Friday, February 16, 2007

Friday 02/16 A.M. Quickie:
NBA All-Star, Daytona 500, My Birthday

NBA All-Star Weekend! I said this the moment they announced the game would be in Las Vegas: No matter what happens on the court, this is arguably the most exciting single moment for the league since Michael Jordan's final Finals game with the Bulls.

Perhaps we all need to actually be in Vegas to fully appreciate the scope of the pending debauchery, but I think we can all do it justice with our fantasies of the party scene, plus what shapes up to be epic reportage from the scene (particularly from bloggers, who can file the GOOD scoop).

The biggest upshot of the weekend is that it will be such a huge success that the city will not only earn an NBA franchise, but an NHL and MLB franchise, too.

NBA All-Star: The Predictions

*Dunk Contest: Gerald Green. It won't be close. It's going to be a break-out moment for him.

Via Marc Stein's blog at ESPN Insider: Dwight Howard wanted to raise the rim to 12 feet(!), but the NBA nixed it. Amazing idea. Awful bungle by the league. That would have been totally innovative. (Tip: MJD at Fanhouse)

*3-point Contest: Gilbert Arenas. Runner-up a year ago to Dirk, Agent Zero lives up to his season-long hype with a stunning win.

*"Skills" Comp: Kobe. I think he wants it more than LeBron, Wade and Paul.

*Rookies-vs-Sophs: Sophs in a rout. (MVP: Danny Granger.)

*All-Star Game: East. (MVP: LeBron James.)

*Barkley-Bavetta Foot Race: Bavetta.

NBA All-Star: The Shoes. As a bit of a kick fiend, my favorite thing about NBA All-Star Weekend is the shoes. The biggest to watch for:

*LeBron IV: Special-edition gold
*Air Jordan XX2: Debut (on sale Sat.)
*Nike Air Force 25: Huge marketing push
*Converse Wade 2.0: Wade as own brand
*Kobe: Unveils Zoom Kobe 2
*Adidas: ASG editions underwhelming

Daytona 500: Should be a little more interesting, seeing how the sport is revving up its season on a foundation of cheating and recrimination.

I can appreciate the "wink-wink" legacy of "innovation," but it's cheating. And if any other sport was so blatant about it, it would ruin that credibility. That's probably why NASCAR is taking it so seriously.

But there might be a lesson from football and baseball, which have both managed to thrive despite decades of cheating endemic to the sport. (Baseball fans seem to have less tolerance for PEDs than football fans; football fans don't seem to care about PEDs in the least.)

Die-hard NASCAR fans probably don't care about the cheating. They might even be bemused. They might also find the "no-fun" crackdown by NASCAR to be tearing at the fabric of their sport, for the sake of making it more palatable for casual fans.

This balancing act between satisfying the hard-core fans who made the sport the juggernaut it is today and growing the sport with an entire new fan base ("ESPN fans," if you will) is the most fascinating part of NASCAR's growth this season.

(Please: No more debates in the comments about whether NASCAR drivers are athletes or not. You will never be convinced to change your mind – or to change other people's minds. So just let it go.)

Scottie Pippen considering a comeback? I have to say: That would be awesome. If I was him, I'd run right for the team with the combination of star wattage, Finals potential and need at his position: Say, Miami?

(Sam Smith seems to break the story, which speaks directly to my point in The Big Picture interview: Smith is valuable for the nanosecond that it takes to say, "Pippen considering unretirement." Now, bloggers will be much better at delivering the opinion. This on the heels of Smith's column yesterday ripping bloggers for their lack of insightful opinion. I find it ironic that, aside from this single news nugget, he spends the rest of the column engaging in precisely the kind of "Barstool-GM" projections that he was ripping bloggers for doing. How is Smith offering anything beyond superficial b.s. by saying, "Wouldn't it be neat if he was on Team X?" Where are your "sources" now, Sammy? He's such a self-righteous d'bag, I won't even link to his column.)

Tim Hardaway, The Day After: David Stern banned Hardaway from NBA All-Star Weekend. As he should have. Hardaway can (and does) say what he wants, but it doesn't have to be tacitly sanctioned by the NBA.

(By the way, I commend you all on a relatively civil debate in the Comments section. Please remember that no minds are being changed, especially yours.)

MLB: Yankees DUI scandal! Steinbrenner's son-in-law and heir-apparent to run the team, Steve Swindal, was arrested for DUI. Hey, he's got a long way to go before he matches the Boss. Call me when Swindal gets banned from baseball for a few seasons.

College Hoops Weekend: The three most must-see games, in order:

(1) Southern Illinois at Butler. Only the mid-major game of the year. It's the "George Mason-Wichita State of 2007," if you will. (Thanks for setting me straight, Commenters.)

(2) UNC at BC. BC was humiliated at home by Duke. Redemption comes with a win over the Heels, but I'm projecting a second straight home L.

(3) Washington at Pitt. What a random non-conference game for this time of year. UW is so far out on the bubble, it's all but must-win.

Bill Cowher joins "NFL Today" show on CBS, following the standard template for any successful coach: Resign/"retire," spend a year or so doing TV to get your visibility (and popularity) up, then hit the jackpot returning to coaching with an owner trying to make a splash.

Speaking of NFL TV analysts, the NY Post's usual Friday sports-media notes column buries a small rumor that ESPN is considering dropping Michael Irvin. Undoubtedly, this would be HUGE in both the sports-blog world and within traditional media.

And as if you haven't got enough "Cowboys receiver" news, Dallas execs expect T.O. to return to the team next year. Whee.

More MLB: Bonds signs his deal (1Y/$15.8M). Next up: Topping Aaron.

MLB Spring Training: The biggest individual-player story of Spring Training begins today: Daisuke Matsuzaka. Break out the gyroball!

CFB: Is former Arkansas QB Mitch Mustain going to transfer to... USC? Whether his coach would be Carroll or Sarkisian, that would be scary.

Oh, by the way, it's my birthday today: 34, officially kicking off the final year of my consumer relevancy in the "coveted male 18- to 34-year-old" demographic.

I'm hard-pressed to foresee the way that 34 will eclipse 33, given that it marked, personally, the birth of my first (and only) kid and, professionally, the (melo)dramatic combo of the end of the Quickie/start of the blog. But I'm sure it will.

(One last housekeeping note: I'll be traveling this morning and out of town all weekend, so posts might be light. That doesn't mean the conversation can't keep going. I'm opening up the Comments section. Should be a fun live-comment session during the NBA All-Star stuff.)

-- D.S.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Thursday 02/15 A.M. Quickie:
Tim Hardaway: All-Star... Bigot

Tim Hardaway: "I hate gay people." Remember when Hardaway's defining quote was from that Nike ad: "I got skills." That's wiped out.

Just in time for All-Star Weekend, Hardaway has revealed himself as an All-Star bigot.

It is the new leader for Knucklehead Quote of the Year. Not just in the NBA, about this Amaechi story, but in all of sports.

Though I'm quite sure Hardaway isn't alone in his bigotry, he is the only one stupid enough to say something so blantantly bigoted.

I hope Hardaway and his extremist views are marginalized where they belong, but I am also quite sure this quote will now define him.

(Meanwhile, on the opposite end of the quote spectrum, there was Amaechi's insightfully magnanimous response: "At least he's being honest.")

Miss yesterday's Valentine's special?

Duke wins at B.C.: Rumors of Duke's death (or, more accurately, NIT destination) were greatly exaggerated.

In a huge statement game (and, yes, I know, I am loathe to use that phrase in a sport with a 64-team postseason championship tournament), Duke went on the road and beat B.C. on national TV.

And so the dream of Duke being shunted off to the NIT might be over... but the dream of Duke being a dreaded 5-seed lives on!

Team Waltrip busted: NASCAR has a cheating problem that, as I said yesterday, makes the NFL and MLB issues with PEDs seem haphazard.

Kudos to NASCAR for delivering its largest fine ever and for sticking to its crackdown on rule-breakers, but the sport has a HUGE problem: Cheating, not just by individuals (as in NFL or MLB) but at the TEAM LEVEL. Let me put it simply:

Injecting your ass with illegal PEDs seems less deliberate and less noxious than injecting your gas with illegal PEDs.

(And, wow: I'm not sure I've ever delivered a Quickie jinx quite like the one I gave Toyota's NASCAR effort. Yeesh.)

More CBB: No. 10 Washington State beats rival Washington in Seattle. How legit is Wazzu? Are they underrated (via East Coast Bias) or overrated (via East Coast Bias)?

We'll find out over the final four conference games, which include at Oregon (which beat WSU already), UCLA (which beat WSU already) and USC.

(Meanwhile, how did WSU lose to woeful Utah?! Northwestern beat Utah by 30 earlier this season. I'm not sure I can give any bracket cred to any team that loses to a team that loses to Northwestern by 30. That's my own special spin on the Transitive Property, as it relates to Wash St.)

For the record, my go-to guy Ken Pomeroy has Washington State ranked No. 23... and Washington a sorry 70th.

Meanwhile, No. 12 Marquette lost its second straight, to NIT-ish DePaul (after being thumped by G'town last weekend). Another loss you remember when filling out brackets in March. (No, I don't care that both Ls were on the road.)

Freshman Greg Oden at Ohio State = Freshman Patrick Ewing at Georgetown? Not a bad comparable, even if Oden is a little bit better individually (but on an inferior overall team than Ewing's '82 Hoyas team, the runner-up for the national championship.)

Oden: 15.3 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 3.6 bpg
Ewing: 12.7 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 3.2 bpg

Oden was right on his average (15 points, 10 rebounds) in OSU's win over Penn State last night.

Speaking of super-frosh, Kevin Durant's dad said his son might not turn pro after this season. Well, that would certainly end the Oden-Durant draft debate.

(Excuse me if I don't buy it, but – then again – I was sure that Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Corey Brewer would leave the Gators a year ago. So stranger things have happened.)

Joe Johnson named to East All-Stars: One of the more universally appealing young NBA players, wouldn't you say?

NBA: Celtics win. (Celtics win?!) Enough said. Meanwhile, the Raptors beat the Nets to solidify their hold on first in the Atlantic. In my Midseason NBA Awards, I forgot to name "Executive of the (Mid-) Year," and there's no question it should be Toronto's Bryan Colangelo: Locked up Bosh, traded for TJ Ford, drafted Bargnani (and pushed Mitchell to play him), recognized value of Calderon.

Will the Sonics stay in the Seattle area? They've found an arena site in nearby Renton, but it will cost the taxpayers $500 million.

I'm sorry: There are better things for a state legislature to spend its money on than an arena to make money for the Sonics' new owners.

(And, yes, I recognize that this is a bit hypocritical of me to talk about, given my enthusiasm for the Nets moving to my town of Brooklyn.)

Mike Singletary interviews for the Chargers job. Isn't that sweet? To let all these guys have these interviews when Pete Carroll will get the job. (I'm kidding: The Chargers insist, Saban-style, they are NOT hiring Carroll.)

If the Yankees don't want to see Mariano Rivera closing games for the Red Sox in 2008, they better give him a deal now.

I guess I can put the "Free 'Game of Shadows' Guys!" T-shirt away. They won't be doing any jail time, because the lawyer who leaked them the grand jury info 'fessed up.

Let's hope that the NCAA wises up and makes the proposed rule changes (or rule reversions) finalized to get the clock crap back in order.

American Idol: I have held off from commenting on Idol during the audition rounds, but now that it's down to 24, I'm in. Where is this year's Katherine McPhee? Haven't seen her yet. (But Chris Sligh has Taylor Hicks-style populist potential -- meaning: He's an ugly dude the rest of us can relat to.)

NBA All-Star Madness in Las Vegas starts tomorrow. Full coverage coming tomorrow a.m., with complete previews and picks of the Skills comps, the Scene, the City, the Kicks, the Game and more.

Finally, in case you're curious, here's an interview I did at the excellent blog, The Big Picture.

-- D.S.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Free Darko's Valentine's Day Spectacular
(Plus: The Story of A First Date)

As it IS Valentine's Day, I wanted to point you specifically to Free Darko's epic post (of guest-posts) dedicated to "Love and Basketball."

There are notable submissions from Deadspin's Will Leitch, With Leather's Matt Ufford, TrueHoop's's Henry Abbott a cavalcade of top-notch NBA bloggers... and even one from me.

Here's the link, so you can read my submission in its original form and see the great work by everyone else, but here's what I contributed:

"He's Just Not That Into U-donis"
Filed by Dan Shanoff

I'm not quite sure I can pinpoint exactly when I knew I WOULD marry my wife, but I'm quite sure I can pinpoint exactly when I knew I COULD:

The year: 2001
The setting: Our first date.
The place: West Village Italian restaurant
The context: 1.2 bottles of wine into dinner.
The topic on the table: The preeminent value of offensive rebounds in relation to (1) a basketball team's chances of success and (2) a basketball forward's worth as a player.

Let me clarify: My wife (then, the random woman I was on a first date with) was making that argument. I was pretending to engage in the discussion. I was nodding. I may have even been responding.

All I know is that her voice was drowned out by the one in the back of my head:

Li'l Danny: "Are you listening to this? Are you listening?!"

Me: "Pipe down. She's trying to make a point about the pro potential of Udonis Haslem."

Li'l Danny: "The fat Florida center? He'll never make it!"

Me: "Shh!"

Li'l Danny: "But here is a woman who not only loves basketball, but appreciates it for its subtle pleasures!"

Me: "Which *I'm* trying to appreciate, save for your yammering!"

Li'l Danny: "I think I'm in love. Go on: Say something smart that will make her respect you for your basketball knowledge!"

Me: "OK...wait: I'm blanking! I'm blanking!! It's all too much pressure! I'm smitten!"

Li'l Danny: "Plus-minus! Plus-minus!"

Me: "What the hell is 'plus-minus?'" (Remember: It was 2001.)

Li'l Danny: "Nooooo! Damn your ignorance! You better switch topics to something more your speed... like pop culture."

Me: "So, uh, how about'Sex and the City' women?" (D'oh!)

Fast-forward nearly six years, one marriage and one kid later: Her enthusiastic argument on behalf of offensive rebounds remains THE most -- if not only -- vivid detail of our entire first date.

And as we sit in our NYC apartment today watching her favorite NBA player -- David Lee (yeah, she's a Gators fan) -- she's still talking about offensive rebounds. And knowing Lee's NBA-best offensive-rebounding numbers, I couldn't love her more for it.


Happy Valentine's Day, everyone.

-- D.S.

Wednesday 02/14 A.M. Quickie:
Who Do You Love? (Uh, Beyonce!)

Valentine's Day thoughts while waiting for my SI Swimsuit Issue with Beyonce on the cover...

(I'm sorry: BEYONCE! ON! THE! COVER! This is the most inspired cover choice that SI has ever made. And I'm not talking about Swimsuit Issues. I'm talking about any issue EVER.)

This is one of the most loaded days of news in a while. And certainly packed for a random Wednesday in February. Good thing I'm a shut-in from the NYC sleet today:

College Hoops Top-Ranked Insanity! Here's the catchphrase from last night: "Forget what you knew."

What do you think about No. 4 UNC, now that they lost (at home!) to Virginia Tech? (That makes the Heels 0-2 against the Hokies this season.)

And what do you think about No. 6 Texas A&M, now that they lost (at home!) to Texas Tech? (How about that finish by Tech? No timeouts! Note to micro-managing coaches: That's the way it should be.)

Did you have either team temporarily penciled in as a potential Final Four choice on your bracket? Don't (over-)think about last night too much...

"Pitchers and Catchers report": There might not be a four-word phrase in sports that evokes so much excitement and hope. (Wait... I think I've got a competitor: "Gentlemen, start your engines.")

Wow, who ISN'T a Chargers coaching candidate? (Well, let's see: The former offensive and defensive coordinators, for starters. And then there's Pete Carroll.)

Are the Texans ready to trade David Carr? If that's the case, then passing on Vince Young will loom – in hindsight – as a much bigger draft-day bungle than passing on Reggie Bush.

I'm trying to figure out why the Cowboys would interview a Wisconsin offensive coordinator (Paul Chryst) for a job on Wade Phillips' staff. Here's Wisconsin's offense: Run. Run. Run. Dink. Run. Run. Run...

Tiki Barber was making news (not reporting it) less than a day into his retirement: He seemed to imply that Tom Coughlin drove him into retirement with his insane ways.

(Smooth move by Tiki to pivot the myth of his early retirement as someone else's fault... and, with Coughlin's rep, it's an easy concept for fans to buy into.)

I don't understand the massive NASCAR crackdown on all those crew chiefs, but the upshot seems to me that the sport has proportionately more cheaters, per team, than either the NFL or MLB.

NBA: The Knicks beat the Lakers, to match last year's victory total in close to 30 fewer games. As I said yesterday: Isiah Thomas for Coach of the (Mid-) Year is NOT as crazy a notion as I was getting hammered for in the Comments section.

You know what? Screw Isiah and the Knicks: Let me point out an even more respectable "compared-to-last-year-" milestone: The Raptors have now won one more game than in all of last season, beating the Bulls for their 9th win in the last 11 games.

The Raps are the Pleasant Surprise of the (Mid-)Year, and I should have given Sam Mitchell more love for Coach of the (Mid-)Year.

If the season ended today, not only would the Raptors be in the playoffs, but they would have home-court advantage in the first round... against the Bulls.

Mark down Feb. 13: The Heat got back to .500. Pat Riley is ready to re-join the team. And they're going to not only win the East, but repeat as champs.

NBA Trade Deadline coming: The Sixers reportedly won't trade Andre Miller, which is a good thing, because they'll want a classic point guard to get the ball to Oden, Durant or the other big man they draft.

AI to miss All-Star Game: Ray Allen was named his replacement (Okur was named replacement for Steve Nash. Hardly an even swap.) MJD over at NBA Fanhouse points out that this adds to the projected shittiness of the game.

Gilbert Arenas Detail of the Day: He has made up 100 All-Star jerseys with "Agent Zero" on the back to give away to fans in the arena on Sunday. But way cooler: He says he is thinking about wearing one of them himself in the game. It's a perfect symbol for the spice Arenas has added to this season. The NBA needs to embrace that. (Come on: It's the All-Star Game!)

College Hoops Tonight: Could Duke lose FIVE STRAIGHT ACC GAMES?! With a game at ACC-leading B.C. (still underrated at No. 21), the answer is resoundingly yes.

The NCAA Tournament Selection honcho said that last year's mid-major madness won't affect this year's selections. I'm not sure that should be the case: After all, the "power conferences" annually enjoy the benefits of "reputation picks."

But he also correctly pointed out that the muddle in the middle of the power-conference pack (and the craziness on the edge of the bubble right now) should make conference tournaments this year's X-factor.

In previous years, that X-factor has been RPI and strength of schedule. It'll be cool to have it come down to winning games when it matters and should give the power-conference tournaments the intensity of the national tournament.

MLB: The league is 4-0 in arbitration cases. I always wondered if players who lose arbitration get bitter and drop their intensity. (Or do they work even harder to make the team pay more in the long run?)

Here's what I should have noted about Carlos Zambrano's contract expectations: Given what has been dished out on the open market (by his own team, no less), how much would Z be worth on the open market? Because I can't think of an NL pitcher who should command more money.

Your Westminster Dog Show Champ: James, an English springer spaniel.

Thoughts and prayers with the two Illinois players injured in that car crash...

In honor of Valentine's Day, I'm looking for your (non-sexual) athlete man-crushes (or woman-crushes). And I'm not talking about "Wow, I'd love to hit it with Danica Patrick." I'm talking about "Yes, I admit my (non-sexual) man-crush on Gilbert Arenas."

-- D.S.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

NBA Midseason Awards:
Wake Me For the Playoffs...

First of all, I want to congratulate TrueHoop's Henry Abbott on his huge move to There could be no bigger NBA midseason news. He's the leading NBA blogger, and it's a fantastic move for ESPN to get him. I had the chance to finally meet him in person a few weeks ago, and he was as genuinely nice face-to-face as he is via email. I'll be curious to see the reactions and reverberations throughout the insular sports-blog world. (My question, of course: Which NBA blog out there fills the void as the leading "indie" voice?)

Next, I want to thank all the readers who contributed their own awards analysis in yesterday's preview post. (Click on the link, then scroll down through the comments, many of which are very astute.)

At midseason, here's what I've experienced so far: The NBA season – for all of its flare-ups and mini-dramas – is dragging. When the most intriguing debate is over which player should go No. 1 in the Draft, it's a slow year.

The NBA regular season has become – or perhaps always was – a non-factor. The Playoffs are everything, and it doesn't help that we already seem to know the contenders: Dallas, Phoenix, San Antonio. Uncertainty? Excitement? Yes: In the conference semifinals.

(And the East is a joke: Everyone seems to be simply waiting around until the Playoffs start and the Heat turn it on -- it crystallizes this idea that the regular season is irrelevant.)

That's a big reason why these Midseason Awards are so important: They allow for fans to spotlight the handful of players and stories that have made the season slightly more than a mere prelude to the playoffs.

MVP: Gilbert Arenas. Let me ask you this: In the preseason, who had the Wizards in contention for best record in the East and Eddie Jordan coaching the East All-Stars? (Anyone? Anyone? Exactly.)

I'm also layering in off-court impact, and this season, no player has had more of that than Agent Zero. (And, yes, I am absolutely biased by the fact that he's the bloggers' favorite player.)

Rookie: Kevin Durant. Oh, wait. What a weak crop! As good as the draft in June will be, the negative consequence of artificially holding this year's freshmen back from the NBA is that this season's NBA rookies are totally uninspiring. Brandon Roy will get most of the votes. Andre Bargnani probably deserves it, as one Commenter pointed out, for being a contributor on a playoff team.

(Actually, if I could go completely unconventional with my pick, I'd take the group blog over at NBA Fanhouse, which has had the best debut of the NBA season.)

Coach: Isiah Thomas. You read that right. Has he led the Knicks to playoff contention? No, but no coach – not Mike D'Antoni, not Phil Jackson, not anyone – would have done that. Let's stick with the standard he had to beat: Larry Brown. And he has nearly done it... in nearly half the number of games.

Most Improved: David Lee. An afterthought of a draft pick (and on Larry Brown's bench), Lee has turned himself into one of the most high-energy, high-impact players in the league -- he has emerged as one of the NBA's top rebounders, particularly offensively. And, yet, he's still not starting. (PS: I appreciate the votes for Kevin Martin and Deron Williams.)

Biggest Breakthrough: Utah Jazz. The notably fast start could have been a mirage; instead, it has been sustained – and now Utah has a 7-plus-game lead over the Nuggets. (But they hold that brutal 3-seed in the West that goes through Phoenix in the conference semis.)

Biggest Disappointment: The Nets. They should be absolutely dominating that sorry Atlantic Division, but instead they are hobbled by injuries (Kristic, Jefferson), boggled by trade talk (Kidd, Carter) and undoubtedly on the way down, rather than the way up.

Top Storylines:
*Nash: Better than ever?
*Arenas: Bloggers' MVP
*Amaechi: "Man in the Middle"
*Nuggs: Melo's ban, AI trade
*Celtics, Grizz: Race to bottom
*Draft Debate: Oden or Durant?
*LeBron: Plateauing/Unhappy?

Feel free to weigh in. (Don't forget to check out yesterday's Comments.)

-- D.S.

Tuesday 02/13 A.M. Quickie:
Pete Carroll to Coach Chargers?

Chargers fire Marty Schottenheimer. It's like the owner and GM said, "You know, on second thought, losing to the Pats in the Division Playoff really DID suck as bad as we thought it did."

Actually, the real reason is even better than anything you could possibly make up: "Dysfunction." And it's obvious that the GM won that battle. That label probably marks the end of Schottenheimer's NFL coaching career.

So what next? I have two words for you: Pete Carroll. And if the USC coach hears the footsteps of the NCAA heading toward Trojan Nation, he might just decide it's a great time to get back in the pro game. (ProFootballTalk has supporting evidence for my theory, and the NFL Fanhouse is all over the various angles.)

Hell: Who WOULDN'T want to coach the Chargers? You have the best offensive player in the game. You have the best defensive player in the game. You have the best tight end in the game. You have a young Pro Bowl QB. And you DON'T have Marty Schottenheimer.

Duke is out of the Top 25! Well of COURSE they are. The true crime would have been if they had remained IN the rankings.

And, yet, amazingly, how much do you want to bet on the NCAA Seleciton Committee's working S-curve, Duke is no worse than a 5-seed?

(Oh wow: If Duke is going to make the Tournament – and they will – I PRAY they get the dreaded 5-seed. How awesome would that be?)

More College Hoops: Tourney Bias Watch -- Georgetown! The Hoyas clobbered the team (WVU) that just beat then-No. 2 UCLA. This, coming off Georgetown's spanking of Marquette over the weekend. Yeesh!

I watched both of those Georgetown wins, and -- barring a late-season collapse -- watching them first-hand is precisely why I'm going to be in the bag for the Hoyas when the brackets come out.

No matter what their ranking, this is a team that has all the parts to make a run to the Final Four. (Including one that I think is critical: A chip on their shoulder from LAST March.)

Texas spanks Oklahoma State, 83-54: Nice little revenge ass-kicking from that 2OT loss in Stillwater a few weeks ago. Kevin Durant (21 pts) wasn't THAT dominant. Some nifty and/or gorgeous shots, sure. But hardly "classic Durant-ish." Rather, it was UT's D that was dominant.

(I spent some time yesterday discussing Durant-vs-Oden with Shoals from FreeDarko: I walked away more convinced than ever that Oden is the only choice at the top of the draft.)

But I AM rooting for Texas to make the NCAA Tournament, if only to see what Durant (and super frosh PG DJ Augustin) can do.

CBB Tourney Bias Watch, Part 2: The Flip Side. Louisville beats No. 7 Pitt. (At Pitt? At Pitt?!) Another one of those games that I will remember during bracket-picking. I'm staying away from Pitt.

Tiki Barber to "Today": Damn, this would have been so much easier to mock if he hadn't inscribed his children's book to my little son. Damn you, Tiki! (But thank you, too... Damn! See?!?)

NBA: Nash won't play in the All-Star Game. That's too bad, because the ASG can use all the pass-first playmakers it can get.

Riley to return to Heat after All-Star Break: Just in time to take over as the team begins to make its surge for the postseason. Convenient!

MLB: Kris Benson has a torn rotator cuff and will likely miss the entire 2007 season. And the O's season ends before Ps and Cs report.

MLB: Is Mariano Rivera planning to bolt the Yankees after this season? He wants a big payday. How does that gibe with the Yanks' new financial austerity, particularly considering Rivera's mileage. (I dispute that: I think Rivera could be dominant well into his 40s, a la Clemens.)

NFL: Andy Reid to take a leave of absence to help out his delinquent son. Ah, just bring him to the combine. Can't find any trouble there!

Amaechi Watch: With the book about to release tomorrow, he's on the p.r. circuit, and correctly (a) lauding most fans for their positive reactions, and (b) noting that it will take time for true acceptance of gay athletes in major sports. (BTW, I agree completely with Mark Cuban's analysis of the marketing value to an active NBA player who comes out of the closet.)

Beanpot: BU beats BC. We can all go back to not caring about college hockey now (at least until the Frozen Four).

Westminster Dog Show: I'm ready to make my pick – Harry, the terrier co-owned by Bill Cosby. Because, y'know, "God loves a terrier."

-- D.S.

Monday, February 12, 2007

NBA Midseason Awards:
Coming This Week (Weigh In Now)

With the NBA All-Star Break coming up this weekend, I'm putting together my NBA Midseason Awards post for later this week, and I wanted to get your take:

MVP? Rookie? Coach of the (Mid-)Year? Most Improved? Biggest Breakthrough(s)? Biggest Disappointment(s)? Top Storyline(s)?

Monday 02/12 A.M. Quickie:
College Hoops: Front(line) and Center

And just like that – with the NFL behind us, the NBA in its steady-state midseason and MLB still in its rev-up stage – college hoops emerges as front-and-center in sports over the next six weeks, from this final two-week regular-season push to the conference-tournament season to Selection Sunday and the NCAA Tournament.

As I pointed out in yesterday's post, we're starting to get to that time of year in college hoops when you start watching more games on TV and you get a little more influenced for your NCAA Tournament bracket picks based on what you see.

We've got to start with the "schadukefreude": The Blue Devils lost their FOURTH straight ACC game, this time getting absolutely man-handled by mediocre Maryland, a mere Bubble team. As Nelson Muntz (or that Dixie Chick) might say: "HA-ha!"

Duke is tied for 6th in the conference, but tied with Florida State, who should get any edge, simply for beating Duke head-to-head at Cameron. That would put Duke in the bottom half of the conference, where they deserve to be.

Let's add this: Duke has no business being ranked in the Top 25 right now. How ludicrous is it that Duke, the 6th-place team in the ACC, is ranked -- but BC, in 1st place after winning yesterday at FSU, is NOT?

(For those who don't follow the Comments area, I picked BC as one of the handful of 8-10 teams with the right mix of personnel and personality to beat Florida in the NCAA Tournament.)

But, still: It's such a rare moment to see Duke be THIS beatable. What the hell do you do with that on your bracket next month? They could lose in the first weekend, but there's always that nagging feeling that they'll make their way deeper.

Or another example: If you saw Georgetown dismantle Marquette, you might be tempted to overvalue them. If you saw UCLA lose (or WVA win, depending on your perspective), you might be tempted to undervalue them. And I can't possibly tell you what to do with Butler. Or Arizona.

Don't look now, but my preseason Final Four pick Georgia Tech has won three straight and notched a huge inter-conference win over UConn. Of course, given UConn's sorry 4-9 record since their 11-0 cupcake start, it's not THAT impressive. But they are still tied for 8th in the ACC with only 16 total wins. EXTREME bubble. Speaking of "extreme bubble"...

Here's a good one: If Washington – that's "IF," given their 16 total wins and 7th-place status in the Pac-10 – makes the NCAA Tournament field, they could go from bubble entry to surprising deep run, thanks to their big frontcourt, which was on display in a win over Stanford on Sunday. (Or, UW could lose in the 1st round. And if I take them deep on my bracket, that will inevitably happen.)

And how about those suspended Gonzaga players? Pot: OK. They ARE college students. But 'shrooms... really?

On to the other big storylines around the sports world today...

How many of you agree that the NBA Finals will be the Heat and Spurs? If yesterday's game was any indication, Dwyane Wade will be ready for an encore Finals performance. He slapped the Spurs around for 26 en route to a 100-85 Heat win.

Wait: Is this the beginning of the Gilbert Arenas backlash? He's finally unable to cash checks his mouth is writing:

After vowing to torch the Blazers as retribution against Team USA assistant coach Nate McMillan, Agent Zero finished closer TO zero than to his on-the-record goal of 50. 9 points. In a brutal Wiz loss.

Let's hope this isn't an omen for Arenas heading into the All-Star break next weekend, where he is competing in the 3-point contest, starting for the East and generally expected to be ones of the weekend's uber-superstars.

Give the Celtics (who lost their 18th straight) credit for at least finding new and creative ways to lose: This time, a buzzer-beating jumper from the T'wolves' Ricky Davis.

MLB: Mauer gets 4Y/$33M extension. Credit the Twins for locking up their best young player – and arguably the best young player in the American League – with a big-market deal.

It's still probably a good $5-10 million (per year) below the value he'd get on the open market, but kudos to the Twins... and kudos to Mauer for making the commitment.

Mickelson wins Pebble Beach Pro-Am. But, more importantly, what the hell was that under Kevin Costner's bottom lip?

NASCAR: Yeah, Toyota was a huge bust in Daytona. Can I claim that it's still early? Like, years early.

NFL: The best part of the Pro Bowl ending is that we dive full-on into the draft insanity that will carry NFL fans through the end of April. ProFootballTalk has their first mock draft up, and the two most intriguing items are this: (1) JaMarcus Russell going No. 1 overall to the Raiders, particularly ahead of Brady Quinn. (2) Adrian Peterson going at No. 8 to the Texans. My take: Mario Williams and Adrian Peterson are arguably a better first-round combo over the past two drafts than Reggie Bush and the best-available defensive lineman at No. 8 this year.

Really: Did ANYONE watch the Pro Bowl? Did anyone even care that it was a thrilling, walk-off finish?

(Meanwhile, I was all set to say "Good riddance, Tiki!" But then a friend of ours gave my son a copy of the Barber brothers' children's book, "Teammates," and it was inscribed specifically to Gabe. Man... how can I dislike the guy now?

Finally, Quickie readers will remember that I annually gave at least a little space to the Westminster Dog Show -- if for nothing else than a prediction. The Dog Show is back today (and probably will earn a better cable TV rating than your average NBA game... and don't even talk about out-rating NHL...) , but if for no other reason, it's an amazing opportunity to let you quote from one of the funniest movies of all time, "Best in Show." (Better than "Guffman?" Perhaps the ultimate debate among Guest-film fans. Yeah, yeah: Let's keep "Spinal Tap" out of it for now. Recent Guest films...)

-- D.S.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Sunday 02/11 A.M. Quickie:
What Did We Learn?

Much much more on college hoops on Monday. But let's revisit my preview of my three biggest storylines of the weekend:

(1) Florida edges Kentucky: At times, the Gators looked awesome. At times, they looked mediocre. But in an otherwise meaningless regular-season game, I'll take a gritty win on the road as a building block for the NCAA Tournament over a blowout.

(One side note: What the hell was Joakim Noah doing with what looked like a smack toward a Kentucky cheerleader? It was hard to see live -- or even replayed on my DVR -- but I'll bet there's an ESPN camera angle that can show it. That merits a one-game suspension.)

(2) Georgetown vs. Marquette: This is one of those games that is going to kill me in my bracket picks: G'town just stomped Marquette, and it'll stand out when I take the Hoyas deep in the Tournament.

(3) West Virginia over UCLA: On Friday, I think I called this my "Upset Special." (Now, why didn't I bet Gabe's college fund on the result?) I have been a sucker for Beilein and WVA since they made that amazing Elite Eight tourney run a few years ago.

(But there's no shame for UCLA here, and it's dangerous to read too much into the loss: They were playing without catalyst PG Collison and a non-conference game across the country in Morgantown is just about as tough as it gets.)

How about that Big 12? Wow, Texas frosh PG DJ Augustin is nearly as must-see as Durant... OK St C Mario Boggan is a first-team A.A. player... Texas Tech is the hardest-luck team in the country...

Arizona beats Oregon: I defy you to figure out the Cats' NCAA Tournament fate. Chase Budinger joins the list of freshmen that are making this the most exciting, must-see (and, dare I say, most talented) freshman class in a long, long time.

Mid-Major Mania: Butler is no longer the new hotness after losing to Wright State. Want your newest mid-major hotness? Southern Illinois (or, as I've called them for years, "So. Ill.")

-- D.S.