Thursday, November 13, 2008

Hoopheads Unite: It's College Basketball Time


Admit it, hoopheads, no matter how much you love the college game, it’s hard to get too fired up about that North Carolina-Penn contest more than a week before Thanksgiving. It’s football season, and even though the BCS is asinine (its ludicrous quotient is beyond the concept of Paris Hilton as Secretary of State), we’re still focused on the prolate spheroid.

But the games have already started, common sense be damned. So it’s time to gaze into the crystal pumpkin, get a look at the upcoming season and thank the Lord for the mute button whenever Jay Bilas starts to talk.

Pack-ing Up: At the end of each season, fans around the country mourn the losses of players who move on, early or otherwise, and deal with the moves made by coaches from one program to another. Rarely does the departure of someone broadcasting the game get that much attention – or celebration – but CBS’ decision to jettison Billy Packer as the lead analyst on its telecasts was cause for much rejoicing. For more than 30 years, the cranky ACC-loving grouch pursued his big-school agenda on NBC and CBS. He railed against the inclusion of more mid-majors in the tournament, acted petulant when challenged and generally behaved as if he created big-time college basketball. Replacing him with Clark Kellogg was masterstroke and should help make CBS’ insufferable coverage of the sport far less tedious. Now, about Dookie V…

No-K: Now that he’s led the U.S. to Olympic gold and solidified his status among the naïve as a true leader of men, what does Mike Krzyzewski do for an encore? Lose in the second round of the tournament again, of course. Coach K may be working on a book with his daughter about his Beijing success, but the overriding theme had better be “Lithuania ain’t got nothing on LeBron and Kobe.” We’ll hear all season about how great an educator and motivator Krzyzewski is, and his team will be ranked artificially high, but come tourney time his undersized group of jump shooters will lose to a more athletic team early on. Meanwhile, not a word will be written about his ref-baiting or profanity laced practice tirades. Enjoy the Final Four from the stands – again.

DON’T DO IT! Mr. Personality gets even more air time this season, thanks to espn’s decision to use him in the studio and as a color analyst. It’s all part of Generalissimo Knight’s master plan to convince some school that his special brand of insight and earthy charm would be perfect to fix its on-court ills. But buyers beware. Knight may seem like he has mellowed while Rece Davis fawns over him and Digger Phelps does everything possible to avoid getting punched in the mouth, but the man hasn’t changed a bit. If a school president is dumb enough to hire him, Knight will bring the same boorish act to campus, complete with his browbeating practice style and arrogant treatment of anyone who dares question him. The best penance Knight can do for a career of abusive behavior can be to spend his remaining years as part of the same media he ridiculed for so long.

St. Patty: If you live in the Eastern or Central time zones, it can be tough to stay up long enough to catch those WCC tilts at midnight. But if you get the chance to watch St. Mary’s play this year, it would be worth a couple Vivarin and a sleepy day on the job to tune in, if only to watch 6-0 point man Patrick Mills. All the Aussie did during the Olympics was light up the U.S. for 20 in the quarterfinals and force Chris Paul to find an extra gear to guard him. Mills isn’t perfect, because his shot needs work, but anybody who can force the NBA’s best to step it up deserves your attention. Other mid-major gems worth seeing: Illinois State guard Osiris Eldridge, Louisiana Tech center Magnum Rolle, Cleveland State forward J’Nathan Bullock, UTEP guard Stefon Jackson and Western Michigan’s David Kool, among many others.

Psycho T’s Final Stand: There has never been a four-time first-team all-America player, until this year. North Carolina forward Tyler Hansbrough is almost guaranteed to be on everybody’s list of top five players, unless the stress reaction in his shin blossoms into a full-fledged medical nightmare. (It won’t.) Yet about three weeks after Hansbrough’s last hurrah, most likely in the Final Four, we will start hearing just how bad a basketball player he is. No one in the college ranks will commit this heresy; rather, NBA scouts, analysts, GMs and draftniks will proclaim the 6-8 (he’s probably 6-7) power forward unfit for professional ball. Pity. Hansbrough is likely a role player in the Association, but who cares? He will leave Carolina as one of the most accomplished players in that school’s distinguished history and should be lauded for that, not knocked down because his jumper isn’t NBA caliber. If you enjoy college basketball, watch Hansbrough. If you prefer to focus on how everybody does in the NBA, tune in to that Clippers-Grizz tussle.

Long Range Adjustment: Ask Davidson sharpshooter Stephen Curry about the NC2A’s decision to move the three-point line back a foot but don’t expect a dramatic answer. “I noticed when they painted it on the court, because it’s a different color,” he says. “That’s it.” The college trey barrier is now 20 feet, nine inches from the hoop, a change that might cause a 6-10 wanna-be guard to re-think his strategy, but should have no effect at all on the likes of Curry, who wasn’t exactly hanging right on the old line’s edge to begin with. The benefit to the game will come if offenses move more freely inside the arc, making use of the extra room. Then again, since the mid-range game is all but non-existent in college ball, the move might just lower three-point shooting percentages and do little else.

On To Detroit: The college basketball community gets quite a treat this season, since the Final Four will be at Ford Field in Dee-troit. Not to bash the Motor City, since American automobile customers already have that job well in hand, but just having a dome doesn’t make a city a prime candidate to host something like this. There are no restaurants or bars near the stadium, and early-April weather in Michigan is as unpredictable as a teenager’s mood. But once everybody gets inside, the magic starts. So, who will be there? How about Louisville, Texas, North Carolina and Pittsburgh? A UNC-Texas final yields a championship for the Tar Heels, who erase (mostly) the images of last year’s ugly collapse in the national semis.

The rest of the Elite Eight: UCLA, Connecticut, Michigan State, Oklahoma.

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EL HOMBRE SEZ: In a move designed to give fans a break in a tough economy, the NFL announced it was reducing the price of playoff tickets by 10%. Of course, the Raiders are already ahead of Roger Goodell and the boys. By stinking so thoroughly, Oakland guarantees fans won’t have to put out any hard-earned cash for post-season ducats…In the wake of the death of promising Russian hockey star Alexei Cherepanov, heart defects have been found in five other players in the Russian Hockey League. In a related story, no heart has been found in any of the Tronno Maple Laughs…A six-month investigation in Queens uncovered a bookmaking operation that did an estimated $30 million in business on college and pro football games. Detectives placed bets from March through September and would have shut the thing down earlier, but they kept winning…NASCAR president Todd France is none too happy with ABC’s decision to cut away from the last few laps of last week’s left-turn-athon in Phoenix to air “America’s Funniest Home Videos.” Trouble is, fans aren’t too upset, since they thought the show was actual footage of what was going on in the infield during the race…Mets third baseman David Wright expects his team to make “significant” moves during the off-season, with the goal of the team’s making it to the last week of the season before choking away its lead in the standings.

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YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH THAT? Somewhere, tucked into the bottom of a drawer in Eagles coach Andy Reid’s desk is a picture of team owner Jeffrey Lurie in a compromising pose with a goat. That’s about the only way to explain why Le Grande Orange continues to wear both the coach and GM hats for the team. It is becoming more and more obvious that the Eagles aren’t constructed to play football the way it is played these days. They have no power running game and no way to stop the run consistently. They don’t get a pass rush with just four lineman, and they lack a big-time wide receiver, although DeSean Jackson has potential. When Reid says the team is good enough to win, he is either impugning his coaching ability or showing a crashing lack of objectivity when regarding his roster. If the Eagles miss the post-season for the third time in four years, substantive changes must be made, starting at the top. It may not be time to cut Reid loose completely, especially since he’s owed about $4.2 million in ’09 and ’10. But he needs to lose the personnel responsibilities and concentrate on coaching the team. Of course, the franchise’s bottom line remains fat, no matter what the team does on the field, but that won’t last forever, particularly if the Eagles can’t survive the tough NFC East.

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AND ANOTHER THING: Notre Dame heads into its game against Navy 1-15 in its last 16 tilts against teams with winning records. The Fighting Irish looked impotent in last week’s loss to Boston College. Yet AD Jack Beancounter says Pear Bryant (Thanks to TC from BC) is safe. Funny, but Charlie Weis’ winning percentage of .586 is three-thousandths better than Ty Willingham’s, and his 26 wins are two fewer than Bob Davie had at this point in his tenure. Guess overpowering arrogance counts for something these days. The bigger joke? Even if the Irish end the season 7-5, we will still be subjected to them on New Year’s Day, because the Gator Bowl has all but promised them a berth, thanks to a shaky economy that could limit the travel plans of fans from another school. After the indignity of watching our investment portfolios crumble, we now have to see Heavy C and his underachieving team in the national spotlight. And you think college football doesn’t need an enema?


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