Deon Thomas as he fits two of the criteria. He is a former Chicago Simeon H.S. player and Illini great. He has played professionally for years and could help with the big men we have. Two would be Kenny Battle. He is a beloved former player and member of the Flyin Illini. Having the energy he still brings to the game would be a tremendous assest to the current and potential players. Illinois needs that passion for the program. Three would be Lucas Johnson. That guy played with toughness and determination. He wasn't the most athletic player or the most gifted player but he worked his butt off and left it all on the court. I don't know if he is even interested in coaching but he is the type of player that is missing from these current Illini players.

Mike Thomas has an extremely hard job and it is only getting harder as the days go by. He needs to hit a home run with this hire as he is filling a position that was held by a very well respected coach and a coach that took Illinois to the farthest it had every been in the NCAA tournament. He was down the past few years but still you have to nail this one because you can't continue to go in reverse. I can't wait for the news.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Let's Dance!

We are on the eve of the greatest 3 weeks in sports, the NCAA Tournament, which starts tomorrow evening with the first four in Dayton, OH. This tournament always supplies crazy finishes and amazing stories. This year shouldn't be any different. I just finished filling out my one and only bracket sheet and will go through each region giving my Power Conference Player to Watch, Mid Major Player to Watch, sleeper picks, potential upsets, and culminating with my Final Four picks and my national champion. So here we go...


Power Conference Player to Watch: Anthony Davis, Kentucky,
He changes things on both sides of the floor. The future #1 pick of the NBA draft has reach so long and can block almost any shot he seems like Plastic Man! He has dominated the paint offensively and defensively this season so much that their opponents fear taking anything down low. There are more than a few players with Spalding tattooed on their foreheads. If they make the run everyone expects then he should shatter the total blocks record for the tournament.

Mid Major Player to Watch: Mike Moser, UNLV
The man averages a double double and is a beast inside. He cleans up the middle so their guards can rain the threes. Can't express enough the importance of rebounding the basketball. Creates more possessions for your team and generates more points which Mike does very well.

Sleeper Pick: #6 UNLV

Potential Upset Special: #13 New Mexico State over #4 Indiana

Sweet Sixteen: #1 Kentucky v. #5 Wichita State, #6 UNLV v. #2 Duke

Elite Eight: #1 Kentucky v. #6 UNLV

Final Four: #1 Kentucky


Power Conference Player to Watch: Draymond Green, Michigan State
The most versatile player in the tournament. He is a poor man's Magic Johnson. He is as charismatic and driven player I have seen in a long time. His leadership is unquestioned. Has a will to win and is a coach on the floor. He has the capability to single handedly lead his team to a championship like Danny Manning and the Miracles in 1988.

Mid Major Player to Watch: (tie) Casper Ware, Long Beach State, Isaiah Cannon, Murray State
First Casper is a friendly player but strikes ghostly fear in his opponents when he steps on the court. He is the two time player of the year in the Big West Conference and his range starts when he enters the gym. Watch for him to splash three after three after three.

Second and not in rank but only for purposes for my posting Isaiah is a fearless player. He is the spark that makes these Racers go. He has great feel for the game and pro potential. Look up on Youtube sometime his name and there are plenty of high lights including one where a poor soul falls on his backside after a killer stop and pop three. Classic!

Sleeper Pick: #12 Long Beach State

Potential Upset Special: #13 Davidson over #4 Louisville

Sweet Sixteen: #1 Michigan State v. #12 Long Beach State, #3 Marquette v. #2 Missouri

Elite Eight: #1 Michigan State v. #2 Missouri

Final Four: #1 Michigan State


Power Conference Player to Watch: Dion Waiters, Syracuse
This guy is not your average bench player. Yes he comes off the bench for #1 seed Syracuse but he plays starter minutes. It isn't who starts the game it is who finishes. If you have watched him play he has a killer instinct and wants the ball at crunch time. Should really have to step up now with the suspension of Fab Melo. I won't change my picks as I am sticking to it but will be tough going forward.

Mid Major Player to Watch: Andrew Nicholson, St. Bonaventure
This Canadian picked the right sport going with basketball. He is a solid 18 point and 8 rebound performer that puts up solid numbers night in and night out. A good touch around the tin and can defend his area with vigor.

Sleeper Pick: #13 Montana

Potential Upset Special: #13 Montana over #4 Wisconsin

Sweet Sixteen: #1 Syracuse v. #13 Montana, #3 Florida State v. #2 Ohio State

Elite Eight: #1 Syracuse v. #2 Ohio State

Final Four: #1 Syracuse


Power Conference Player to Watch: Thomas Robinson, Kansas
T-Rob is a wonderful story both on the court and off. He is a dominating post presence with his deft offensive skills and take no prisoner ability to rebound the basketball. He demands double teams and still is able to score with ease. He averages close to 18 points and 12 rebounds for a very talented #2 seed. He will be a high pick in the NBA draft right behind another big man who was mentioned earlier. It says something about a player when your coach is quoted as saying he hopes T-Rob doesn't return to school because he is NBA ready and his family is in need of his help. Touching story and it is hard not to root for players like this as basketball is really secondary to real life issues.

Mid Major Player to Watch: (tie) Doug McDermott, Creighton, Ray McCallum, Detroit
Who out there has every played for their Dad and lived to tell the tale. It can be difficult as you are held to a higher standard than the rest of the team members. Doug has taken his to an even higher level. This former Ames, IA standout and former teammate of UNC's Harrison Barnes is showing that maybe UNC grabbed the wrong guy. He has skill set for a man his size that is hard to find. He has a beautiful touch and range from outside and the moves down low that allows him to capitalize on slower bigs. Can flat out SCORE!

Wait there is another great player who is playing for his Dad and this time snubbed all the bigger schools in the process to play in Detroit? Yes, that man is Ray McCallum Jr. The McDonald's All-American is young but extremely long on talent. He is explosive to the rack and fast up the court. He has great moves with the ball and can get his own shot. He distributes the ball effectively well and finds his teammates for easy buckets. Should be fun to watch him and his teammates play KU.

Sleeper Pick: #6 San Diego State

Potential Upset Special: #14 Belmont over #3 Georgetown

Sweet Sixteen: #1 North Carolina v. #4 Michigan, #6 San Diego State v. #2 Kansas

Elite Eight: #1 North Carolina v. #2 Kansas

Final Four: #2 Kansas

Final Four - New Orleans

#1 Kentucky v. #1 Michigan State

#1 Syracuse v. #2 Kansas

National Championship Game: #1 Michigan State 71 v. #1 Syracuse 69

National Champion: #1 Michigan State.

Most Outstanding Player: Draymond Green.
Like I said earlier he is a special player that wills his team to win. I wouldn't be surprised if he puts up triple double numbers on Championship Monday.

Can't wait to find out! The music has started and it is time to dance!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

You down with P.E.D.'s?

Spring Training is now upon us and with pitchers and catchers reporting for duty it is time to discuss some baseball. I really wanted to take a week to gather my thoughts on the issue that has taken the baseball world by storm. NL MVP Ryan Braun who had tested positive for PED's has players, media types, and fans deciding for themselves whether or not to believe or disbelieve the results from his urine test. When this first surfaced he was instantly chastised and people were upset with yet another superstar player potentially using PED's. The list was seemingly growing longer and longer even with Major League Baseball instituting better testing, harsher penalties, and a willingness to clean up the sport. This test couldn't possibly be anything other than the truth. Fast forward to just a week ago and the unthinkable happened. After Braun did clearly deny having taken any PED's and even going so far as to ask for a DNA test to prove the urine wasn't his, he amazingly won his appeal. MLB was beside itself. No more 50 games suspension. A precedent was set. It is possible to test positive for a foreign substance and still win your appeal. The problem though lies with how he won the appeal. The collector of the sample who has been doing this for years was found to have not followed proper procedure. The test was not tampered with but having not followed proper procedure he was "getting off" with a technicality. Now what does this mean. It means MLB potentially has future problems with their testing and now must reevaluate the complete process. As For Ryan Braun it depends on the court of public opinion. I really feel this is a bad year for this to happen to Braun. Prince Fielder is now gone to Detroit to follow in his dad's footsteps and this leaves Braun without the protection of his massive bat to hit in front of. This was a big reason he was so successful as he saw good pitches the same as "insert player name here" has with Albert Pujols over his career. This will most likely lead to lower numbers for the season and can have fans and the media making the assumption that due to the testing issue he now "really" isn't on PED's and the season numbers are a result. He will be guilty either way. If he really used them he is a cheater and if he didn't really use them and has a bad year it is because he probably used them before. He really is in a horrible situation. I am not here to judge Ryan Braun or the other players in the past who have used or have been thought to have used PED's. I just know that in all sports players want to get an edge over the next player and when you are relatively young and inexperienced that you will do just about anything to be the best. It happens in football, basketball, cycling, and obviously baseball. It just seems different when baseball is concerned because baseball is so numbers driven. I can name stats from my favorite players and have been handed down numbers from my grandfather when we talked baseball as a kid. 61 was a number that meant something sacred. We thought 70 that magical year in 1998 meant something as well. Then Barry Bonds blasted 74 a few years later and the mystique of baseball just was lost. It just isn't the same anymore and it has really tainted the spirit of the game. Again I don't know if Ryan Braun used PED's or if he is just naturally gifted. What I do know is that he will never be the same player in my mind and other people's minds. We will always wonder what is real and what is not. And that is sad. In a sport that is there to help take away for a moment the stress and heartache of our daily lives it is ultimately adding more to that distress.

The magic that is Major League Baseball is revealing itself as just an illusion.

And I really want to believe in magic.