Shocking the World [originally posted 3/11/14 on sportsblog.com]

I must apologize for the tone of last post. Current events can be such a bummer sometimes. So in the spirit of the human race avoiding a World War III scenario (for now), I’m going to embrace the things that I love about basketball (and life in general). Let’s go!

1) I love that I got the opportunity to see Tarik Black play for Kansas. I knew he’d be a great senior presence on the team, but hearing all the positive things said about him is heartwarming and inspiring. He describes his time here in Lawrence as life changing, and coach Self has said that “it would be hard to find a better teammate” than Tarik. At the beginning of the season I thought he was just going to be a defensive presence, but there have been a few games where he has made an impact down on the offensive block (not to mention a few memorable rim rattling dunks). How more perfect could he have played (9 of 9 with 6 rebounds, 2 blocks and only 2 personal fouls) in his last night on the Allen Fieldhouse Floor?

2) I love the defensive effort the Jayhawks displayed on senior night against Texas Tech last Wednesday. That was arguably the best they have looked on D all year.

3) I love the fire that Andrew Wiggins showed during the regular season finale against West Virginia. There wasn’t much to like about the game. The flow was klunky (I felt like I was at the local community building waiting for next–praying that a team finally goes on a run and gets 15th point), and the officiating (for both teams) was some of the worst I’d seen all season long. Missed traveling calls are one thing, but over judicious whistles disrupt the flow of the game. Let em play! But I digress. What Wiggins did on Saturday put the rest any of that silly talk about him being overrated (12-18 shooting 41 points 4 blocks, 5 steals, and 8 rebounds).

The cold blooded part about was that he wasn’t beating his chest and yelling “Let’s go!” He had the same stoic look he always has when he’s mashing on dudes. The basket, the steal on the ensuing in-bounds pass and dunk sequence was one of those “uh oh he about to take the game over” stretches. No matter what happens to the Jayhawks, I will consider his season a success, and that was even before his performance on Saturday. He has scored the most points ever by a Jayhawks freshman, has the highest total points in a game by a Jayhawk (a record formerly held by the guy who punched Mitch McGary in the gnads), and he won Big 12 Freshman of the Year. Can the haters let my boy live?

4)I’m loving how the Shockers are the best basketball team in Kansas and the reactions from Jayhawks homers when I mention this to them. Go to any bar in Lawrence and you will hear people saying how much they hope to land in the same bracket as Wichita State so “they can run them.” I’m not sure Kansas fans feel quite as cocky now that Embiid is on the shelf indefinitely. There is a great article by Grantland’s Jordan Conn (who besides Jonathan Abrams,Zach Lowe and Andrew Sharp is one of those cats who always seem to come with it when they write) discussing how dismissive KU fans are of Wichita State’s run.

I hear the same regurgitated arguments, “They would be middle of the pack if they were in the Big 12,” or “they hadn’t played anybody yet.” 34-0 is 34-0. John Wooden said it best when he said (and I’m paraphrasing) “the only opponent is yourself.” That means that no matter who you play, as a team you are playing against a standard and it doesn’t matter who the other team is. How many times have the Jayhawks lost to an inferior team this year? How many times has this happened to the Shockers? Exactly. That means every game they played, they have been mentally prepared and didn’t allow for any letdown games.

No one talks about Arizona being overrated (for the record, I don’t think they are); playing in an over glorified softball, flag football, volleyball, track and field conference. The “Wack-12” has been irrelevant for years, but because the conference makes a lot of money for the NCAA, people disregard this fact. I would have taken Wichita State over KU before the Embiid injury, now I feel even more confident that the Shockers will have a deeper run than the Jayhawks.

5) I’m loving James Michael McAdoo’s rugged look these days. He’s rocking the “I’m going through some thangs, it may be time for me to do things differently” kind of look. It makes him look less like a petulant pretty boy, and more like a dude ready to put in some work on the boards. I’m sure by the time tournament play starts, he’ll have cleaned his look up. But it’s a good sign when a dude is coming to practice everyday looking like “Eff it. We need these wins. I ain’t got time to worry bout nothing but hoops and making grades. Eff everything else.”

6) I’m loving that in addition to Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker put in some work to get Duke a much needed W against their bitter rival, UNC. His 30 points and 11 rebounds put the stamp on the narrative for his career at Duke; on his last night in front of the Cameron Crazies. I think he’ll be the real deal in the pro’s. He may or may not be an all-star, but he can’t be any worse than Glenn Robinson or Vin Baker can he? And while I’m talking about the UNC-Duke rivalry, with UNC not being as good lately, it almost seems like UNC is in danger of feeling like the odd man out, as the rivalry between Syracuse and Duke quickly develops.

I imagine UNC and Duke as two neighborhood kids who have known each other all their lives, and then right before high school starts, an older, cooler kid moves in across the street; hits it off splendidly with Duke, thus causing some friction between Duke and Carolina. Syracuse and Duke don’t have the history, but it certainly has the intensity.

7) I’m loving the Los Spurs jerseys that the team rocked against “El Heat” (doesn’t quite roll off the tongue does it?) Sure they supposedly hinder the shots of players like Lebron James, but I don’t care. I don’t need excuses, I need to see more reasons to spend my money on NBA swag.

8) I love not watching the Rockets play. Geez their games are way too long. It feels like Rockets games last at least 15-30 minutes longer than games from any other teams in the league. The high number of fouls, flopping, and Dwight Howard’s bricks make Rockets games nearly un-watchable. I feel like Patrick Beverley is another cheap shot away from becoming this generation’s Bruce Bowen. Damien Lillard is the latest to get annoyed by Beverley’s overzealous play. This spawned an interesting analysis on Grantland about Beverley’s affect on the team

9) I love that Jalen Rose has a job in the media. Having worked both as a professional ballplayer and now as an analyst, Jalen has a unique perspective. He peels back the curtain and offers a glimpse into both worlds. With so many different media outlets trying to create a narrative when there isn’t a story to report, Jalen’s analysis is one of the few places where you’ll get the real deal. He gives the people what they want.

10) I love watching Phoenix and Golden State play. Back when I lived in the Bay Area (without a college degree), I always wanted–but couldn’t afford–to be in attendance for this match-up. Back 2007, it was Steve Nash and company vs. Monta Ellis and Baron Davis, but it was an uptempo game that would sometimes get up in the 120’s. The current Golden State roster is better than that mid-aught’s squad, with Don Nelson tinkering with lineups like a chemistry experiment. I can’t argue that this year’s squad is better than the “7 seconds or less” Phoenix teams, but they are fun to watch again. I like the Morris boys way more than I ever did while they were in college. I thought they were bullies back in their KU days, but now they just seem like really tough enforcers. They add a much needed physical dimension to Jeff Hornacek’s roster. I hope the Morris boys play their whole NBA careers together.

11) Lastly, I love the idea of the NBA shortening its season. 82 games is too many. It felt like many of the good teams hit a serious lull after the All-Star Break. I know there is a lot of money to lose by reducing the season, but is there really a need for 12 extra games? Players get tired, players get hurt, and then the game suffers for these periods where key players are recovering, and rehabbing for the playoffs. I’d even be into an extra round if its about making up the lost money.

I think the NBA playoffs is long enough as it is, but if you took away 12 meaningless games in exchange for an extra round, at least the games would be of consequence. But if that happens, I’d like to see the top overall 18 teams get in, rather than this whole Eastern/Western Conference thing. Its not fair (to the players or fans) that a team can play mediocre ball all season and get rewarded simply because of geography. What sense does that make? Why we’re at it, I agree with Sir Charles Barkley’s simple solution to tanking. Lottery teams get one ping pong ball apiece. Why reward failure and bad management decisions? Philadelphia, Sacramento, Toronto, Cleveland, and Milwaukee have been perennial losers, and the lottery picks haven’t done those franchises any good. I believe in you Adam Silver. Make it happen captain!

Enjoy the conference tournaments. You best believe I’m dropping everything on my schedule to watch Syracuse and Duke if they happen to meet up again.

Peace.

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