Saturday, March 07, 2009

Weekend In College Hoops, Part 1:
Radford, Pitt, Florida, Louisville, More

A little bummed to not see run-and-gun VMI advance to the NCAA Tournament out of the Big South...

You all know how I feel about Pitt-UConn -- it won't impact No. 1 seeding, because even though UConn lost today, if they win the Big East Tournament, they'll be a No. 1 seed. (Pitt may have locked in a No. 1 seed, regardless of finish in the Big East Tournament.)

However, I view everything through the lens of: Hmm, but what does this mean when I'm filling out my NCAA bracket?

In that context, Pitt looks very very strong as a team to win six and go all the way. Obviously, if they struggle next week in NY at the B.E.T., momentum can shift dramatically, but -- wow -- they look good.

Speaking of which: Florida did NOT look good while beating Kentucky. They haven't looked good all season. They haven't looked good in two seasons.

They don't deserve an at-large bid, to be honest, although they'll probably get one now. Here's the reality: I just can't see myself picking them to win their 1st-round game, no matter who the opponent is -- even if the Gators are a 12-seed.

(Is that wrong to not pick your team to win in the NCAA Tournament? To not even win their 1st-round game, aspirationally? Or is it being more honest than a fan who knee-jerks their team through the bracket, just because of their fandom?)

Looking ahead to tonight: Please keep in mind that in the preseason, my pick to win the national title was Louisville. If they beat West Virginia at WVU to win the Big East regular-season title, there will be a TON of folks jumping on the Louisville bandwagon next Sunday night.

(If they lose to WVU? Probably not enough to keep me from remaining bullish on the Cards -- WVU is a strong team, particularly in Morgantown.)

I hope to get into this more tomorrow morning, but I have not been as excited about a Northwestern basketball game (tomorrow's "play-in-to-play-in" the NCAA Tournament vs. Ohio State) since the team advanced to the 2nd-round of the NIT in 1994. There are a lot of reasons that the team faded away from me, but I feel a sincere sense of anticipation and excitement about the ramifications of tomorrow's game, if they can win.

-- D.S.

Saturday 03/07 (Sorta) Quickie

A surprisingly loaded news cycle:

Celtics beat Cavs -- without KG: Was it a "statement game?" I think, if nothing else, it proved that the Cavs aren't going to dethrone the Celtics in the East without playoff home-court adv.

Florida State NCAA sanctions: Bowden to lose 14 wins? Normally, taking away wins in hindsight is pretty ineffective -- yeah, Michigan hoops fans really "forget" those wins.

(Although, and this applies mostly to college football: The difference in either bowl-eligibility or what bowl you go to when you get that win back from FSU could be worth millions of dollars. Who makes up for that? The sanctions cover the team that cheated; what about the teams that were the victim of the cheating? Could an opponent sue FSU over lost bowl revenue?)

But in this story, those lost wins are much bigger, because we're talking about the difference between Bobby Bowden potentially being the winningest coach -- and being way too far behind Joe Paterno to ever catch up, given Bowden's age (and JoePa's endless career prospects).

Naturally, FSU is outraged -- outraged! -- that the NCAA would take away those wins. Nevermind that they are embroiled in what might be the most systemically broken academics-athletics situation since the heyday of the mid-90s, where EVERYONE was doing it.

Instead of worrying about Bobby's win total, maybe FSU should be more concerned that his football program (along with the other sports programs) dragged the university into this mess. Four years' probation? If it wasn't for the fact that I think the NCAA is too scared to sanction FSU more severely -- even if they violate probation -- I'd put my money on another violation.

Should A-Rod have surgery now, rather than later? Short answer: Yes. If it's going to happen one way or another -- and if his productivity will be sketchy while he waits.

CBB: I'm bummed Wichita St didn't upend Creighton in the Mo Valley quarters -- the Shockers deserved the W, coming back from being 22 down. The Jays are the best the MVC has to offer?

T.O.: Deal next week? Um, which team would actually sign him?

NFL Draft: Is Mark Sanchez the Jets' QB of the future? (I can understand NYJ bringing him in; Rex Ryan knows that a decent rookie QB can get a team to the playoffs in the AFC -- why would the Colts want to look at Sanchez? They don't have other pressing needs, given that they're trying to win a Super Bowl NOW?)

Prep Hoops: Oak Hill beats Montrose Christian. (I like that Keith Gallon for Oak Hill -- headed to Oklahoma and a load (but shifty!) at 6-9, 315.) That said: Let's not confuse these teams with high school teams. They are quasi-professional basketball factories that have about as much to do with "high school" as the schools where teenaged Hollywood actors go.

They exist to support the basketball team, and they develop great players -- but it's apples and oranges to try to compare teams like Oak Hill and Montrose with your run-of-the-mill, local high school team. (That came across like I'm some kind of purist crank; I'm fine with their existence -- I simply reject that they represent "high school basketball.")

Tiger will play at Doral next week: The golf industry breathes a big sigh of relief -- if Tiger wasn't participating, no one would bother to pay attention to the event (or the sport). As with the Match Play, as long as Tiger is playing (meaning: he makes the cut into the weekend), folks will keep the event in mind... if only to see how Tiger is doing. Not because they care about Doral or the rest of the sport, of course. But it's better than nothing.

New Media: Very nice job by both Henry Abbott (via Twitter) and Jonah Keri (via WSJ Sports live-blogging) on the Celtics-Cavs game last night. Fun way to supplement watching on TV.

-- D.S.

Friday, March 06, 2009

WSJ Hops On Northwestern Bandwagon

Northwestern's never-been-Dancing surge for an NCAA Tournament bid made the lead -- the lead -- of today's Daily Fix at (Now, that's the way to re-launch a sports section!)

Friday 03/06 A.M. Quickie:
Conf Tourneys, Bubble, A-Rod, T.O., More

C-Week is a great week. Unlike this weekend's ultimately meaningless UConn-Pitt, UNC-Duke or Michigan St-Purdue "big" games (really: all of them will make the tournament as high seeds), conference tournament title games (at least in the mid-major and low-major leagues) truly win or bust. Especially if you won the regular-season title and can't deliver in the league tourney.

Today's SN column leads with a breakdown of the three kinds of games this weekend: Conference tournaments, Bubble battles (Northwestern!) and -- yawn -- the "big" games featuring the teams listed above.

(Even if you buy into the value of being a No. 1 seed -- versus a 2-seed -- in the NCAA Tournament, these games aren't as meaningful as some folks would have you believe -- like Pitt "loses" a No. 1 seed if they lose to UConn? Not if they win the Big East Tournament. Same with UNC. And Michigan St could beat Purdue, but without a Big Ten Tourney title? No 1-seed shot.)

For the teams at the very top -- the ones who consider themselves legit contenders for the national title this season -- do regular-season conference championships matter? Hell, do conference tournament championships matter? Do rivalry games matter? They shouldn't. All that matters is winning the national title. (For some, making the Final Four would be enough. For Duke, maybe just escaping the first weekend.

But for teams like UNC, UConn, Pitt, Oklahoma -- any team that fancies itself worthy of a 1-seed -- it's national title or bust. Regardless of what happens this weekend in the regular-season finales or even next week in the conference tournament. Win 6 straight in late March. Period.

Complete column here

-- D.S.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Tomasson Post: Follow-Up, Featuring the New Blog

See this post from the other day about what ex-Rocky sports reporters -- or any laid-off newspaper sports journalists -- can do. Here is what the baseball crew did: They started a blog.

OK: Points for taking the at-bat. (Extra credit for your 5-blog blogroll -- you'll quickly learn to be more generous, both in the roll and your posts.)

But the effort begs this key question: How will you pay your bills? (AdSense? Hmm.)

And how are you going to finance your reporting, or... hmm... do you plan to "blog from your couch?" That's sort of what it looks like. Reporting ain't cheap or easy.

-- D.S.

NBA Non-Competitiveness, Cont'd

"Almost every team in the NBA is playing for something": I appreciate Henry's optimism here.

But regardless of who makes the playoffs, only a handful of teams are actually -- y'know -- sincerely competing for a championship. Maybe, for some, "making the playoffs alone" or "developing young talent" is the competitive goal. Maybe.

But those can also be called euphemisms for "If we try too hard to win, it might cost too much. And we can't have THAT."

I'm sorry: My cynicism about the NBA owners' essential cynicism is kind of insurmountable right now. I would like nothing more than to have a little of Henry's optimism rub off on me.

There are obvious exceptions to this: How can you not like what Sam Presti is trying to build -- from scratch -- in OKC. Even if it's now obvious the Thunder is actually better without Kevin Durant. (Kidding!*)

-- D.S.

*- Sort of.

Northwestern As NCAA Bubble Team

No, really: If you don't believe me, take it from Andy Katz.

No, wait: Check out this post from Lindsey Willhite from the Arlington Heights Daily Herald. It really lays out the resume impressively. (h/t: Lake the Posts)

I said it on Twitter last night: "Never-been-Dancing Northwestern is one win away from being one win away from the NCAA Tournament." Never been closer.

-- D.S.

Thursday 03/05 A.M. Quickie:
TO, WBC, CFB Playoff, Northwestern Hoops

Totally loaded SN column this morning. I could have led with the start of the World Baseball Classic (that was my plan). Of course, does anyone even CARE about the WBC at this point?

...or the Mountain West's lame playoff proposal (you know I'm obsessed with THAT topic -- hint: the MWC's plan isn't even really a playoff. Forget the Big Ten and Pac-10 never going for it. You can even forget that they keep the 6 BCS-league "auto-bid" cabal intact...they just want to be included. If there is a scenario where consensus unbeaten No. 1 USC plays consensus unbeaten No. 2 Ohio State in a "quarterfinal" game in the Rose Bowl, IT'S NOT A PLAYOFF SYSTEM.

... or even Northwestern's sudden "if they win the next one then win the next one they should be in the NCAA Tournament" status -- don't give me your RPI bunk... not when the Cats have never -- ever -- been to the NCAA Tournament before. Give 'em a 15 seed, I don't care; this is as close as NU has ever been this late in the season -- or perhaps will ever get.

Instead, I was compelled to lead with the Cowboys cutting T.O. I hope that's the last that we speak of the subject.

Really: Check out the whole thing. Tons to discuss in there. More later.

-- D.S.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Wednesday 03/04 A.M. Quickie:
CBB, G'town, Manny, Shaq, A-Rod, More

Back to the SN column this morning, and even though I'm for having every team in the NCAA Tournament and eliminating Championship Week, that doesn't mean I don't appreciate C-Week.

Plus: Georgetown burns us for the last time... Manny to the Dodgers -- done-deal?... Jay Cutler is in Denver THIS season (but not next, you can be sure)... Dwight > Shaq... and More.

-- D.S.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

My Memoir Will Be Fakey From The Start

Yikes. I'm not saying my memoir will be full of fakery -- but I will certainly use phrases right up-front like, "Now, I'm not sure I remember this right, but let me embellish thusly..."

-- D.S.

NBA: Tanking As Strategy, League-Wide

Wall Street Journal follows my lead: I believe I wrote a few weeks ago both here and in the SN column about this. Now, please stop insisting that your NBA teams aren't tanking.

And, as I pointed out then: (1) It will get even worse next season, and (2) Plenty of teams will use "2010!" as a diversion to cut costs -- and stay non-competitive -- well beyond 2010.

-- D.S.

Tuesday 03/03 (Rehab) Quickie

Hopefully back to the SN column tomorrow morning. Just stretching my legs today...

LeBron 42, D-Wade 41. (But more impressive was the Cavs' 11-point 4th-quarter comeback, which makes up for last week's tank vs. Houston.)

If the Seahawks weren't going to spend on a premier WR free agent like TJ Houshmandzadeh, how else were they going to spend their money? At least he knows he'll be The Man there.

Kurt Warner to the 49ers? He could be leading his 2nd straight NFC West turnaround job.

Where will Jason Taylor end up? I'll say: Not Miami. Do they really need that drama queen?

Said it last year, will say it again this year: What contender in their right mind couldn't use Barry Bonds? (In the NFL, this would never happen.)

Enjoy the NIT, Notre Dame fans.

Wait: The Nuggets expect their players to listen to George Karl? Why start now?

WBC: If I was a team exec, I wouldn't let my pitcher come close to the WBC roster. The USA infield has got star power, though: Jeter, Rollins, Pedroia, Wright, Youk.

Eh: Still feeling sore. And watch out for the rust raining down on you as you read this. Hopefully, SN column returns tomorrow.

-- D.S.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Chris Tomasson: Future of NBA News?

I feel for Chris Tomasson, Nuggets beat reporter for the Rocky Mountain News -- as I feel for everyone at the shuttered paper. (I work with a ton of ex-Rocky folk, and they are awesome.)

So what should Chris do? The 2008-ish thing to do would be to immediately launch a Nuggets blog and use all of his unique resources and insights (previously funded by the Rocky) to establish himself as the pre-eminent Nuggets blog. He has the reporting skills and the credibility among mainstream NBA reporters to make it work.

But how to pay for it?

Maybe he can cut a deal with SB Nation. Actually, they already have good one: Pickaxe and Roll. Or maybe hook up with Henry Abbott's TrueHoop Network on They already have a fine Nuggets blog, too: Roundball Mining Company.

And here's the thing about those very good team blogs: The great work they do? It's on the side -- neither blog pays for doing the job full-time, so consider the quality work they do is on top of their "day job."

So here's the problem: Chris can't get paid full-time by a newspaper (or its online-media proxy) to cover the Nuggets. (God bless him if he can find that work, btw.) He could start a blog, but he'd have to (a) find a rent-paying job first, and (b) cut a distribution deal, with the two leading players off the table.

Oh, and on top of that, tirelessly (but not too shamelessly) attempt to market his own work to generate the audience -- the links on higher-traffic blogs, maybe a link-back, maybe a blog-roll, ideally reaching his absolute core audience of Nuggets fans -- enough to make it worth it for a partner to give him more exposure and perhaps the chance at a few bucks in ad revenue -- provided he take all that work to create an audience and assign it to the network.

And he still needs that day-job, which -- as any blogger with a day-job will tell you -- saps time and energy like nothing else. It's what makes most team blogger output -- most blogger output, period -- so amazing. This all, of course, presupposes that he can wrap his mind around blogging -- because it's not like reporting and great info, alone, doesn't win.

I can think of one other option (and I believe Mark Cuban wrote about this a few weeks ago): Cut a deal directly with the team to create and write a blog on behalf of the team.

The team gets the credibility of an established journalist covering the team; the reporter gets access and just enough funding to continue his work. Can he write the expose about the two players violating the NBA substance-abuse policy? No. Can he write about a Jason Hart signing? Or analyze the team's performance on the floor? Or preview the next opponent? Or write feature-y puff pieces about how great LeBron is? All day.

(Then again, it's not like NBA teams are flush with cash to carry full-time bloggers. I will say that the teams doing this best -- the Hawks and Suns and Rockets come to mind, though I don't mean to dis others -- are getting a terrific ROI.)

Here's the reality: NBA fans -- particularly at the local level -- have a tremendous appetite for content. NBA team blogs are arguably the best of any pro-league blogging ecosystem. It is getting more crowded by the week; it is getting harder and harder to "break through" without a legacy of audience or an existing mass-distribution system. And it is certainly harder than ever to make money doing it.

So there are two choices for him: Get very very innovative (and lose the reporter's notebook for a little while and practice up on running some Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations to convince someone to pay you to do what you love)... or get a day job and cover the Nuggets for fun.

You will be welcome either way.

-- D.S.

PS: This was totally inspired by a post by Rob Neyer (itself inspired by a post by FanGraphs' Dave Cameron, himself in the "gold standard" tier among team-specific bloggers.)

Johah Lehrer on March Madness

Having been offline (and mostly out of it) for nearly a week now, I'm only now finally catching up -- particularly with some of my favorite posts of the past week (or more) that I'm late on.

Jonah Lehrer is amazing, as is his new book (his old one, too). I come to find out he's also a sports fan (like all great writer/researchers are -- let's not attribute yet another thing as Gladwellian...).

Here is his neuroscientifically marked take on March Madness.

-- D.S.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Sports Media Development of the Year: Goes Hyper-Local In Chicago

I'm waaay late on this, but I've been a little pre-occupied. Anyway, I think that this is the sports media development of the year.

Not only does it make a ton of sense, but it's infinitely scalable -- local sports (and maybe local crime coverage) were the only thing keeping local papers going. Yoink.

Here's how ESPN should fill out the site strategy:

They already have a deal with By The Horns (a leading Bulls blog) -- cut more deals with leading bloggers of the Bears, Cubs, White Sox, Blackhawks, Notre Dame and Northwestern (think True Hoop Network, but by city vertical, rather than by sport vertical). The citizen-journalism/user-generated opportunities are endless (and inexpensive). They already own audio content. They already have a vast trove of recruiting content.

As always, success will come down to ad revenue. But the consumer value proposition -- and execution -- is a layup. Very very smart move.

-- D.S.

Sunday 03/01 (Very) Quickie

The Chiefs get a face for their franchise and it's Matt Cassel: The interesting twist is it sounds like the Pats could have gotten more than a 2nd-rounder if they had traded Cassel to Josh McDaniels Broncos (with Jay Cutler going to the Bucs), but instead dealt with Pioli -- and perhaps the team they ID'ed as being far less of a short-term threat in the conference?

The most interesting thing that happened in college hoops yesterday was... Georgetown beating Villanova in Philadelphia. What a reminder of how good this G'town team can be. They have a rough NCAA Tournament resume right now, but if they got in, they would be a bracket-busting decision to make on your pool sheet.

(By the way, Blake Griffin seems to be back: 20 and 19... one more double-double... OU obvioulsy needs him to be healthy for the Sooners to make any noise in the Tournament.)

MLB: And that's the end of Jim Bowden as the Nats GM, after this signing-bonus scandal investigation overwhelmed him.

Sorry it's light today (and non-existent yesterday). Back to the prone position.

-- D.S.