Saturday, March 27, 2010
Writer's note: I promise this will be my last Tiger Woods column until, well, A) something happens on the golf course involving Tiger or B) he returns to his philandering ways, drives into another tree or has Roger Clemens inject HGH into his, well, you know.
Anyway, the point of this column is pretty simple — to state that while I believe Woods is genuinely contrite about his, ahem, misdeeds, he's still the same old Tiger. In other words, he's still controlling, still has a huge ego and still won't let himself be vulnerable.
All I need to know to form that opinion: The date of Woods' first open press conference since that disastrous Thanksgiving night for him: Monday, April 5. Sure, it's Masters week. So it makes sense, right? But, um, guess what else is happening that day and night?
Oh, just the college basketball national title game and the first full day of Major League Baseball. This is not to say — obvious statement of the column — that Woods' press conference will be blown off, although I'd be quite entertained by such a thing. No, it will still be televised live, tweeted live, tumbled live, Facebooked live, (insert new form of media) live.
But it won't get the same lasting, dissecting attention, the same let's-talk-about-what-Tiger-said-for-the-entire-day coverage on the radio and the tube that it would receive on just about any other spring day.
Well played, Tiger.
The bottom line is this — once Woods returns to the course, starts hitting 6-irons 230 yards to within 4 feet of the cup, begins dropping 53-footers, the public and the media will return to viewing him as Tiger the Golfer. Sure, such thoughts will always be accompanied by "Let's remember, Tiger is not a saint" tangents within the brain — that's just the way our minds work; we can't block out a huge aspect of a person's life when thinking of them — but we'll primarily worry about what he's doing on the fairways and greens.
And there's nothing wrong with that. Heck, that's what we've always watched Woods for, admired him for, been awed by. We've thought he was a good family man and a good person in addition to his World's Greatest Golfer tag. But did we really care? Nope, it's always been about the golf.
Which is why Woods can't wait for April 5 to be over and then for April 8, when he'll take his first swing of his first tournament post-life-changing-train-wreck. Obviously, there'll be plenty of questions that first tournament or two about the whole scandal, but they'll be more about how it has affected Woods and his golf game.
Then by the U.S. Open, it'll all be transported to the back of reporters' question queues, and the main question will return to: When (and if) will Tiger surpass Jack Nicklaus' 18 majors?
Woods has always manipulated the media, never given more than he wanted, always controlled press conferences. Don't expect that to change. He gave two five-minute exclusives last weekend, but don't think that any of the questions caught him off guard, that he wasn't completely prepared for each segment. He, like Kobe Bryant, will do as good a job as possible at repairing his image, regaining endorsements and becoming, once again, the greatest golfer on earth.
No, we'll never forget his infidelities — emphasis on the plural. And no, Woods should never be seen, again, as a saint or even be labeled a "good guy."
But he remains one of the most powerful athletes in the world, not to mention one of the most controlling athletes. That hasn't changed and never will. And Woods will likely retake his throne atop the golf world, much to the masses' delight, returning us all to a normalcy we're comfortable with.
When Tiger the Golfer is the only Tiger in our minds.
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
I don't know if I've ever agonized more over a bracket. Because here's the thing -- I know there are going to be plenty of upsets. But where they'll happen? I got nothin'. So what is my scared, basketball-obsessed brain doing?
Yep, going with the favorites. As in all four No. 1 seeds to make the Final Four. This year, more than most, that simply won't happen. No way. But I can't know for sure which one, or two, or even three, won't get to Indianapolis. So I'm going with all of them.
And with that, my tournament picks:
1 Kansas def. 16 Lehigh: Love the Patriot League. In fact, I went to more than half of American's games this season. And I'm happy the AU Eagles don't have to face KU.
9 Northern Iowa def. 8 UNLV: Gotta love the experienced Missouri Valley team.
5 Michigan State def. 12 New Mexico State: Here's to thinking the good MSU shows up.
4 Maryland def. 13 Houston: Here's to thinking the good Maryland shows up.
11 San Diego State def. 6 Tennessee: He doesn't have a Fab Five, but Steve Fisher's forming a decent program in a beautiful city. Nice bounceback from the Michigan debacle.
3 Georgetown def. 14 Ohio: My high school classmate played for Ohio. Besides that, don't know much about the Bobcats ... except that they won't beat G'Town.
10 Georgia Tech def. 7 Oklahoma State: The Yellow Jackets are good when they're not throwing the ball out of bounds.
2 Ohio State def. 15 UC Santa Barbara: Let's see ... would I rather spend a March weekend in Milwaukee or Santa Barbara? Yep, the Gauchos won't mind heading home early.
1 Kansas def. 9 Northern Iowa: This will be a carbon copy of the Jayhawks' survival against Cornell. Fall down early, make big plays late.
5 Michigan State def. 4 Maryland: Ohh, this will be a fun one to watch. Izzo yelling. Gary sweating. And the more talented Spartans winning.
3 Georgetown def. 11 San Diego State: Georgetown is usually either really good or really mediocre. Thinkin' the really good outfit will show up for this one.
2 Ohio State def. 10 Georgia Tech: The Jackets' big men will create some problems for the Buckeyes, who will make up for the disadvantage with superior outside shooting. Threes beat twos.
1 Kansas def. 5 Michigan State: In a rematch of last year's regional semifinal, this time it will be Sherron Collins outdeuling Kalin Lucas in the final minute (and stealing his girlfriend in the process).
2 Ohio State def. 3 Georgetown: Game of the tournament so far, but who's got the best player in the country? (Answer: If you don't know this answer, you're either an illusioned Hoyas fan or you're not reading this column.)
1 Kansas def. 2 Ohio State: The whole 3s beating twos thing works well ... unless you're making about eight 3s compared to 30 twos for them. Yep, Kansas will absolutely pound the Buckeyes down low with Cole "I'm missing a prominent tooth" Aldrich.
1 Syracuse def. 16 Vermont: It's tempting to pick the Catamounts in a repeat of the 14-3 upset a few years back. Something tells me, though, that wouldn't be wise.
8 Gonzaga def. 9 Florida State: The 'Zags play pretty, the 'Noles play ugly. I like pretty over ugly.
12 UTEP def. 5 Butler: The Derrick "I'm gaining" Caracter tour continues.
13 Murray State def. 4 Vanderbilt: If I wasn't trying to provide somewhat knowledgeable picks, I'd have the Racers as my national champs. They'll, um, at least race by the slow-footed 'Dores.
6 Xavier def. 11 Minnesota: A very uninspiring 6-11 matchup, which leads me to go with the team that actually deserves to be in the tournament.
3 Pittsburgh def. 14 Oakland: Very tempted to go with the Grizz, but then I read that they lost their games against big-conference teams by, like, 87 points per game. Influential stat.
7 BYU def. 10 Florida: The Cougars always lose in the first round, but not with my man Jimmer Fredette!
2 Kansas State def. 15 North Texas: It's only appropriate that the Mean Green take on Frank Martin's club, because he often looks mean -- and, almost, green -- on the sideline.
1 Syracuse def. 8 Gonzaga: In a repeat of last year's Ty Lawson and the Big Toe scene in Greensboro, Arinze Onuaku's quad will be examined and talked about as much as any quad in the history of quads. Then he'll play, and the 'Cuse will win.
12 UTEP def. 13 Murray State: At halftime, CBS will do a feature on Derrick Caracter's newfound character on the court.
6 Xavier def. 3 Pittsburgh: In a rematch of last year's Sweet 16 game, the Musketeers get their revenge!
2 Kansas State def. 7 BYU: Kansas State will be angrier and hungrier for this victory. BYU was happy to plow through that first-round roadblock.
1 Syracuse def. 12 UTEP: Character's great run ends, but not before he offers a genuine handshake-back-slap to Wes Johnson in the postgame line.
2 Kansas State def. 6 Xavier: Wildcats have way too much talent for the Musketeers, who realize they've reached expectations and don't want to make Frank mad.
1 Syracuse def. 2 Kansas State: The more I think about it, the less I like this pick. Which means I'll probably be wrong. But "whatev," as the kids say these days. Syracuse has got talent, has got the senior white guy who can shoot, has got two bangers, has got a HOF coach...
1 Kentucky def. 16 East Tennessee State: I've heard a lot about ETSU's run-and-gun style, which almost took down Pitt a year ago. And the Wildcats let teams hang in games... Um, no.
8 Texas def. 9 Wake Forest: In the ultimate "The season doesn't end at the end of January, guys!" game, the Longhorns wake up first.
12 Cornell def. 5 Temple: In the ultimate "I love both teams and I hate the Selection Committee" game, I pick the upset for the sake of, well, picking the upset.
6 Marquette def. 11 Washington: Can the Pac-10 win a tournament game? See the South.
3 New Mexico def. 14 Montana: As a basketball nut, I feel very low for not having seen a minute of NM hoops this year. I've heard it's pretty good, although I haven't seen Montana either...
7 Clemson def. 10 Missouri: Andy Katz tried to hype this game up, but I can't. Neither team has interested me since Clemson got run at home by Duke and Mizzou got dominated in its house by KU.
2 West Virginia def. 15 Morgan State: I've heard a lot about Todd Bozeman's squad possibly giving Huggy Bear's fits. And I full expect it to happen. But then there's the Da'Sean Butler Factor.
1 Kentucky def. 8 Texas: As the experts have said, Texas is fully capable of beating Kentucky. And I'm fully capable of riding my bike down the entire West Coast. But will I do it again? Nope.
12 Cornell def. 4 Wisconsin: C'mon! What fun would it be to take the No. 4 seed here. Seriously. They're almost mirror images of each other. No more than 109 points will be scored.
6 Marquette def. 3 New Mexico: I love the "gritty" Golden Eagles and Buzz "I'm gonna go all crazy by the bench but I'll never look intimidating" Williams.
2 West Virginia def. 7 Clemson: In an ugly, ugly game, the Mountaineers will commit slightly fewer turnovers and shoot better (38 percent) to move on.
1 Kentucky def. 12 Cornell: Sorry, Big Red, but no matter how hard you try, you won't be able to guard DeMarcus Cousins or John Wall. Then again, Cousins could throw a hissy fit and cost his team the game. Maybe the Big Red should trash talk him, try to get him pissed...
2 West Virginia def. 6 Marquette: Hey, it's a Big East matchup. And, hey, WVU won its only matchup against the Golden Eagles. That's enough for me!
1 Kentucky def. 2 West Virginia: This is one of those matchups where I really, really want to take WVU. But bottom line: The Mountaineers aren't a good shooting team and won't get many second chances against the Wildcats. And Butler has already reached his quota of six game-winning shots.
1 Duke def. 16 Winthrop/Arkansas-Pine Bluff: I feel bad (kind of) picking this before we even know Duke's opponent. Maybe I'll change it after watching the game tonight...
9 Louisville def. 8 California: In the most obvious 8-9 pick, everyone east of the Rockies is taking the Cardinals. Which, obvi, means they'll lose. Oh, well.
5 Texas A&M def. 12 Utah State: I already picked two 5-12 upsets. Can't add another one.
4 Purdue def. 13 Siena: Everyone is picking Siena, and I can't blame them after the Boilers' 11-point, it's-not-high-school-hoops-any-more half Saturday. But something tells me they'll have some life in Spokane.
6 Notre Dame def. 11 Old Dominion: Note to Notre Dame: Don't watch the tape of ODU beating Georgetown in preparation for this one. I was at the game and am still convinced Greg Monroe had food poisoning.
3 Baylor def. 14 Sam Houston State: I sitll haven't gotten over the fact that Ekpe Udoh left Michigan and is now a force for the Bears, a real force.
7 Richmond def. 10 St. Mary's: I've only seen about 7 minutes of the Spiders this season, but word is they have the experienced backcourt recipe for March success.
2 Villanova def. 15 Robert Morris: Speaking of an experienced backcourt, seen Scottie Reynolds lately?
1 Duke def. 9 Louisville: Remember -- Cal will likely be in this game. But just in case it's Louisville, everyone is talking about a 9-1 upset. Well, it's possible. But if I'm betting my bike on this one -- and I really value my bike -- I'm taking Duke and its experience and rebounding.
4 Purdue def. 5 Texas A&M: Oh, what the stink. Nobody has Purdue going this far. But A&M is no better than the Boilers sans Robbie Hummel. An experienced backcourt will pull this one out.
3 Baylor def. 6 Notre Dame: Udoh will block Harangody three times, and the Bears will advance to Houston...
2 Villanova def. 7 Richmond: In the battle of experienced backcourts, I'll give the edge to the one that hit a game-winning shot with 0.5 seconds left a year ago to go to the Final Four. Watch the video and you'll see a blurry guy three rows above the Villanova bench. That was me during my glorious reporting days.
1 Duke def. 4 Purdue: This is where the suddenly overachieving Boilers meet their match. The Blue Devils' Big three of Jon Scheyer, Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler will be too much for Hummel-less (I enjoyed typing that) Purdue.
3 Baylor def. 2 Villanova: In Houston, the Bears will play off the home crowd and Udoh will bother Reynolds n' company every time they penetrate the lane.
1 Duke def. 3 Baylor: I'm pretty sure 74 percent of the world is picking the Bears in Houston. They're the sexy pick, the I-hate-Duke pick, and very possibly the right pick. But I'm gonna go against the current and say the Blue Devils knock down enough outside shots and win the rebounding battle to rediscover that thing called the Final Four.
1 Kansas def. 1 Syracuse: In a rematch of the 2003 championship game, this time it's Marcus Morris blocking Andy Rautins' 3-pointer to seal the victory. But let's get serious -- the Jayhawks have all the tools to win this game, including the high-low option to pick apart the 2-3.
1 Duke def. 1 Kentucky: Again going against the current. Everyone loves John Wall -- just checked his Facebook page, and he has 153,532 fans. Nolan Smith, meanwhile, has just 324 FB friends (even I have more!). But Smith will play good defense on Wall, who'll shoot miserably and struggle to run the offense against Duke's pressure D. And Smith will gain 1,955 FB friends immediately after the game.
1 Kansas def. 1 Duke 75-67: This is where I switch directions and go with the current. Look, as Jay Bilas would say, the Jayhawks are the best team in the land. They've proved that throughout the season. They've got about 487 first-round prospects. And Bill Self has already won a title. Duke will stay close for a while. But in the end, the Jayhawks will wear down the Blue Devils and win their second title in three seasons.
Enjoy the madness, everyone. This might be our last perfect, non-ridiculous-and-idiotic-96-team-field March.
Saturday, March 13, 2010
I was in shock. I was transfixed to my seat. I couldn't explain what I was seeing on my computer screen.
Michigan, the underachieving, hugely disappointing, uninspiring team that had hibernated for most of the college basketball season — falling all the way from a preseason No. 15 ranking to an under-.500 record and a likely trip to a postseason chock full of, well, nothing — was playing like it hadn't for most of four months.
The Wolverines had stormed back from a 13-point deficit against Ohio State, the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten Tournament, and Evan Turner, my national player of the year (and I'm far from alone in tabbing him that). They had done it in less than 10 minutes, using precise offensive execution, a series of huge shots by junior Manny Harris, who finally decided he'd had enough of this losing thing, and some scrappy defense they hadn't shown the entire game.
They were ahead! By two points, 68-66. And just 2.2 seconds remained on the clock. Not only that, but Ohio State faced an inbounds pass from under its own basket. In other words, inbounder David Lighty had 94 feet in front of him before the basket his team needed to drop the ball in. Not an easy task.
All the Wolverines needed to do was keep their foot on the gas pedal for 2.2 more seconds, and they'd be in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tourney, riding more momentum than a tsunami wave (and, as we would dutifully learn a couple hours later, they would face mediocre Illinois. And, as we would learn about six hour after that, Michigan State — which destroyed and embarrassed Michigan last Sunday — would be out of their way, cleared from the bracket by an equally desperate and inspired Minnesota squad).
So as smart as I knew it was to view Michigan through a pessimistic lens, I actually thought it would have a chance to win the tournament and get that automatic berth to the Big Dance riding that aforementioned tsunami wave. Yes, 10 minutes of basketball in Indianapolis had developed that opinion for me.
But that's when John Beilein, a coach I very much respect who I think will get this program to a very high level — hopefully not too far down the road — just zoned out, had a brain freeze, insert phrase for not thinking.
Instead of putting a man on Lighty, taking away his vision, Michigan settled into a 1-3-1 zone, with four of the players back near the 3-point arc on the opposite end of the court. Not even the up man, Stu Douglass, was close to the ball. So Lighty was able to easily inbound the ball to Turner, who — with a full head of momentum — took a few easy dribbles and pulled up right in front of Douglass for a 37-footer with 0.2 seconds left.
Yes, Turner was able to catch the ball in the backcourt and get that close because not a single Wolverine pressured him. (Note: Did I mention this guy is arguably the nation's best?) As he dribbled up court, I had a sinking feeling about what was just ticks away from occurring. It seemed too inevitable, too much the story of Michigan's season.
But unlike throughout most of the past four months, Michigan's players could take no blame for the 69-68 loss that, almost definitely, ended the team's season (Beilein has said the only non-NCAA tournament the Wolverines (15-17) would accept an invitation to is the NIT). This one has to fall completely on the coach.
All he had to do was put Zack Gibson, with his long arms, on Lighty, jumping up and down and creating all kinds of issues for the inbounder. All he had to do was put a defender — maybe Douglas, maybe Harris — on Turner. Make him take those few dribbles against pressure. There's no way he would have made it past half court, and that shot would have been infinitely more difficult.
Clearly, Beilein was guarding against the long baseball pass. But let me say this — I've watched a ton of end-game situations this year, and the long baseball pass is the most ineffective last-second play. Period. Out of all the games in which I've seen it employed, it was only completed once (during the Kentucky-Vanderbilt game in February) and the Commodores missed the shot that followed. Additionally, even if the Buckeyes had completed such a pass, there would have been a good chance of the completion resulting in a two-point attempt, which only would have tied the game.
Let David Lighty, with Gibson in his face, try to go all Ichiro on you, Beilein. Seriously. What are the percentages? The decision was terrible, and sadly it ended the season in which, finally, the Wolverines were showing glimpses of playing up to their potential.
So what now? How do we sum this up, and what happens to the Wolverines going forward?
Obviously, they'll dearly miss DeShawn Sims, who had an outstanding senior season despite the immense struggles of his teammates. The Wolverines will sorely lack that inside presence with Sims gone. They'll bring in 6-foot-9 Evan Smotrycz, who could immediately contribute as a freshman. Tim Hardaway Jr. is also coming to Ann Arbor, but who knows how he'll fit in with the host of combo guards in stock already?
The fate of next year's team, clearly, will fall on just how good and how great of a leader Harris is. He's said he is coming back, and I believe him because I find him to be a genuine kid and because he needs to return. His draft stock isn't exactly soaring.
On Friday, Harris showed exactly what he needs to do beginning now and into next season. After a big basket, he pounded his chest and showed more emotion than I'd seen from him through this year. When the Wolverines needed big baskets down the stretch, he provided them a pair of extremely difficult moves and shots.
Harris needs to be to the Wolverines next year what Turner has been to the Buckeyes this season. In the offseason, he must work on his ballhandling and being able to attack to his left. In short, he needs to become a complete player who won't go through long shooting slumps, who will play passionate defense like he did down the stretch Friday, and who won't get benched during games by Beilein because of lackadaisical play.
If Harris becomes that player, the Wolverines could be interesting to watch next year. If not, it will likely be another forgettable season.
But for now, sadly, the focus remains on what could have been. On how much more damage these Wolverines could have inflicted if given another day of life, another chance at moving closer to the NCAA Tournament berth that seemed such a given three weeks before Thanksgiving.
For the way those final 2.2 seconds transpired, Beilein has only himself to blame.
Sunday, March 7, 2010
I've wondered for a while if it's even worth writing a column about how horrible expanding the Field of 65 would be. After all, every knowledgeable basketball reporter from Spokane to Gainesville has written one.
But then I picked up The Washington Post yesterday, flipped, as I always do, to the sports section and saw, yes, a mock 96-team bracket. To satisfy your curiosity, here are a handful of the included teams -- Wichita State, Northeastern, South Florida, Texas Tech, Georgia, Northwestern, North Carolina and N.C. State.
Seriously. There is no possible way even Roy Williams could make the case for his team being included in a tournament that will crown the national champion this year. It'd be an ultimate disgrace to the game. This year, more than any, proves the point that 65 teams is plenty -- no more are needed. The class of "bubble" teams is so weak, a few will be included in the tournament who don't deserve to stand on the outskirts of the Dance floor.
And the NCAA is considering expanded the tournament by 31 teams? Outrageous.
But, honestly, the NCAA talking up such an idea doesn't surprise me. What eats at my basketball-loving soul is the fact that hordes of college coaches support the idea. Here are coaches who have been around the sport for decades and seen how popular it's become and what a great spectacle March Madness is ... and they want to, basically, ruin it.
They talk about doing what's right for the game and the sport, yet they don't realize that a 96-team field would water down the regular season so much that no casual fan would care about a game featuring ranked teams in January. Heck, no casual fan would pay attention to the sport until early March. As it stands, that's still somewhat the case, but not to such an extreme. A 96-team tournament would render the regular season meaningless to Joe Bob from Iowa.
Not only that, but the tournament would reek of stale first-round games. And teams would get byes. You can't call a tournament format in which some teams play less games the best solution. Never. Not when an equal-games bracket already exists.
And, of course, the bracket wouldn't be as appealing to millions of everyday cubicle workers across the country.
I mean, I could go on and on with reasons as to why this is the worst idea since trans fats. But everything's been said, every college hoops sage has put it out there. Yet the idea is still afloat, and certain coaches won't back down.
Syracuse and Maryland have both had great seasons. They're both going to enter the NCAA Tournament with high expectations. Yet Jim Boeheim and Gary Williams, respectively, support tournament expansion. They've missed the field of 65 in recent years and didn't like it.
Well, too bad. As John Calipari said, "play better." He's right. The tournament shouldn't be easy to make. Qualifying for it should be a privilege, should be something that's celebrated like we see this time of the year from every conference tournament. If the field had 96 teams, there wouldn't be magic anymore. Teams would make it, take it for granted, lose and call it an unsuccessful season.
And most importantly, dozens of unqualified teams would get a chance to play in the prestigious event after poor seasons, muddying programs' expectations and, well, confusing just about everyone.
Is the NCAA Tournament perfect? No, nothing is. But it's damn close.
Just ask anyone who truly cares about the well-being of college hoops (and not just their job security).
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
Give the NFL this — it's trying. But don't hand the league much more credit. At least not when it comes to introducing the best overtime system for the league.
We all know that the current system is, well, unfair. And while our parents always taught us, "Life's not fair," we don't believe our parents when it comes to NFL extra periods. They should be fair. Both offenses should get a chance with the football. No one wants to see Brett Favre deprived of a chance to throw a back-breaking interception (or, maybe, lead his team to a game-winning field goal).
So the league's powers that be came up with this gem — if the team that starts with the ball manages only a field goal, the opponent gets a possession to "match" the three points or win the game with a touchdown. Of course, the first team can win the game without giving up the ball via a TD. Or the teams can go back and forth exchanging field goals until the bathroom lines at the stadium are so long, they snake around into the stands.
Bottom line: the proposal is gimmicky, not true football, somewhat fair but not completely fair and, more importantly, too different from the first 60 minutes of the game. Some people love the college football system, love its equal-opportunity nature. I can barely stand it. An overtime with no clock, no punting, no time management to worry about?
That's not football.
The solution here — and this isn't the first time I've written on this topic — is simple. Overtime should be a 10-minute representation of the actual game. The teams play out the period, and whoever has the most points at its conclusion, well, wins! Now how 'bout that? Seriously. What's the problem with it?
At 10 minutes, it's not too long that players will complain about extra wear and tear. At 10 minutes, it's long enough that both teams aren't going to get that chance with the ball (and if one doesn't touch the pigskin, then it is undeserving of winning the game). At 10 minutes, it brings clock management, use of timeouts, field position and all that good stuff into play. In general, it's a true representation of the game of football, of every little nuance.
What more could one ask for?
Of course, it's too simple a solution, too obvious, that it will never make the ballot. So for now, we'll have to settle for hearing about gimmicky ideas that could certainly make for entertaining overtime periods enjoyed by buffalo-wing chomping legions of fans.
But the best solution? Ah, that'll have to wait. What's new?