Saturday, April 04, 2009

Saturday 04/04 (Very Final Four)

Just counting down until the Final Four tonight. Rooting for good games -- maybe even an upset. If you can make a good case for either team winning, is it really THAT much of an upset?

Giants release Plax: Here's an idea -- the Bears need better WRs for their new QB. How about Burress? (Would that lead the league in QB-WR headcase combos?)

Magic crush Cavs: Tuned in for a little of this last night. Wow, Orlando looked good. Yeah, the Cavs were playing for a 2nd straight night on the road. Not sure if the Magic can beat the Cavs once in Cleveland to overcome LeBron's HCA -- but they kept pace with Boston for the East 2-seed; whoever gets that wins the East semi series between them.

New stadiums in NYC debut: Flipped between the Mets exhibition opener at Citi Field and the Yankees exhibition opener at the new Stadium. They both look like such upgrades over the old versions -- I hated going to games at them before. "Decrepit" is not endearing.

(Sheffield to the Mets: Is this like a poor man's version of the Mets signing Manny? Not quite. But I bet Sheff surprises.)

Does AI have a sore back that will keep him out the rest of the season? Or just sore feelings over not being a starter?

Lakers beat Rockets for 60th win: I thought Houston was the only team in the West that might even come close to challenging LA. Not so much. Meanwhile, how about the Heat as spoiler in the East? Miami clinched its own playoff spot last night.

Picks for tonight: Villanova (DeJuan Blair couldn't beat them last week; Hansbrough won't beat them this week. Plus: Nova guards can keep up with Ty Lawson) and Michigan State (still so amazed at the way they handled Louisville. Plus, I buy the whole "home-state" advantage.)

Enjoy the games.

-- D.S.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Joshua Prager Leaves Wall St Journal
(And Page 2 Has a New Editor)

Joshua Prager was one of the great reporters at the Journal. His article about The Shot Heard Round the World was one of the best newspaper articles about baseball ever, and his book "The Echoing Green" is terrific. You can find it in paperback, just in time for baseball season. His goodbye memo to his colleagues is worth a read.

Oh, and it appears that my alma mater Page 2 has a new editor! (Wonder if Jemele Hill helped make that happen? All these newspaper folks jumping online -- it's like 2001 all over again!)

-- D.S.

Best College Hoops Five Ever? The Fab Five

This weekend, Michigan's fabled Fab Five will reunite for the first time since 1993. Begs a great question: In the modern (post-ESPN) era, who is the best college hoops starting five of all time?

(There is an argument to be made that the "modern" era didn't actually start UNTIL the Fab Five arrived. Can you really count the years between ESPN's start and the shot-clock era? How about the 3-point era? How about the 64-team-tournament era? Maybe we should say since '87.)

(1) Michigan 1992-1993: Webber, Rose, Howard, Jackson, King. Not just because they reached national-championship games as freshmen and sophomores, but because of their overall influence on the sport, arguably the most in sports history.

(How influential were they? You could argue that the current "modern" era of college hoops did NOT start with the arrival of ESPN -- but with the arrival of the Fab Five a decade later.)

(2) Florida 2006-2007: Horford, Noah, Brewer, Green, Humphrey. No other starting five of the modern era won two national titles, let alone back-to-back titles. Only the Webber-Howard combo matched Florida's depth of talent in the post.

(3) UNLV 1990: Johnson, Augmon, Anthony, Hunt, Ackles. Not only was UNLV '90 arguably the greatest single-season team of the modern era, but they were so good that the only way Duke could beat them in the Final Four rematch in '91 was because the Running Rebels threw the freaking game.

(4) Kentucky 1996: Anderson, Walker, McCarty, Delk, Epps. Another contender for best single-season team of the modern era, but this team was far more remarkable for its depth than its starting five. Nine players on the roster made the NBA. Ron Mercer came off the bench.

(5) Duke 1992: Laettner, Hurley, G. Hill, T. Hill, Davis. Duke's '91 champ closed their eyes and wished UNLV would find a better offer than another boring beat-down. But Duke's '92 champ was the real deal -- hard to argue with arguably the top PF of this era, arguably the top PG of this era and arguably the top SF of this era... all in one starting lineup.

Remember: I'm not comparing entire teams -- that would probably put UNLV '90 1st, with Kentucky '92 2nd and Florida 06-07 3rd -- but only ranking starting fives. What made the Fab Five so amazing WAS that they all started together.

I remain surprised that no coach -- or, more accurately, no recruits themselves -- have put together as epic of a class since then. (That's always been my dream for Northwestern: "Hey, you five come here, I'll start all of you immediately, you'll be the next Fab Five, you'll take us to the Tournament, then you all can stay as long -- or as little -- as you like.")

You would figure in the one-and-done era, it would be even easier. Maybe recruits want to be THE MAN on their team, but how can they not recognize the brand value of being on Fab Five 2.0? It's not like the original Fab Five went pro immediately -- even Webber stayed for his sophomore year, and King and Jackson even stayed all four years.

Oh, I know why: Do you know how old this year's McDonald's All-American class was when the Fab Five arrived at Michigan? That's a trick question:

They weren't born yet.

Fab Five, I salute you -- in all your baggy-short, black-socks, bald-head, booster-corrupted glory.

The Fab Five and I arrived on Big Ten campuses as freshman during the same fall in 1991. Maybe that is why I feel so attached to them. They were my classmates, in a way. Their swag was like a license for all of us freshmen to say, "Make way."

They were arguably the greatest innovation in the history of the sport, and it is a testament to their cool that their memory remains as relevant and slick today as it was back in 1991.

-- D.S.

Friday 04/03 A.M. Quickie:
Root for Nova, Mich St...Pick Them Too?

Obviously, my bracket is a mess. I had Villanova losing in the 2nd round to UCLA. I had Michigan State losing to West Virginia. I had UNC losing to Syracuse. I had UConn losing to Memphis.

So I have the freedom -- the clarity -- to look at this weekend's games in today's SN column without the baggage of a bracketed rooting interest.

But I still carry my same old baggage: An overreliance on previous performances.

For example: I look at the way Villanova beat Pitt and have no worries that they can survive a date with Tyler Hansbrough -- they survived DeJuan Blair, didn't they? And Nova's guards are skilled enough to control Ty Lawson, right?

Or I look at the way Michigan State imposed itself on Louisville -- my pick as champ and a team that was playing better than any other in the Tournament heading into the Elite Eight. And the Spartans just stifled them. Why couldn't they do the same thing to UConn, arguably not as good of a team as Louisville? How will Thabeet anchor the low post -- the key to UConn's defense AND offense -- if Goran Sutan is pulling him out to the foul line?

These are reasonable arguments, if perhaps discounting the strengths of the overwhelming favorites, UNC and UConn. But it is how I am justifying picking Nova and Michigan State to win. (Quickie jinx in full effect, sadly.)

I love the way Villanova is playing. I love the way Michigan State beat Louisville. I have talked myself into picking them -- just like I talked myself into the rest of my picks this year.

When I do the Tournament post-mortem next week, that over-emphasis on past performance (taken to an extreme, in the case of UCLA) will prove to be my undoing, perhaps with a lesson to be learned for next year.

Complete SN column here, including a bunch on Cutler to the Bears. The Bears paid steeply, but Cutler is a 25-year-old franchise QB. We'll see how he does without Marshall and those WRs.

More later, including an ode to the Fab Five coming at noon ET.

-- D.S.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Varsity Letters Tonight: Baseball Mania!

Sorry for the late notice: If you live in NYC, head on over to Happy Ending tonight at 8 for the April event for Varsity Letters Reading Series, featuring all sorts of baseball goodness:

Alex Belth, leading Yankees blogger! Greg Prince, leading Mets blogger! Then they fight! Then they kiss! It'll be amazing. (Plus controversial baseball memoirist Matt McCarthy! Go ahead: Ask him those awkward questions that dispute the accuracy of his book!)

And it's free, for gosh sakes. So get out of the house/office and head down to the Lower East Side to catch some great sportswriting read aloud. And drinking.

-- D.S.

Eyewitness Photo From Denver

(Photo by L. Beatty)

Thursday 04/02 A.M. Quickie:
Yankees, Red Sox, Rays, Kentucky, Celtics

The story of the year last year in MLB was the Rays. Part of that story was, by necessity, the way the Rays squeezed the Yankees out the AL playoffs -- that was a big part of the lure, actually.

This year, it's like the sequel: "The Empire Strikes Back." The Yankees spent a quarter-billion dollars to land three big-time free agents -- the imperative to win big (and right now) has never been greater.

That is why the Yankees are the biggest storyline in MLB this season, and it only ends one of two ways: Either they make the playoffs (likely squeezing out the Rays) or they don't (armageddon).

(There is always the chance that the Yankees and Rays squeeze out the Red Sox -- I don't think it will happen, but it COULD happen. The point is that a three-way race is ideal, particularly when it features the two biggest spenders in baseball going against the low-budget, out-of-nowhere, smarter newcomer.)

I love the Rays story. I want them to win. I don't think they will -- despite the always-present chance of injury to guys like Sabathia or Burnett (A-Rod counts, too), the Yankees will make the playoffs, squeezing out the Rays for the AL Wild Card.

Yes, the Red Sox will win the AL East. That prediction and the rest throughout the other divisions lead today's SN column.

Meanwhile, you can get on the Villanova bandwagon, suspiciously listen to Doc Rivers about KG and the Celtics' playoff chances, think about McDonald's (All-Americans) and More.

And, yes, a little more on Calipari and Kentucky. But at least it doesn't lead the column today.

Complete column here. More later.

-- D.S.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Wednesday 04/01 A.M. Quickie:
Calipari, Cutler, KG, More

Kentucky basketball being relevant! Jay Cutler being traded! KG out for the season!*

April Fools Day pranks... or today's leading (and very real) storylines?

Today's SN column leads with fools, but with yet another day dedicated to Calipari-to-Kentucky, there are only so many ways I can call this a perfect match -- UK fans' superiority complex with Calipari's inferiority complex, or UK fans' narcicissm with Calipari's desperate need for approval.

Hoping to lead with MLB predictions tomorrow. We'll see. (Friday and Monday are obviously going to be leading with the Final Four.)

Complete column here.

-- D.S.

* - REGULAR season, at least most of it. Still, ominous foreshadowing.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Tuesday 03/31 A.M. Quickie:
Calipari, Kentucky, All-Americans, More

I dislike John Calipari. I dislike Kentucky. That said: In today's SN column, I argue that they would have an amazing fit that would serve both extremely well.

Between Cal's inferiority complex and UK's superiority complex, success awaits. Particularly if Calipari recruits three key folks: Xavier Henry, DeMarcus Cousins... and William Wesley.

Packed column today -- including my analysis of the All-American team, two women's hoops items and a rare rip of Florida hoops. I always find the harshest critics are of your own team.

-- D.S.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Monday 03/30 A.M. Quickie:
Michigan State, Final Four, UNC, Bracket

I am edging ever closer to last year's worst-ever 18th percentile among Tournament bracket-pickers. I'm at 22 percent -- and that's before a Final Four where I have no teams participating.

I am happy to be wrong about Louisville as national champ -- perhaps I would be less amiable about it if I was in contention to win my bracket pool.

But Michigan State's win was so... refreshing. Of any of the Elite Eight games, wasn't Louisville supposed to be the one we were SURE would work out for the favorite?

But the Spartans played brilliantly and forced Louisville into a tempo they didn't want to play -- the Big Ten's best made the Big East's best look mediocre.

If you took the names off the jerseys and asked "Which team is the one representing the supposed 'dud' conference?" You would swear it was the team in red.

And so the Big Ten gets a big bump -- not just for making the Final Four, but for dispatching the tournament's top-seeded team in the process.

And for making the Tournament unpredictable again.

(Otherwise: UNC beating Oklahoma? My biggest problem with the game is that UNC went up double-digits right away, and it basically stayed that way the next 40 minutes. It was boring. Yeah, Blake Griffin played OK -- and yeah Tyler Hansbrough didn't do much... because he didn't have to... but the game was a snoozer. I fully expect Hansbrough to go King Kong on Villanova, which is athletic and fast, but doesn't have anyone inside who can handle Psycho-T.)

Not that I'm counting out Villanova -- you'd be crazy to do that after Saturday night's epic East regional final. What I love about this Final Four is that you can make a case for any of them to win it all.

Even Michigan State. If you told me two weeks ago that they would be in the Final Four -- and I had several close friends pick exactly that, much to my derisive mockery -- I would not have believed you.

Of course, given my punishingly bad Tournament picks this year -- I literally have no opportunity to win any more points -- maybe I should listen closer to them.

Coming later this week: An autopsy of my horrendous bracket.

Complete column here
. (At least I was able to find solace from my busted awful bracket here.)

-- D.S.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sunday 03/29 (Very) Quickie:
"Remember That Nova-Pitt Game in '09?"

About halfway through the 2nd half of last night's epic Villanova-Pitt regional final (but before Verne Lundquist referenced it), I thought to myself:

Good god, I can't remember a super-meaningful (ie, regional final, Final Four) game this good since... no, couldn't be!... the Duke-Kentucky regional final in '92.

Then Verne referenced it, and -- though it was inelegant to have to actually make the reference when that's what we all were thinking anyway -- it confirmed it:

We were watching not just an "instant classic," but one of the greatest NCAA Tournament games of all time -- worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as Duke-Kentucky '92.

I'm not saying it's better than Duke-Kentucky '92 -- the mythology around that game has had too many years (nearly two decades) to build upon itself.

Folks will be loathe to say that last night's game is in its class the mere morning after. (Half the folks: "Among the best Tournament games ever!" Contrarians: "Meh. Nova needs to win it all.")

Again: No one is suggesting it was better than Duke-Kentucky. By the way: Fans under 25 or 26 don't even have a memory of that game, so stop being a fogey by being over protective/nostalgic about it.

(Sidebar: Dan Levy said this last night on Twitter -- 17 years ago? I feel old. Tell me about it: I can't decide what makes me feel worse -- that the game was 17 years ago or that it being 17 years ago still puts me at 19 years old when it happened. I wasn't even a "kid"...yeesh.)

So it's not better than Duke-Kentucky '92... but it is right up there among the top handful of games played since Duke-Kentucky '92. And that's not nothin'.

Anytime a game inspires us to say "Well, it reminds me of Duke-Kentucky '92" (with or without Lundquist's qualified prompting), then we have watched an extraordinary game. And it was.

It's funny how you can have 57 games that were all relatively unmemorable -- particularly in the second-weekend rounds -- then have a 58th game that will define this tournament:

"Remember that Nova-Pitt game?"

-- D.S.

Tournament Challenge Update: I'm in the 24th percentile. (Maybe I shouldn't have bounced out Villanova in the 2nd round, eh?) Barack Obama is in the 39th percentile.

And if both of us had used the good old "Pick By Higher Seed" method, we'd be in the 92nd percentile -- and that's WITH 3-seed Nova beating 1-seed Pitt.

As I had Syracuse beating UNC in the regional final, I will surely drop even further today, when everyone else likely collects their UNC-to-Final-Four points and I don't.