A Chance to Catch my Breath [Originally Posted on sportsblog.com 2/3/14]

A wild week of basketball orgasms left me spent and I slumped into bed almost immediately after the Seahawks destroyed the Broncos last night. On Saturday I fell asleep in the middle of what people called the game of the year. I woke up just in time to see Syracuse outlast Duke in OT, but I was too tired to even be sour about missing the game. I saw the highlights, I was into it as much as my serotonin would allow; but I have Feb.22nd circled on my virtual calendar for the rematch in Cameron Indoor (also for KU-Texas but we will get to that later). As it is, I’m in recovery mode from a wild week and an even more enlightening weekend.

First off, how about a second to process what we witnessed from Kevin Durant last month? When I said last post I went on record as saying KDTV was must see until the streak was over, I never considered that he would shoot himself out into breaking it. His performance on Friday was a work of art. He shot 10-12 with 26 points in 30 minutes of action. Serge Ibaka shot 12 for 12, and by the end of the third quarter, it was obvious that OKC was going to pull their starters early into the last quarter of the game.

What has been so amazing about “Iceberg Slim’s” (credit Jalen Rose for the best nickname anyone can think of for KD) streak isn’t just the points he’s been scoring, but how easy the points have been coming. Anyone who ever watched Kobe or Allen Iverson play in their primes, can attest to the sheer volume of shots that both players put up to get high numbers. Kevin Durant is much more efficient and has not forced many of his shots. Many of them seem to come in the flow of the game. He almost always makes the right basketball play, passing the ball when necessary and getting his teammates involved. For the month of January he scored 550 points and had 90 assists. The last person to do that was Michael Jordan, and that was in 1987.

I actually missed the majority of the Kansas-Iowa State game on Wednesday to see KD go head to head with Lebron. KU is undoubtedly the reason I live in Lawrence right now, but I couldn’t forgive myself if I missed my favorite basketball player on the planet go up against the BEST player on the planet. I was not disappointed to say the least. The hype and atmosphere of the match-up felt bigger than a playoff game, and this sequence in the third quarter confirmed that feeling.

Even when the thunder were up big, it still felt like Miami had that final run in them. I must admit that I was wrong about this OKC team. Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones III, and even Derek Fisher are playing better than I imagined at this point in the season. I knew KD would step up, but I didn’t think he would get much support. How much of this is KD being a great leader and making his teammates better? Does the absence of Westbrook, and Durant’s ability to take his game to an unbelievably high level mean that he is this year’s NBA MVP? I would like to think yes. Look at the record. Look at the conference OKC is playing in and then think about how many other players could do what he is doing. I thought Presti was a fool to let Harden go for so little, but a year removed from the trade and the Thunder look as dangerous as ever.

********************************************

It’s been fun watching some of these lottery bound teams and trying to figure out what player in the draft would be a great piece of the puzzle for such teams. Teams like New Orleans, Los Angeles, Minnesota, Philadelphia, Orlando, Dallas and Sacramento could be one player away from being playoff contenders next season. Seeing what happens to these teams will be almost as interesting as seeing who will dethrone the champs this year.

********************************************

I really wanted to see Demarcus Cousins and Lance Stephenson on this year’s All-Star Teams. It would have been that much more entertaining weekend. If missing the teams make them improve even more, then look out NBA. I thought “Boogie” and “Born ready” were deserving this year though.

*********************************************

This week I experienced a bit of lull in my Jayhawk fandom. I had to watch the Iowa State game on replay, and the Texas drubbing left me (and probably the rest of Kansas and Missouri) stunned.

The Iowa State rematch was about what I thought it would be. The game anchored out at around 11-12 points. I had given someone 17 points thinking the blowout would be in effect because of the home crowd, but ISU actually showed up. I like DeAndre Kane. He plays like a grown man (how about that block–not a foul on Embiid early in the game?) and I hope he gets to play in the League next year. He has this “take no guff” attitude that I love. I think his aggressiveness and swag will get him far in life–even if its outside of basketball.

Iowa State may become the regional rivalry that has been missing since Mizzou took the money and ran to the SEC. KU fans respect the Hoibergs, much more than the ‘cats in Manhatten, and they actually make the Jayhawks sweat. A third game against the Cyclones in the Big 12 tourney could turn out to be really competitive.

As for the Horns……..well they done up and snuck up on everybody. I hadn’t had a chance to watch them this year, but I figured with Rick Barnes and the lack of NBA talent on the squad, they would be an after thought. It is never a good sign when a team out-muscles your team, out-hustles your team, while your team whines to refs and looks around for foul calls.

I don’t know if the team got a taste of that Austin nightlife or what, but they admittedly were not ready for Texas had to bring to the game. Cameron Ridley and Isiah Taylor were awesome. Texas was not intimidated in the least bit by the Jayhawks. They took it to them. The problem with having such a young team is that some games that team will look unbeatable, then the next game can look like a bunch of DIII players.

Consistency is something a team aims for but usually doesn’t achieve until they reach a certain level of maturity. Senior laden teams usually prepare better, because they know talent can only take a team so far (ask the 2010 Kentucky team if this is true). This butt whupping is exactly what KU needed. They looked soft on defense and on the boards, but take nothing away from Texas. This is a team that can actually push the Jayhawks for the Big 12 title. They a legit point guard in Isiah Taylor and they have a bruising front court. I was planning on going to a Shocker game on the 22nd, but Saturday proved that I need to stay in town and get tickets for when the Longhorns come to Lawrence.

***********************************************

Quick Big Up’s to:

Golden State’s second half D vs. Portland/L.A. Clippers a few nights ago. I know Portland hasn’t been playing all that well and the Clippers came off a back-back, but Golden State put on a show in both games. They scored a lot of points, but a lot of points came off turnovers as well. They are twice as much fun to watch when they play defense, because of the increased number of fast break points created. Seeing Iggy and Steph run that break is a thing of beauty.

How about LSU’s Johnny O’Bryant III against the Kentucky front line? 29 points and 9 rebounds. He gave Julius Randle and Willie Cauley-Stein the business. He single handedly put LSU on my must-watch list.

We’re expecting snow tomorrow night. Tuesday will be a good night to curl up and stream some hoops and not drink whiskey. Some cola beverages will just have to suffice.

Winding Down [originally posted 4/1/14 on sportsblog.com]

The life has been sucked out of this town since the Sunday of round 2. It’s amazing to see how many people living here in Lawrence don’t really care about basketball– just KU basketball. Everyone I talked to said “wait until March Madness, the town is so fun around that time.” I guess that was assuming the Jayhawks would make a deep run in the tourney. After what I have seen out of Naadir Tharpe the past few weeks, I’m no longer as confident about Kansas’ title chances come next year. Am I out of line for questioning this guy’s judgment?

We’re down to the Final Four. If you picked Wisconsin, Florida, Kentucky, and UCONN in your final four, then congratulations, you’re a liar…. the sweet sixteen was anything but sweet for my bracket, and now I only have one team left standing. The dream is over. I had KU taking it all last year, and my bracket then wasn’t anywhere near as disastrous as this year (and this is the MOST college hoops I have watched in a very long time). Regardless of how I picked ’em, I’m very happy with the match-ups for next weekend. The last two rounds brought some phenomenal games–especially the ones involving Kentucky. Let’s pause for a minute and reflect on the run UK is on. K-State, an undefeated Shockers team, Louisville in an epic game, then Michigan in a barn burner–you gotta give Coach Calimari props.

Poor officiating aside (been a long running story all season), its been a heck of a tournament. I really enjoyed the Iowa State -UCONN matchup. Shabazz Napier went ham, and has made me a believer. He was in control of the game the whole time, and got to the rack whenever he wanted. Deandre Kane only got 16 points on 18 shots, but it was only a matter of time until they ran out of steam after losing their starting center. Props to Iowa State for the season they had. With the “Mayor” running the helm up in Ames, I feel confident that they will push KU next year for that Big 12 regular season title.

Frank Kaminksy and the Wisconsin Badgers have made me question my beliefs about the Big Ten conference. Even though they are so boring to watch, they still find ways to win. They play defense and they are well coached. I’m not sure if they’ll have enough to keep Kentucky from making it an all SEC final. The same can be said for UCONN and Napier.

I really enjoyed Grant Hill’s analysis and insight this tournament. He has a great sense of humor and wears awesome suits. It’s hard to freely give so many compliments to a Duke guy, but man the cat is as smooth off the court as he was on the court. I hope I can raise a son to grow up to be that classy.

Lastly, I’m sorry to say goodbye to the last set of really hot cheerleaders. University of Arizona is a close third to UCLA and Arizona State for hottest cheerleaders in the nation. I see now how they get recruits down to that part of the country. If I were a scout for the Los Angeles Lakers, Pac-12 games would be my bread and butter. It’s probably a good thing I’m not one, because you’d probably find me on Reddit, with a selfie of me and two of Arizona’s finest. Some good games this week, and I’m not just talking about the tournament. Don’t get too excited about the Spurs-Thunder on Thursday night. It’s a back-to-back for San Antonio and “Pops” will probably rest the starters. Just saying.

What tha Kentuck? [Originally posted 4/7/14 on sportsblog.com]

Since I started watching college basketball back in 1991, I have never correctly predicted a tournament winner. This year was the most perplexing field to predict this year because there was no clear cut favorite and the region that had my favorite teams to watch, was also the toughest one to win. What Kentucky has done to emerge from the Midwest is nothing short of incredible. Aside from the opening round (in which I incorrectly picked K-State beating them), every game they ended up being the most entertaining game each round. As much as I dislike the history of Kentucky hoops, I find it hard to root against Texas boys, Julius Randle, and Aaron and Andrew Harrison. I don’t see them spitting the bit in what amounts to a home game for those three young men. Now with Myles Turner and Emmanuel Mudiay both stepping onto the scene for next year, Texas hoops has to be on the map for putting ballers out into the spotlight.

I watched the game on Saturday with a die hard Kentucky fan, and hanging out with him, reminded me of the downside of blind fan loyalty. Instead of enjoying what was a classic game, the guy sat on the couch, red faced and screaming, agonizing over every possession. It didn’t look like fun. After he went nuts over the Aaron Harrison game winner (again????), he slumped down onto his sofa in relief. I’d forgotten how nerve wracking rooting for your favorite team can be (because it seems like forever since I’ve watched a Jayhawks game). I had a brief flashback of the Christian Laetnner shot back in 1992, and instantly wanted to inch out of his apartment in case, another one of those miracle endings happened. I don’t feel sorry for people very often, but I would have if that Traevon Jackson shot had gone in. As exciting as buzzer beaters can be, but you can’t help but feel for kids who lose in such heart breaking fashions.

I remember the ulcer I nearly gave myself during game 2 of the 2011 NBA Finals, when I sat up in LOUD CITY, screaming at Danny Crawford as the refs gave Miami the W, in one of my more frustrating basketball experiences. My buddy invited me over to watch the championship game and I wonder if I should go. I think if it were me, I’d be so stressed out, that I would want to watch it alone. My dude was almost in tears when Traevon Jackson for Wisconsin, got fouled at the end of the game to set up his three free throw attempts. I asked my buddy if he was going to buy some bubbly, but he’s too superstitious to set up a post game celebration. Frankly, unless its a blowout, it doesn’t sound very enjoyable, and isn’t that the whole point of championships–to enjoy the experience? The more I think about it, the better off I am going up to Henry T’s and eating some wings and drinking a cola beverage. I don’t want to watch him crying after a defeat, and I don’t want to celebrate a Kentucky win.

Even if UCONN wins I won’t be happy. I’m still smarting over their win on Saturday against the Gators. I didn’t think I need another reason to dislike the University of Florida, but their loss on Saturday derailed my last chance at winning the house money from my bracket. A Florida win would have put me over the top in points, but thanks to Shabazz Napier (who was in control of the whole game despite only taking 6 shots) with his 12 points, 4 steals and 6 assists, a guy who picked his bracket winners based on the strength of every school’s mascots won the pot. I hope that UCONN wins, but watching tonight will be like monitoring the 2008 presidential election, I don’t care for either party, but it just so happens that the blue state represents the lesser of two evils.

At about 10:30 tonight, people will either be writing about 5 freshman putting together an unprecedented run, or they will be writing about how a senior point guard put a team of average ballplayers on his back, and willed them to an unlikely championship. Either story line works well for the tournament. No matter which teams prevail, Jerry Jones will be the real winner. Despite my dislike for basketball games being played in huge domed football fields (with elevated courts that can lead to players injuring themselves on loose balls and fans being so far away from the action), there is not a bad seat in the house. The place is gigantic, but every seat is tailor made for good viewing, AND there is a enormous screen that makes it impossible to miss any action (you might even find yourself just watching everything on the big screen–which seems a little silly). The city of North Texas (Arlington gets no love do they?) will be in for a treat tonight. Hopefully there won’t be a lot of drinking and driving or shootings at the strip club tonight.

Wrap it Up B [Originally posted 4/9/14 on Sportsblog.com]

Believe it or not I’m quite happy to see the end of the college basketball season. I now have time for other things in my life, like learning guitar, taking walks, chasing tail, or watching NBA hoops. I’m going to take a little break from basketball until the playoffs start, but before I do, let’s have a quick run down of the season in whole; in addition to an entertaining campaign by the 2013-2014 Jayhawks.

First I have to give a shout out to the NCAA Champions UCONN Huskies. What a run. I still can’t believe they pulled it off. If you think about how many potential future NBA players are on the Wildcats roster and how many are playing for UCONN, forget about the seedings, that was a major upset.

People have been bubbling about how great of a tournament it was, and for the most part I agree, but the second half of the final was some of the worst ball I saw all tournament. Both teams were sloppy and careless, and besides the dunk by James Young, the second half was damn near unwatchable. Had that game been anything but the final, I would have turned it off. UCONN more outlasted the Wildcats than beat them. It seemed like both teams were tripping over themselves to give that game away.

That being said, UCONN’s backcourt was ill, and seeing what they did pretty much affirms what I have been saying all year about guard play being the key to winning the tournament. Despite some intermittent struggles, Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright carried the Huskies to a win. I’m not convinced that either will be more than NBA backups, but that takes nothing away from what they accomplished. Lebron thinks Napier should be the first pg taken in the draft; so maybe I’m wrong–it just seems like he’ll be too slow for the NBA, his dribble seems a little too high and his release point looks like his shot will get blocked consistently at the next level. It will be interesting to see him consistently face players who are as long and as quick as this year’s Kentucky team.

As for Kentucky, well who knows what is in store for them. They only have two guys who I feel confident will be immediate impact guys, James Young (who really impressed me with his play Monday night–I feel like he was only one who didn’t play scared) and Julius Randle (who I’m curious how he will adapt to playing against men his size, when he gets to the next level).

I think Dakari Johnson might be Andrew Bynum 2.0. I was on the fence about the Harrison boys. They need more time to develop but with their size (didn’t realize they were 6’6) they should be decent players.

Overall though a good tournament and a pretty good season. I wish Wichita State would have been given a fair shot , just so we could see what kind of team they really had, but I’m satisfied with the way things played out. And now, let’s move on to the local team.

2013-2014 Jayhawks

It’s hard to predict what a team what a team will do when they are as young as the Jayhawks. As up and down as Kentucky’s season was, they still made the championship game. Kansas had a better regular season than UK, but come tourney time, Calimari’s squad made more noise. So who had a better season? I guess that’s a matter of what is more important to a team, the regular season, or the tournament. So in the name of academics, let’s give these kids the first honest grades they have probably had all year.

BENCH C +

The bench play was more inconsistent than what I expected. I expected the older cats to make a bigger impact. Andrew White was a non factor, Justin Wesley’s biggest contribution was taking on the role of Wilt Chamberlain in a movie. Connor Frankamp and Brannon Greene were hard to count on from game to game. Frank Mason started out challenging Naadir Tharpe for his starting position, but Tharpe came on during conference play, and Mason couldn’t get enough minutes to get in a rhythm. Landen Lucas, Jamari Traylor, and Tarik Black improved as the year progressed (go figure; the bigs would get better while the guard play suffered–please Coach Self hire Aaron Miles as an assistant).

Guards C

I won’t get into Tharpe’s off the field play (get it? cause you know he was getting play), but now things totally make sense as to why he sometimes seemed….distracted maybe? Starting point guard for the Kansas Jayhawks is bigger than than starting quarterback for the football team. I imagine it may have gone to his head. He is going to have to do some soul searching this off season and decide how serious he is about playing, and how he wants to be remembered after his career here is done.

Wayne Selden played great at times and gave everyone a glimpse of how good he can be. If he decides to be to be the defensive leader next year, he is going to be a boss. I assume his shot will improve and he will be aggressive taking the ball to the rim. As good as the guard play will be next year (I expect Frankamp and Mason will play bigger roles in the offense next year), the offense will still need someone to focus on distributing the rock to the playmakers. This will be the biggest question going into next season. You know the Jayhawks will be stacked on wings and bigs. Speaking of……

Forwards A

Andrew Wiggins met and surpassed any expectation I had for him this year. He was the real deal. His performance alone (despite the final game against Stanford) this season deserves merit. Wiggins set the freshman scoring record, won Big 12 Newcomer of the Year award, and has the highest points scored in a game by ANY KU player.

Perry Ellis had a solid season. He took over when the team needed him to, and he was pretty solid offensively. He wasn’t much of a defensive player and I wonder if he’ll get better next year in that area. I’d also like to see if he will be more aggressive next year on the offensive end. I also wonder (depending on whether Embiid returns or not–he announces his plans for next year at 2 today) if he’ll be starting next year over Cliff Alexander. There is a serious logjam at power forward and someone is going to have to be the person to come off then bench and immediately go into beast mode.

Center A

Besides having some of the illest dunks this season, Tarik Black managed to be a calming presence in the locker room and on the floor. At the beginning of the season he fouled too much, but man did he come on as the season progressed. His play alone would have gotten this position a B.

Joel Embiid progressed faster than anybody could have imagined. He’s almost become a basketball prodigy in his three years. He’s so good, quick, smart, and fluid. He’s also a ferocious rebounder and defender. If he comes back, suddenly the hype jumps back up to full tilt. If he leaves, the Jayhawks may have a chance to fly under the radar for a little while. Whether he stays or he goes, I hope his back is able to hold up.

Overall, it was a fun year. I’m extremely happy about the time I have devoted to watching this team, and it has definitely been one of the more memorable squads in a while. I can’t wait to see how they will look when Kelly Oubre and Cliff Alexander get to town. Despite the ending, Jayhawks fans should be satisfied with the progress the team made. Despite the high expectations year in and year out, there can only be one champion, and this year its the UCONN Huskies. See you in a couple weeks when the big boys start playing.