2016-2017 Season Preview: Top 26 Storylines Part One

[This preview also appears as a post on fullsass.com. What does Fullsass mean? Well check it out for yourself.] 

All Illustrations by Louis Eastman

We are only a few days away from the beginning of training camp, time to dust off the cobwebs and fire it back up. Although the biggest story of the off-season was the Kevin Durant free agency, there are plenty of other story lines to follow this year. I’ve listed (from A-Z ) the ones that I find the most compelling for the 2016-2017 season.

Amin Elhassan fullsizerender-4

ESPN’s most merciless twitter troll is a must follow this season.

Amin is great not only for his tendency to roast any unlucky soul stupid enough to tweet some dumb shit, but also for his great insight into how things operate behind the NBA scenes. Having worked in both the Knicks and Suns front office before his stop at ESPN, Elhassan is a wealth of insider knowledge.

What I love most about him is that he does not hold back in any of his funny–but often wickedly straight forward analysis. His creation of the #Pitino game is one the more underappreciated social media phenomenons you’ll experience during playoff elimination games. #Pitino game is just as a part of the playoff pageantry as TNT’s Gone Fishing segments, but more interactive and way more clever. 

Buddy Hield

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Back in 2015 he simply slid into place. Buddy Buddy Buddy All up in my face.

Is Buddy Hield the Real Deal Holyfield? Inquiring minds want to know. It is a little too early to anoint him as the sidekick to Anthony Davis, but if Hield shoots as well as his reputation suggests, then this could be a good working relationship for the two. Hield wasn’t exactly a defensive stopper in college, but that hasn’t kept James Harden from receiving tons of (mostly deserved) accolades. He could be a nice small ball option for Pelican’s coach, Alvin Gentry, who is looking at a very thin back court-especially with Jrue Holiday absent from the team for personal reasons. 

Celtics Are Legit Contenders

Had the C’s managed to get Horford and Durant this off-season, you could have  penciled them in for the NBA Finals (and I doubt anyone one would have argued with you). As it stands, they only have two reliable scorers, Isiah Thomas and Horford (who has never averaged a 20 and 10 at any point in his career). Isiah Thomas is great at getting his own shot, but he isn’t much of a distributor.

Avery Bradley is an all NBA defender, but anything he gives you on offense is considered icing on the cake (Bruce Bowen 2.0?), and their outside shooting is too reliant upon Kelly Olynk shooting a high percentage. I think they are still two really good players away, or one superstar and a role player (probably a backup pg) away from being in the conversation to knock off the Lebrons for the Eastern Conference crown.

Draymond Green

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Steph Curry may be the league MVP, but I think the team MVP for the Golden State Warriors is Draymond Green. Klay Thompson, Curry, and Green are all irreplaceable, but the intangibles that Dray provide for that team are immeasurable. The league’s decision to suspend him changed the course of that series, as the Warriors were dead in the water after game 5. Regardless, had Dray kept his head, the hometown of Jive Ass Don King would still be without a title today. 

Had we laid money on “Finals player most likely to send pictures of their ding-dong to all their Snapchat followers”, most people would have place their bets on J.R. Smith. I think the public opinion of Draymond Green will be cemented for the rest of his career, according to how he performs both on and off the court this season. The Warriors need his fire, but he has to learn to harness it if they are going to get back to the Finals.

Everybody Eats This Season 

The NBA has never been a better league to play in. Owners are making money hand over fist. The league just signed a lucrative television deal that allows even scrubs *ahem* players like Matthew Dellavedova to cash in a meal ticket. Allen Crabbe made 70 million to stay in Portland.

The Grizzlies’ Mike Conley leveraged his way into a 153 million dollar contract and for a couple of months, was the highest paid player in league history. This year’s 90 million dollar salary cap is only going to get larger (reportedly $118 million next season), so dudes are about to get paid. Now that everybody is eating, let’s start taking bets on who will eat themselves out of the league.

Finals Rematch (Again)

We can just stop this right now huh? No need to even play the season out. Forget preseason. Let’s put it on simulation mode like NBA Live 95? Barring any major injuries, I don’t see how anyone out west beats Golden State, or anyone out east beating Lebron.

I’m looking forward to the rubber match between these two teams. Kevin Durant is going to be the deadliest 4th option you’ve ever seen in the NBA Finals. The running thread all season will be “If Lebron beats the GSW super team will he be the greatest?” or “Will this championship validate KD’s career even though he joined a super team?” I personally don’t blame Durant or the Warriors for signing him. I bet it sucks losing to Lebron, but I bet it sucks even more losing to him after getting spotted a 3-1 series lead. This is the best reoccurring story line since Lakers vs.Celtics last decade. Stay tuned.

Giannis Antetokounmpo Playing The Point 

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I’m not saying the Bucks will be in the Eastern Conference Finals. I’m not saying that I think they will get back in the playoffs. I’m not even saying they will be fun to watch, but there will be at least 20 nights this season where Giannis does something to make Sportscenter top 10 highlights. 

Harrison Barnes: The 94 Million Dollar Man

I personally think Barnes will do well in Dallas. The city has a way of being a decent stop for exorbitantly rich black athletes (if they perform decently ). Of course, you have to wonder what is considered reasonable expectations for a contract like the one Barnes signed. For what it is worth Mavs fans, he will be a better investment than Roy Tarpley, Cherokee Parks, Erick Dampier and Shawn Bradley all put together. He can’t be any worse………right?

Iggy’s back  

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No I am not talking about the Nick Young’s ex fiancee’s booty (although it makes for an interesting google search #therabbithole). If Andre Iguodala is unhealthy, forget about the Warriors getting a chip for Kevin Durant. Iggy is one of their best defenders, and he was the guy who guarded both Durant and Lebron down the stretch of last year’s playoffs. By the time games 6 and 7 of the Finals came around, he was gassed (who is to say that a healthy Iggy doesn’t try and dunk the ball on that infamous Lebron chase down block?). 

Now that Durant is a teammate, there is no one in the west (outside of Kawhi Leonard) to push him defensively. Theoretically, he should be fresh for his Finals dance with Lebron. Then again, 30-year-old backs are more fickle than 23-year-old girlfriends. You never know how things will flare up from night to night. 

 

The 3 J’s (reboot)

My dude Joakim Noah is back in his hometown playing for the Knicks. No matter how he does on the floor, homie is going to be slaying it off the court. It is good to see Jeff Hornacek get another head coaching shot. He got a raw deal in Phoenix. Robert Sarver pulled the old bait and switch with Hornacek. The Suns front office didn’t bring back key players, but kept expecting the same results . It was unfair to everyone involved; Hornacek, the players, the fans, and League Pass subscribers who were unexpectedly treated to a near playoff run in 2014.

As for Phil, no one could figure out why the hell he hired Derek Fisher; but he corrected that mistake by firing D-Fish midway through the season. This is his third and most pivotal season as Knicks GM, because if they suck again this year, it will be tough to lure free agents to sign with the club next season. 

Are they going to make the playoffs? Maybe, if 40 wins is enough to get in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Courtney Lee was a good pickup, and Derrick Rose may be able to add some punch if he can find the basketball court, and stay out of the criminal court. Rose thinks they have a super team in New York, but kind of like the word consent,there may be some confusion as to what the definition of a super team is.

40 wins for this roster would be the equivalent of making the Finals. I’d play with them on NBA2K, because you don’t really need subs on a video game, but in real life, their bench is thin. Pencil them in for 30 wins.

Klay “ I’m Not Sacrificing Shit” Thompson

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I’ll fight anyone who says he isn’t the best 2 guard in the league. He may not be able to attack the rim like Demar Derozan (apparently the 46th best player in the NBA), but the man is the best defensive 2 guard; and his shot is wet. He is Ron Harper with a knock down J. Klay Thompson only benefits from the arrival of Kevin Durant.

TO BE CONTINUED:

 

BM

 

 profile pic b mick  Bobby Mickey is the alter ego of writer and poet Edward Austin Robertson. When he isn’t involved in some basketball related activity, actively looking for parties to deejay or venues to perform comedy, he can be found recording podcasts with Craig Stein at Fullsass Studios. Follow him on twitter @clickpicka79. For booking inquiries, send contact info to thisagoodassgame@gmail.com. 

 

 

 

 

 

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Overreaction Wednesday [originally posted 12/11/13 on sportsblog.com]

Before last night’s game, I couldn’t tell you a single player on the Florida Gators roster besides Patric Young.

But oh did I learn. I learned today.

Florida is a legit squad. I can’t wait to see them play Kentucky this year.

Time to talk KU fans off the ledge last night. Expectations here in Lawrence are way too high for where the team is.

This is still a very young team that hasn’t quite found its identity yet. They haven’t made their bones off being a stellar defensive team like that 2011-2012 Final Four team. There aren’t established vets who know their roles and can help coach on the floor like last year’s squad. This is a very young team that is still learning how to play together. The majority of the non-conference games will comprise mostly of seeing where all the pieces fit. There was a lot to take away from last night’s game so let’s get into it:

In the words of Chief Keef; here’s some S&%t I don’t LIKE:

Turnovers. 16 of them in the first half. This put the Jayhawks in an 18 point hole going into the locker room. I knew they still had a big run in them, but I knew this was going to take some effort to knock back down into a 2 possession ball game.

Awful possessions (did I mention that KU turned the ball over 16 times in the first half? Yea thought so.) People at the bar watched in disbelief as the Jayhawks had bad possession after bad possession.

There was very little passing, and too many 1 on 5 attacks to the rim. That will not work against a Billy Donovan squad. The Gators have a very solid backcourt in Scottie Wilbekin and Michael Frazier II. Besides Patric Young, they have very little front court length. Florida countered this advantage by going small and just bum rushing Kansas out the gate, forcing the inexperienced guards to get the ball out of their hands quickly.

KU looked out of sync the whole night, and was not able to get the ball consistently into the paint to their bigs, Perry Ellis or Joel Embiid. Ellis only had 3 shot attempts and Embiid 6. Meanwhile KU settled for way too many jump shots and didn’t work enough to break the zone defense by making the extra passes (or cuts for that matter–lots of standing around). There was way too much hero ball going on, dudes trying to hit 8 point shots and beat 3 dudes on the dribble during transition.

The Gators shot lights out for sure. But when they did miss, there were too many times a rebounder for KU didn’t squeeze the ball hard enough, knocked the ball out of their own teammates hands or just not get to a 50-50 ball. Florida would retain possession and sure enough would score. This happened time and time again, last night.

There was a horrible no call at the end of the game after Wiggins put on his best Danny Granger impersonation and willed the Jayhawks to within 6 ( including hitting a deep 3 from well beyond NBA range). They stole the ball, and Wiggins appeared to be fouled on his way up for a dunk, and the refs somehow missed the foul. That wasn’t the reason the Jayhawks lost, but it was certainly a momentum killer, and viewers were robbed of what could have been a fantastic finish. Who knows what happens if the Jayhawks cut the lead to 4.

Going against a senior laden team on the road, it was very obvious that the Jayhawks are just too young right now. It is going to be a learning curve and a process, and frankly Kansas fans will need to learn patience. If you were to look into Bill Self’s smirking face, you would see his confidence in the process. Billy Donovan himself said that out of any team in the country, the Jayhawks has the highest ceiling. In the this one-and-done age, there just isn’t enough patience to watch a team develop for 3 years and take baby steps. Expectations are SKY HIGH right now, and people just need to realize that it may not even be until halfway into conference play before this team figures it out.

Passing seems to be an issue with the team only getting 11 assists for the second game in a row. Tharpe just isn’t ready to lead the team yet it seems, starting the game out with the second unit (Bill Self lit into him after one particularly dreadful run).

Frank Mason is a quick guard and can get to the rim anytime he wants, but he hasn’t been very good at setting up other players.

I was joking last night that they miss Julian Wright. Or a player like him. Wright was awesome at busting up zones by finding a hole in the middle and hitting a mid-range jumper, making an incredible pass to a cutting big, or taking two dribbles and dunking the basketball.

We don’t really have a zone buster right now. Wiggins could develop into that, and Mason can drive and kick, but there isn’t enough passing, or movement without the ball.

Maybe Self needs to go small ball when teams bust out that 2-3 zone. Go with Ellis or Embiid at Center, Wiggins at Power Forward, Selden at the Small Forward, with Greene and Mason in the backcourt. That could possibly stretch the defense and make them honest. This Jayhawks team is forcing too many 3 pointers, and ignoring the bigs. I said at the beginning that this team will only go as far as Tharpe and Ellis can take them. I don’t think there is an accident that in the games where they have not produced, that Kansas has lost. Ellis needs more touches, he should never shoot the ball 3 times in one half, let alone a whole game.

Florida is legit though. They have four seniors in the starting lineup. They can hit the 3 poointer. Patric Young is a man beast. We joked at the bar that he looked like a Mandingo fighter from “Django Unchained”. I could see him playing John Henry in a Broadway musical, until Tyler Perry discovers him and makes him a movie star (That is if basketball doesn’t work out for him).

No need to Worry Jayhawks fans. Saturday is pretty much a home game against New Mexico. Everything is going to be alright. Wiggins just needs help, and guys just need to learn their roles so they can do their individual jobs correctly. The team will be fine come March. I think this is the coming out party we have been expecting from Wiggins, now he just needs everyone else to step up. I’m certain that if they play the Gators again at a neutral site, the story line will have a different ending.

**** I got a chance to watch the Golden State game tonight against the Mavericks and was not disappointed one bit. Golden State was down by as many as 17 and Steph Curry had 17 going into the 4th quarter. He ended the game with 33, including the game winner with 1.2 seconds left. That means he had a 16 point 4th quarter, and some nice assists along the way (Dramond Green played clutch down the stretch). Between them, The Jayhawks, the Spurs, the Pacers, the Trailblazers, and the Thunder, I may not leave the house much until next June. It’s a terrifying and exciting thought. I’m battling a full blown case of hoops fever right now.

There a couple other teams I find myself peeping on the box scores and soon I may catch myself watching more of are the Mavericks, the Phoenix Suns, and the Sacramento Kings.

I like the combination of Monta-ball and Rick Carlisle’s basketball genius (Carlisle is 2nd best coach in the NBA in my opinion behind Gregg Popovich). I even like watching Dirk all of a sudden. Two of the better games I have watched this season (and the past week) involved them. Both games coming down to last second shots.

I fell asleep watching the Suns-Lakers game last night, but I was impressed with their team. I’d heard they were better this year and to quote Lily Von Shtupp from Blazing Saddles, “It’s twue. It’s twue!”

The Suns are balling. I love the uptempo game they play with Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe. I like the Morris twins now more than I did when they were in college. They look like they both shed some pounds, and I like that they both were hitting jumpers. I won’t be opposed to watching them in the future.

I’m curious about how well Rudy Gay will fit on this Kings team. Maybe B-MacLemore will pick up some pointers from Rudy, and maybe MacLemore will force Rudy to play more inside. I’m not sure how the lineup of Isiah Thomas, Rudy Gay, Ben McLemore, Derrick Williams, and Boogie Cousins will play out. I will say that it’d be a fun lineup to trot out on NBA2K14. This may be worth checking into. I feel very fortunate as an NBA fan right now. This draft class for 2014 will make an already exciting league that much more intriguing. I can’t wait. Some good games this weekend. I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s Blazers-Rockets game tomorrow. Lakers-Thunder play Friday night. Saturday is UNC-Kentucky, and of course I get to see the Jayhawks in person out in Kansas City.

Somewhere in between that time I have to get my grad school application turned in to KU. Basketball never stops–even while I nap. Which I’m going to need tomorrow if I want to stay up and watch the Trailblazers game.

Basketball Never Stops………….. It only Rotates [originally posted 12/21/13 on sportsblog.com]

Not much going on here at home front.

Some miscommunication cost me a chance to see the Jayhawks live in person last Saturday. They were some good seats too. I was so depressed that I slept through tip off and sludged my way through the second half.

Jayhawks won. My boy Embiid cemented his status as my favorite current Jayhawk on the roster. I was so ecstatic about his up and under baseline move that I didn’t realize he was on his way to getting 18 points, 6 rebounds, 3 steals and 4 blocks. If I’m the right team in next year’s lottery, and I got my shooting guard spot locked up, (say like Orlando) I’m taking Embiid if Parker is already taken.

The rest of the game was pretty ho hum. They did what they were supposed to do, and I honestly was so distracted about not being there (and needing to finish my grad school application) that it wasn’t very enjoyable. So enough about that. I’ll have more to say about the team after Georgetown ( I couldn’t tell name a single player on this year’s roster. I had to look up where Otto Porter got drafted). This week has been all about the NBA. After spending a great deal of time watching the games last week, this week has been kind of quiet.

A few quick hitters before I settle down tonight to watch Spurs-Warriors play:

I love watching the Lakers telecast. The pregame is awesome with former teammates “Big Game” James Worthy and Byron Scott. I think it’s really cool that the Lakers franchise still find ways to stay linked to past players. Plus it sometimes makes for cool moments like these.

Found out right before the start of the Lakers-Thunder game that Kobe would guarding Westbrook. I had a feeling that Russ would be licking his chops. [I just found out like 30 seconds ago that Kobe is out for 6 weeks with a fractured knee. It may be time for him to start taking PED’s] Russ played pretty good with 19 and 12 assists, but KD went HAM with 31 points, 8 boards, 5 dimes, and 4 steals. Lakers as a team were over matched from the start. And now things won’t get too much better with Kobe out for another 6 weeks.

So maybe they should shelve him for the year? Lottery pick this year and they get some top flight talent. I ain’t gonna lie. If two years from now, the Lakers have Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love, I’ll be tuning in big time to watch them play. Which I gotta say, I’m not disliking Kobe as much as I used to. You can tell he was happy to be just playing again. He was smiling more in the game against Phoenix than I seen him grin all season last year. I also gotta admit that he’s a pretty amazing distributor when he wants to be. I saw him make some sick dishes the other night, he had 13 assists for the night, and he didn’t even play in the 4th quarter. This period of Kobe reminds me of when I started digging Barry Bonds for his candid quotes and “don’t give a s#$%” attitude.

The Thunder have a better team than I gave them credit for. Their bench is much better this time around. It looks like Reggie Jackson took the experience from last year and learned from his increase in playoff minutes. Jeremy Lamb is much better than I expected him to be. I still haven’t seen much from Perry Jones III to have an informed opinion, but Steven Adams is a legit big to bring off the bench. If they had another center besides Kendrick Perkins, I’d feel comfortable about penciling them in for the Finals. It’s still crazy to me that they “couldn’t afford” Harden but are paying Perkins. It’s true that Harden’s defense is suspect, but he’s a better team defender than people give him credit for. I think Houston’s defense is so bad that it makes him look worse than when he was on OKC (better team defense than Houston). Plus Harden has to be the guy on offense. It is asking a lot of him. Then again, they are paying him a lot of money.

There is a great Jonathan Abrams article on Oklahoma City native (and former Jayhawk) Xavier Henry. I’m a big fan of Abrams (in my opinion, he and Andrew Sharp are the best writers on the Grantland staff) I was hoping to see him bring the boom in front of his hometown folks but the game got busted open so early that the story line fizzled pretty quickly. He did have some decent plays though. The article answers a few questions that I had about why he had trouble early on. I didn’t realize he was only 22. It seems like it was forever ago when he signed on with KU.

The Indy-Miami game was another (pardon the pun) “heated” contest. It certainly had that level of playoff intensity.I usually try to avoid any game involving Eastern Conference teams (more on this in a second), but this has been worth the stop down both times I’ve watched them play this year. I was just remarking to my housemate how much it bothers me to dislike someone who used to rep the crimson and blue when Lebron almost got in Mario Chalmers grill during a (here it comes again) “heated’ time-out.

Udonis Haslaam held Lebron back, but it initially looked like Mario was about to get socked. Earlier in the game I decided that I was no longer on the fence about Chalmers after his “extra” during a hard foul on my boy “Born Ready” Lance Stephenson. I think Mario is a punk and there is evidence to prove it. The main reason I dislike Heat players are Dwayne Wade and Mario. They both play dirty and try to behave as if they are not. It would be one thing if they owned it–but they don’t. It’s the same reason why I disliked Stockton and Malone years ago. That’s not Jayhawk basketball Mario. Why don’t you and Elijah Johnson take that mess overseas somewhere, will ya?

I may have to get League Pass before it’s all said and done. I purposely avoided the Cleveland-Portland game because hey–it’s the Cavaliers– and missed one of the best games of the year (according to Lebron). I felt way more remorse about missing the dueling point guards , than missing Lillard’s game winner against Detroit (I watched it up until OT because the Warriors were playing the Suns–seemed anti-climatic once it was certain that they were playing an extra 5 minutes) on Sunday. I been streaming the games on certain illegal websites for free, but the problem with that is that you can’t go back and watch replays of the games you missed. League Pass is at least good for that. I don’t have enough free time to watch Eastern Conference basketball in the hopes that I’ll catch lightening in a bottle. Perhaps when I’m finally getting paid to cover bad hoops–but even then it’ll be begrudgingly.

UCLA vs. Duke tonight as well. I’m hearing some hype coming out of the PAC-12. I’m gonna have to ch-ch-ch- check it out. Check back in with me next week. Hopefully this holiday break I can restart the running “Lovable Losers” series.

Peace.

Fakin it til They Makin’ it [Originally Posted 1/10/14 on sportsblog.com]

Big win for the Jayhawks the other night. The start of conference play and their latest mini-swoon lend to a visible increase of intensity for Oklahoma. They played like they were tired of losing, with Selden leading the way with 15 early points in the first half.

I liked the aggression, the Jayhawks were still making mistakes, but they were not lackadaisical. This was important to see because Oklahoma (and every team they will face the rest of the season) is capable of beating them. It almost happened too. Cameron Clark put on a show the other night, putting up 32 points. I was very impressed with his game, and he was so hot at one point, that I was surprised whenever anyone but him shot the ball. Nevertheless, OU is a jump shooting team, and KU put the ball inside when they needed to, with Perry Ellis putting up a very quiet 22 points and 11 rebounds. OU is probably NIT bound, but they are still a lot to handle. They didn’t quit and played to the final whistle. Respect.

It may take until the end of the season before this team gels into the collection of players everyone (including me) envisioned. There may be some clunkers, and ugly wins, but if they have some grit, then another conference title can be won. Jayhawks fans will have to endure the growing pains. I’m still not altogether sure if this season is only the build up for next year. Inexperience could be their fatal flaw in this year’s tournament.

Some random thoughts before I go:

I wonder how well a lineup of Connor Frankemp, Brandon Greene,Wiggins, Selden, and Embiid would play together. That’s a line-up that could really spread the floor against the right team. I wonder if Self will unveil that combination any during these next few games.

It seems like any combination Jamari Traylor, Landen Lucas, and Tarik Black at power forward and center will result in an extravaganza of outside shots and 3 second violations. The Jayhawks get slower and more predicable on offense when this clunky lineup is on the floor. It can get ugly sometimes.
I love watching Jayhawks games at the bar for the atmosphere as much for the game. Streaming it on the laptop and projecting it on the wall can be just as nice–especially when I’m trying to save money. One of my favorite things about streaming is the random channels that you end up on. For some reason commercials don’t seem quite as mundane and annoying when they are in Russian.

I have a hunch that Wiggins will unleash the beast for a game or two during this upcoming stretch. I could see it being in Ames; in a hostile environment. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was next Saturday against Oklahoma State. It might be a few years until Wiggins finally gets a hold of what Deion Sanders referred to as “his dog”. It took Kevin Durant losing the Western Conference Finals to fully embrace that nasty streak. I’ve noticed it come out when someone pisses Wiggins off, but he hasn’t quite harnessed that viciousness yet.

If Jamari Traylor decides to focus on passing, rebounding, setting screens, and defense, he will find himself with plenty of playing time. Traylor’s offensive game is not the most polished, but if he makes up his mind that he would focus on the above things and get garbage points when they arrived, Self would have trouble keeping him off the floor.

There seems to be a lack of a discernible defensive leader on this team;someone who sets the tone for the team, and makes sure everyone has their assignments. Part of this may be from a lack of cohesion; having not played together enough. This concerns me because the team is putting up points but still giving them up as well. It’s nice to know when you are on the road, in a hostile environment, that you can get a stop on defense whenever you need one.

I’m liking what is going on out in Wichita. I watched a game the other night on TV and decided I’m going to have to make a trip there. I like the team’s makeup and I like their coach Gregg Marshall. This team reminds me of those Butler squads that went back to back Final Fours. I think this team is good enough to make it to the championship game. If they were to play Kansas tomorrow, I would favor them to beat KU. KU has a more talented roster, but right now Wichita State is the better team (in fact, if the tournament started next week, I would not feel confident this KU squad had what it took to get past the sweet sixteen).

I like Wichita’s Ron Baker (in my opinion almost a good of a passer as Luke Walton). I like their point guard Fred VanFleet, I like Cleanthony Early, and I like Nick Wiggins (who is more of a grinder than his brother). It feels like there is something special going on right now in Wichita. It may not last longer than this season, but it is worth keeping an eye on.

I saw the “U” play UNC the other night. They really miss Shane Larkin, but I could easily see them making some noise by next year (this year, NIT bound). I have liked Jim Larranaga since his George Mason days, and Miami is lucky to have such a good player’s coach.

I need to see more Victor Oladipo. The backcourt of Jameer Nelson, Arron Afflalo, and Oladipo is almost worth watching Orlando Magic games. I’m not crazy about the point guard experiment with Oladipo, but I think he will be a great 2 guard. He is athletic and a great defender He definitely has that “dog” harnessed. I may go on to regret saying this, but he seems to have that nasty streak that Jordan had in him. What if Orlando lucked into a lottery pick and got Embiid, Parker, or Julius Randle? Any of those 3 players with Oladipo and Afflalo would put the Eastern conference on notice; something else to keep an eye on as the season progresses.

Louisville’s Russ Smith and Chris Jones may be the best backcourt east of Cameron Indoors. They are explosive.

UCLA games at Pauley Pavillion look like the pick to click. You know UCLA hoops is back when you see NBA stars going to the games on their night off. Doc Rivers, Steve Nash, Phil Jackson, and Baron Davis were all in attendance for the UCLA-Arizona game.

Last night’s game was very fun to watch. I would be surprised if there were less than 6 future NBA players from this game. UCLA has a tendency to put guys in the NBA who went on to have better pro careers than college. I think Kyle Anderson is going to be the rawest of anybody who played in this game. With his height and his handles, and his ability to finish, he could be the next Penny Hardaway. He could leave now and get drafted pretty high, but it may serve him well to stay another year in college. Unfortunately UCLA is a first half team. They played two entertaining first halves against Duke and Arizona. The second half of both games they would lose focus for long stretches of time with bad shots and careless turnovers. That being said, they will make for a very watchable NIT run.

Arizona looks like a very balanced team. I like the backcourt of Nick Johnson and A.J. McConnell. Aaron Gordon made me to squeal a couple times last night after throwing it down.
If there is a school with better looking basketball cheerleaders than UCLA, I’d love to attend a game there. Wow! I thought KU had some great looking cheerleaders. I’d take UCLA’s stable over half the squads in the NBA. Much respect.

UCLA has some sweet uniforms. Classic.

I forgot how much I miss Bill Walton’s musings and rambling. What a great ambassador for the game of basketball. Reading his autobiography “Nothing But Net” was a real influence on my love for the game. His affection and enthusiasm for the game is contagious.

We’ll see if there is any momentum tomorrow against the K-State Wildcats who won a share of the Big 12 conference title last year. They beat Oklahoma State last Saturday so this will be interesting. One thing for sure, there will be some intensity tomorrow–all day long. Bring on the weekend.

Embeast Mode [Originally posted on sportsblog.com 1/15/14]

That loud crash you heard was the back axles straining from the weight of all those people jumping back on the bandwagon. After early non conference losses, people were ready to bury the Jayhawks for dead. If Kansas beats up on Oklahoma State on Saturday, then the same people who over hyped KU– only to abandon them after the San Diego State game–will be ready to crown them champs before we are even a third of the way through the schedule.

Let’s check out who the Jayhwaks lost to:

1)Villanova. They were unranked before the Battle of Atlantis tournament started. Now they are sitting #6 in the country.

2) Florida. They were top ten at the time they beat KU, and now they are # 7 in the nation.

3) Colorado. Also a top 25 team that was unranked during the time they beat Kansas. Now they are #21 in the nation.

4) San Diego State. Another top ten team that KU barely lost in a pretty physical game.

None of those losses were enough to justify the panic that some Jayhawks fans had. Critics outside of Lawrence were quick to write them off as too hyped even if they were the main culprits creating such media hype. It is a long season and there are still some highs and lows for the team to navigate. It seems silly to over react either way to how a team plays in January.

Notes from Monday’s game:

Big ups to Nadir Thaarpe for playing the way everyone was hoping he would. 23 points 6 rebounds and 4 assists may not get him out Self’s doghouse permanently, but it is a great start. As much as the Jayhawks need his outside shooting, I hope that Nadir doesn’t forget that his team needs his passing more than anything else. He has to get the ball into the playmakers’ hands. Every shot that went in for Thaarpe elicited a “Tharpeedo” yell from one of my buddies the other night. I know it’s kind of corny but I’m digging it.

After DeAndre Kane hit the 3 pointer to tie it up at the half, I was certain that the Jayhawks were in for a dogfight. I was severely disappointed that the Cyclones second half strategy was to flop and try to foul out KU’s big men. Besides Kane (who I believe could be a late round gem for a team like the Spurs–I think playing for Pops would be good for his development), I was not that impressed with any of the Iowa State players. This was the eighth ranked team in the country? It just goes to show how arbitrary the top 25 rankings really are. Iowa State played like some busters. As happy as I was to see KU perform like they did, I was just as disappointed that the Cyclones didn’t play better in the 2nd half.

I was even less impressed with the officiating. They fell for every flop that Iowa State attempted, and they blew the whistle way too much. It really interrupted the flow of the game and I hope that teams don’t copycat this strategy to try and get the KU big men out of the game. I also think people are over reacting about Embiid and teams are picking on him specifically to try and draw flagrants on him. That flagrant 1 call on him early in Monday’s game was a horrible call. The NCAA needs to nip this in the bud as soon as possible.

Embiid was in “Embeast” mode (courtesy of Sam) during one particular stretch of the game (he finished 7-8 with 16 points, 9 rebounds, 2 steals and 5 blocks).To see a player take over the game on both ends of the court like Embiid did the other night, makes me wonder how good he will be come tournament time. There were some Kareem jokes made the other night concerning his goggles, but it doesn’t seem such a stretch to suggest that Embiid could be a franchise changing center in the NBA. It is unreal just how fast his game has developed since the start of the season. I came away from Monday night’s game convinced that Joel is the best player on the team.

I wonder if having an enforcer on the floor with Embiid like Tarik Black, would help alleviate the bush league tactics of other teams, trying to get Embiid off his game. Sometimes its necessary to have these kinds of guys. Charles Oakley is the first player to come to mind who fit this role. Rick Mahorn for the Bad Boy Pistons is another. Tarik Black is the only true grimy player I can think of on the roster (though Wayne Shelden looks like he isn’t afraid to alpha dog when need be) who can protect guys like Wiggins and Embiid from taking cheap shots from the other teams. I guess that would mean a front line of Jamari Traylor and Ellis, but maybe that would open the lanes up a bit. It would be interesting to see these wrinkles for a couple of minutes a game just to see how it looked. I’m going to keep an eye out for it.

Lastly, as much as I liked Saturday’s uniforms, I disliked Monday’s uniforms just as much. I couldn’t get past the intrusive pinstripes on the gray background. I liked the font and lettering on the jerseys themselves. I didn’t even mind the gray. But those red pinstripes though……..

There is a lot to look forward to this week and weekend:

UCLA vs. Colorado

Oklahoma vs. Baylor

Denver at Golden State

Portland and San Antonio

Golden State and Oklahoma City (Not quite the luster without Russ Westbrook)

Niners-Seahawks (I’m taking the Niners–my boy Kaepernick is going to get it done up there)

Patriots-Broncos (Just a hunch, but I think the Pats like being the underdogs.)

Kansas vs. Oklahoma State

I’ve had this game circled since the beginning of the season. This is the litmus test to see how difficult it will be to win the Big 12. I’ve heard some people say that they Cowpokes are going to be hurting without Michael Cobbins, but the rest of the team can pitch in to get 5 points and 5 rebounds. I get the feeling that Marcus Smart is going to want to show the nation what he has to offer as a player as well (this may or may not work against him–we’ll see). It’s going to be an exciting atmosphere especially in regards to how well Smart plays. I’m doing whatever I can to get in the building on Saturday. Wish me luck.

A Pretty Good Start [originally posted on sportsblog.com 1/21/14]

Mitch Richmond and Chris Mullin followed former teammate Tim Hardaway’s lead and flew into town to see what the hype was about.

Wayne Selden made one of those trademark “Kansas basketball” hustle plays that he is becoming known for (which leads me to ask if he is the emotional leader of the team).

Corey Jefferson and Isaiah Austin played about as well as I expected them to; each chipping in 16 points. Brady Heslip went “Phil Forte” on the Jayhawks, shooting 6 for 10; all but one of them 3 pointers.

The game itself was uglier than Baylor’s Highlighter yellow jerseys. The second half barely had any flow whatsoever, and both teams had a combined 32 turnovers (although Tharpe himself had none) . Truth be told, I was a little bored. I spent most of the game wondering how many teams are capable of beating KU, and looking for ways that it could happen.

It would be easy to throw the teams that already beat KU into the discussion, Florida, Colorado, Villanova, and San Diego State. I think that would be lazy though. Kansas is better than all four of these teams, and if they played again, the only team I could see getting away with another W would be san Diego State with their physical front court and solid guard play.

I went through the top 25 (which means nothing really let’s be honest. Villanova just let Creighton put up 96 on them. This means that Creighton will jump up higher than they should be, and Villanova will drop to a ranking more suitable for them. I’m not sure if any of the top ten teams that KU beat are really top ten teams. Villanova was a #4) and only found four teams that the Jayhawks should be scared to play:

#1 Arizona- possibly the most complete team out there.

#2 Syracuse-deadly zone scheme, great coaching and long bodies

#3 Michigan State- any Izzo coached team will be a dogfight.

#5 Wichita State- a team that I think can beat ANYBODY in the country.

If the Jayhawks do lose a game in the NCAA’s it will be because of turnovers not talent. They lead the Big 12 in turnovers; which may or may not have something to do with being the 4th youngest team in the nation.A lot of games left in conference play. Its clear that KU is on track to dominate “the best basketball conference in the land” (ACC?). If I were a betting man, I’d say this team shouldn’t lose more than 2 conference games this year. You never know about these things though, I was so sure it would be a Patriots-Niners Super Bowl. Now its the Seahawks and Broncos in the Stupor Bowl. Of course this is why they play the games. The gap in talent and depth between Kansas and the rest of the conference is immense, and the gauntlet they just went through proves it. I hope Self has been teaching them in practice how to cut down the nets.

Stretch Run [Originally posted on sportsblog.com 2/20/14]

A big day today for this hoops fan. It is Sir Charles Barkley’s birthday (my nephew also born on this fine day 3 years ago). The NBA trade deadline ends in roughly 2 hours. Duke and North Carolina play tonight at 8pm, but the big boys throw down in OKC. KD vs. Lebron II: The return of Russ. If that isn’t enough, Golden State and Houston face off at 9:30 pm. I’m clearing off my schedule and unless there is an emergency, I’m not leaving my bedroom past 7 pm central time, except to eat and use the bathroom.

N.U.T.S (Never Underestimate The Spurs)

I should know by now that even if the big 3 of the Spurs aren’t playing, that Popovich will have his team ready to compete. The highlights were awesome and the game went down to the wire. I’m actually less surprised about the Spurs winning as I am that the Blazers still played relatively well without Lamarcus (out for a week with a groin injury). I’m sure Damien Lillard chipping in 31 points helped keep them in the game.

I had the choose between the 9 pm tip-offs of the Golden State and Sacramento game and Spurs-Blazers. No “Boogie” no problem right? Maybe I should have watched the Portland game, but the Dubs are one of my favorites (I kind of feel like the Kings are this surrogate delinquent child that I want so badly to see succeed) Isiah Thomas had a nice heat check moment (he put up 26 points 7 assists) that made me text my old roommate a University of Washington alum, and he responded that the Spurs game was amazing.

The Kings kept coming at the Warriors, but by the last minutes, the game was practically over, with Warriors up by 10. Curry wasn’t even the star of the game; it was David Lee with a “ho hum” 23 and 11. The most memorable part of the game was Jermaine O’Neal getting T’d up by the refs because he chose to let a ball (one he could have easily grabbed and retained possession of) go out of bounds, and the refs awarded it to Sacramento. I thought this was silly because the refs judgment would not have entered the picture had he just grabbed the board, but his tech allowed Sac to help cut down a shrinking Warriors’ lead, and got the Sacramento crowd into the game.

It was during the game that I saw that the Dubs had traded Kent Bazemore and Marshon Brooks for Steve Blake. I’ve always been kind of cold on Steve Blake ever since he missed a breakaway dunk that cost Maryland a sweet sixteen game back in 2003. He’s a good backup, I think I had my heart set on Golden State acquiring Andre Miller–no matter how unrealistic that was. He will definitely help the Warriors down the stretch. If they can find another big man on the cheap to play defense, they might be able to sneak into the Western Conference Finals.

Suddenly Everything Has Changed

There are 5 games left on the regular season schedule.

Kansas has 2 games on the road, one in Stillwater, the other in Morgantown. With the 3 home games against Texas, Oklahoma, and Texas Tech. I think if they beat Texas on Saturday and go at least 4-1, the conference title streak is easily intact. 3-2 will be pushing it, and KU fans may be rooting for other teams to lose. Backing into a regular season title doesn’t leave me feeling good about the Jayhawks chances of making the Final Four. I never thought it would be easy, but I also didn’t think the Jayhawks would struggle this much to score either.The offense this year has been just as ugly as last year’s squad, where it seemed like players didn’t know what to do. I do have to admit that I found the Andrew Wiggins baseline dunk amusing, for no other reason that invoked that scene from “Friday” (a wise Jaye Crockett moved out the way –making him Pooh’s dad–cut to 1:29 on that scene). Embiid’s baseline move early in the second half was pretty ill too. This hasn’t been the most cohesive unit ever put together, but you’re almost guaranteed a Sportscenter moment or two every game.

Texas could really put some pressure on the Jayhawks with a victory on Saturday. Their remaining games are Baylor and TCU in Austin, and games in Lawrence, Norman, and Lubbock. Even with a win in Allen Fieldhouse, they would still have a tough road ahead of them.
Iowa State is still a dark horse, but they have 3 of their last 5 games on the road, and would need a lot of help considering that KU already beat them twice, and they split the games against UT. Oklahoma would need a LOT of help as well, with a 4-2 conference record. I didn’t realize they were 19-7 for the year. I would be surprised if they didn’t make the tournament.

I’m still trying to talk myself out of going to the game on Saturday. If the atmosphere is anything like the OSU game on Januray 18th, then its going to be loud. There is a lot more on the line than revenge for this Saturday’s game. I wonder how the Longhorns are going to respond when they walk into the Fieldhouse and feel all that pressure. Saturday is simply the denouement of a hype week for hoops. Tonight is the apex. Enjoy!