Saturday, March 02, 2013

03/02 (Very) Quickie

So I guess the real question is which team is going to lose first -- the Heat or the Blackhawks? (The difference is that where the Heat seem to be in a position to steamroll to a championship, it is entirely unclear whether the Blackhawks' season-opening run will carry through to its closing.)

College Hoops Saturday: Is Miami-Duke a play-in game for a 1-seed? Not quite -- ultimately, any meeting in the ACC Tournament would probably be decisive, but today instantly becomes the top line on the resume for the winner.

Other games I'm tracking:
Noon: Alabama at Florida (ESPN), Butler at VCU (ESPN2).
Honestly: Butler-VCU is the day's most must-see game.
2 pm: Wichita State at Creighton (ESPN2)
Another great mid-major battle.
4 pm: Kentucky at Arkansas (CBS)
Back on the wrong side of bubble for UK when they lose.
6 pm: Miami at Duke
Ultimate test for The U. Envision Duke rout here.
9 pm: Arizona at UCLA
Not a big believer in 'Zona. Win here helps.

Joe Flacco's big deal: Is he worthy of being the highest-paid QB in NFL history? That's not really a fair question -- it's just a function of market rates, combined with Flacco pulling off a spectacular playoff run that earned him and his team a championship. So the short answer is: Yes, worthy.

Wow, what happened to Rory McIlroy? At this point, you just hope that he figures out whatever has him psychologically occupied.

Enjoy your Saturday.

-- D.S.

Friday, March 01, 2013

03/01 (March) Quickie

March is here. It is also my daughter's 1st birthday, which is a happy confluence.

*Virginia stuns Duke: As someone who believes that the college hoops regular season's main function is to get everyone ready for the NCAA Tournament, I couldn't care less about the way teams in the Top 5 seem to lose every week as it relates to the utterly useless regular-season "Who's No. 1?" debate (or even the largely useless regular-season "Who are the four 1-seeds?" debate).

The 'Hoos' win over Duke is valuable in one big way: It is an affirmation that it is going to be really hard this year to pick the team that is going to win six straight to win the national title (or even the three other teams that will win four straight and make the Final Four). Every would-be contender has displayed at least a few moments where you can doubt yourself when penciling in their name across a bracket.

Your best bet remains finding those teams with high defensive-efficiency ratings that can also score if they need to (represented by high offensive-efficiency ratings). That puts some of the usual suspects in the mix -- Indiana, Florida, Gonzaga, Louisville, Duke, Kansas, maybe even a wild card like VCU.

But it also should make you skeptical of, say, Georgetown (a team that plays fantastic defense but relies too heavily on one scorer to create any offense) or Michigan (a team that can score but doesn't come close to playing defense at an elite level). Miami and Wisconsin -- and, of course, Final Four stand-by Michigan State -- are intriguing possibilities.

Wrapping it back to last night's "upset," it shouldn't have come as too big of a shock: Virginia's defensive efficiency is in the Top 20 and its offense is underrated (coming in at a respectable No. 31 in KenPom's offensive efficiency ranking). For all of Duke's offensive brilliance, it had trouble stopping UVA's offense -- unsurprisingly, Duke's defense is ranked behind UVA's, along with 20 other teams.

*"Catholic 7" to expand, claim new old name: I sort of loved the "Catholic 7" shorthand for the spin-off basketball-first teams leaving the Big East. But now they are going to buy the name "Big East" from the old league (for whom it barely applied before and certainly doesn't now) for their start-up league, along with adding a few new members: Butler and Xavier, both of whom are big wins for the league -- perennial Top 25 teams (and, perhaps more important, perennial Tournament studs). St. Louis is also going to be added (another Top 25 team) and, reportedly, Creighton is in the mix. That's a bit of a reach, geographically. I would favor VCU.

*Those Adidas uniforms: I typically applaud the apparel companies for trying new things. The "short-sleeve" look doesn't bother me -- if you watched what happened in the NBA with Golden State, this is clearly going to be a bigger thing in basketball -- but the Zubaz-style shorts are awful. I love wearing basketball shorts around (the house, not in public), and I wouldn't wear those if I was given a pair for free, let alone buy them. Maybe I'm not the target market, but this isn't fashion via Oregon football or Maryland basketball -- it is a look that wasn't good back when we first saw it 20 years ago and hasn't gotten any better with age.

*Blackhawks' streak reaches 20: I'm not following their games live, but when I know they are playing the night before, it has become the first score I look for in the morning.

*Kings vs. Sacramento: I used to live in Seattle and have many friends from there who truly lament losing the Sonics and wish daily for an NBA team, but I hope that the Kings stay in Sacramento.

*LeBron wins everything, cont'd: I am not a big fan of the Harlem Shake craze, but the Heat did an incredible version. Consider how well LeBron is playing right now... and how willing he is to have fun with this video. It's really endearing -- the guy has a fantastic sense of humor about himself.

Have a great weekend -- light updates all weekend long, as usual.

-- D.S.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

2/28 (Curry) Quickie

*Well, that Stephen Curry 54-point binge at MSG was just about the most fun thing you'll see in the NBA this season. That Curry's Warriors lost? OK, it happens. The real result is that Curry elevates himself into one of the Top 5 must-see players in the league (behind LeBron, Durant and Kobe but I would argue ahead of Kyrie Irving and Russell Westbrook).

*Michigan's loss to lowly Penn State is the kind of result that sticks with you on Selection Sunday. I don't care how good their offense is -- Michigan's defense isn't nearly good enough to win four straight in late March to get to a Final Four. That this team was on a short list for 1-seeds is kind of a joke.

*Georgetown's Otto Porter: The answer to the question "Who is college basketball's national player of the year?" One of the handful of most intriguing storylines heading into the NCAA Tournament is how far Porter plus a Top 5 defense can carry Georgetown.

(If you're picking four players to join Porter on an all-America team, go with Indiana's Victor Oladipo, Gonzaga's Kelly Olynyk, Creighton's Doug McDermott and Michigan's Trey Burke. Sorry, Cody Zeller. He can anchor the 2nd team, including Duke's Plumlee, Kansas' McLemore, Florida's Murphy and OK St's Smart.)

*Chiefs trade for Alex Smith: Best they could do with a bad hand. Maybe if they weren't picking first overall, they would take Geno Smith. Maybe Andy Reid didn't want to trade for Nick Foles. Maybe they didn't want to risk Matt Barkley not being there at the top of the 2nd round. (Hell, maybe if they saw this coming, they would have traded this year's 1st to the Rams last year for the chance to draft RGIII.) KC's QB situation has been a mess since Joe Montana -- this is as close to stability as they have seen in decades. What could go wrong?

*49ers get 1st pick of 2nd round: So they either get arguably the most valuable player of the 2013 draft or leverage that pick into a trade for, say, Darrelle Revis. Best franchise in football gets better.

-- D.S.

2/27 (Is It March Yet?) Quickie

Hard not to feel good for Minnesota fans after last night's win over No. 1 Indiana -- the signature win of Tubby Smith's era and arguably Minnesota's best win since the '97 team zipped to the Final Four.

It is also a reminder that Indiana -- like every other would-be contender -- is fallible, but it is hardly damning to lose on the road to an ultra-motivated opponent (see Florida losing at Tennessee).

No reason not to maintain IU as a Final Four team -- four straight on a neutral court isn't the same as a one-off in a rocking Minneapolis arena in February.

As for Florida? Still a bonafide Final Four contender -- if you're just casually following the Gators, it seems like an ugly road loss. But Florida was playing with 6 guys -- they were missing X-factor Will Yeguete and frosh super-shooter Michael Frazier, both of whom will be back for the Tournament. At full strength, Florida is as good as anyone -- as long as they aren't shipped out West, I'll take a 2- or 3-seed for this team -- all the more likely folks in my bracket pool won't pick them.

(The opposite? Memphis, who hasn't beaten anyone and whose "win streak" was snapped by Xavier. I can't dump Memphis out of my bracket fast enough; meanwhile, Xavier remains one of Those Teams where you will kick yourself for not anticipating the perennial Sweet 16 run. That is: If the Musketeers can even get into the Tournament; they are on the wrong side of the bubble -- last night was a must-win, but they have more work to do. KenPom has them ranked in the 80s, but they finish the regular season with games against Tourney locks St. Louis and Butler. Both are must-win, but if the X-men pull it off, they will be on the right side of the bubble.)

Gonzaga will be No. 1? Apparently, strength of schedule doesn't matter. Look: Gonzaga is a really good team -- over the weekend, I put them in my "if the season ended now" Final Four -- but they benefit tremendously from playing a soft conference schedule.

LeBron scores 40 in 2OT win over Sacramento: Was that the game of the year in the NBA? Regardless, one more superlative for LeBron's season -- highest scoring output for him this year. It is hard to think of a player who had a better month in the last 25 years than LeBron's February.

(Meanwhile, I really hope that LeBron keeps up with his pregame dunking shows -- who in the world thinks those are a bad thing?)

Pacers-Warriors scuffle: Roy Hibbert can look forward to a week or two off. The big winner? Stephen Curry, who took on Indiana's 7-footer.

NFL Draft: Alabama's Dee Milliner runs a 4.37 -- he was already the best DB in the draft. Feels like a can't-miss prospect in a league that is dominated by passing.

Mike Holmgren to the Raiders? He's a retread, but Oakland needs all the help it can get.

Milestones: Vivian Stringer hits 900 wins. After yesterday's talk of 500 wins for Bill Self, 900 is truly rare air.

-- D.S.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

2/26 (Very) Quickie

*Of course Tom Brady took less than market value, ensuring that the Patriots can continue to make moves around him to keep the team competitive. Cripes, it's hard to begrudge that guy.

*But what does it mean for Joe Flacco? Nothing. Flacco is going to get paid, and the only reaction will be to reductively compare Flacco's money-grubbing to Brady's selflessness. In reply, Flacco can just hold up the Super Bowl trophy.

*Manti Te'o runs slow at the combine: The gif of Jim Harbaugh shaking his head is hilarious. Te'o is also smaller than everyone thought. You want to default to "But the heart!" but the reality is that Te'o ain't Ray Lewis. Some contender will reach for him at the end of the 1st round, and he will play well surrounded by lots of other talent (rather than anchoring a defense himself). But a superstar? Nope.

*Lakers lose to Nuggets: Not quite the way to reach the playoffs.

*Kansas survives at Iowa State: Tough place to play, still not sold on KU as a Final Four team. (Meanwhile, I would not have guessed that Bill Self is a 500-win coach. He is No. 54 all-time and only four typically successful seasons away from the Top 30 and the 600-win threshold. The names that might surprise you on the all-time list? Bob Huggins and Mike Montgomery both in the Top 25, with more than 650 wins each. Up next in the 500 club? Jim Larranaga and Dana Altman should both crack the plateau next season. Billy Donovan is two seasons away; Tom Izzo is three seasons away, as is Larry Eustachy.)

*Marquette beats Syracuse: Feels like Sweet 16 is the ceiling for both. (But I caught some of the game last night, and that Marquette student section is awesome.)

*Blackhawks keep winning: Even if you're not a hockey fan, this streak to open the season should have you checking the schedule to see when Chicago is playing and how they're doing.

*Alabama offers scholly to 8th grader: Attention all college basketball coaches: Gabe Shanoff displayed a sweet shot in the 1st-grade basketball league this month. Please feel free to make scholarship offers. (Reminds me of this funny Varsity Dad parody post I did five years ago.)

*Gareth Bale: Whew. Hell of a goal.

-- D.S.

Monday, February 25, 2013

2/25 (Monday) Quickie

I don't think it was reasonable to EXPECT Danica to win the Daytona 500, but a Top 10 finish certainly affirms her pole-position start. (That said, that Danica was nudged from what seemed like a sure-fire Top 5 -- Top 3? -- finish to the back of the Top 10 was disappointing.)

All in all, Daytona got what it wanted/needed -- Danica near the front and a largely dramatic finish featuring Jimmie Johnson offering up the racing equivalent of "You all forgot about me, didn't you?"

NFL Offseason: Alex Smith about to be traded to KC? Well, about to be traded somewhere, with the Chiefs the presumptive destination. Smith is right to want to get out of SF, but I think he will find that Andy Reid is a steep drop-off from Jim Harbaugh as a coach that can get the most out of him. Still: It's a chance to start. (Anyone else just as intrigued as to who Harbaugh might bring in as Colin Kaepernick's new back-up? I'm obviously biased, but if any coach can confidently figure out how to deploy Tim Tebow innovatively, it is Harbaugh. What a fit that could be.)

Kobe is the best: "Amnesty THAT" as a tweet after the Lakers beat the Mavs, whose owner Mark Cuban suggested the Lakers should amnesty Kobe after the season.

Heat win 11th straight, beating the Cavs, but of course all anyone wants to talk about is the years-away speculation that LeBron would eventually return to Cleveland, pair with Kyrie Irving and lead the Cavs to a title. As someone who wrote about LeBron being a lock to leave Cleveland years before The Decision, I'm all for this kind of insane speculation -- as soon as LeBron wins a bunch of rings in Miami (and there is no reason to think it won't be three, including last year, '13 and '14), I could absolutely see him returning to Cleveland to try to win a title there. (Honestly? My biggest question is how he would/could co-exist with Irving, who needs the ball in his hands to be most effective.)

Ohio State d. Michigan State: Just when I thought that I had a handle on the Spartans as a potential Final Four team, they lose in Columbus (no shame in that, btw.) Almost assuredly, I will take Michigan State one round too far, Ohio State one round too short and I have given up on trying to make sense of Michigan at all. If I had to pick four Final Four teams today, I'd go with Indiana, Florida, Gonzaga and -- puts finger in the air -- VCU.

NFL Combine: The two biggest things you need to know from yesterday are that West Virginia WR Tavon Austin is going to be a massive NFL star as quickly as next season and that Utah OT Star Lotulelei's heart condition is going to completely vex GMs in the Top 10.

Spring Training: Curtis Granderson out until May with a broken arm. He was already displaced from centerfield and clearly on the back-side of his career, so it is unclear that the Yankees will drop off THAT much without him. Still: Ominous foreshadowing for New York already.

Fashion: Nope, not the Oscars -- yes, I think the Warriors' sleeves are kind of cool. The team clearly responded to them. It's such a change from the norm, I'm not sure I see the league converting to sleeves full-time for every team, but I could definitely see every team having a sleeved version of their uniforms (although I can't see fans buying them in the same way they would buy a standard tank-top, which already looks ludicrous enough as it is on anyone but a kid).

-- D.S.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

2/24 (Very Sunday) Quickie

*Unless you already favor a particular driver, how can you not be rooting for Danica today?

*What a terrible day at the track yesterday. NASCAR as an organization -- command and control -- is not good in moments like that.

*Yesterday was about as good as it gets for DC sports fans: Georgetown wins at Syracuse (including Otto Porter with a national-player-of-the-year performance), the Wizards beat the Rockets (including Bradley Beal showcasing why he is a future All-Star) and the Caps obliterate the Devils (including an Ovechkin hat-trick). Take that for what you will that that is "as good as it gets."

*Kentucky was in a must-win yesterday and got it. UK's resume is lackluster, but I think that the Selection Committee will almost assuredly give the defending champs the benefit of a doubt that other bubble teams won't get. (Granted, if UK craps out its remaining regular-season schedule, there isn't much anyone can do for them.)

*Miami was overrated? You don't say!

*I wanted to see something decisive out of Colorado State -- instead, they lost at home to New Mexico. The Mountain West is going to mess up some brackets next month, that's for sure.

*Is Florida good enough to be a 1-seed? Absolutely. But losing solid freshman SG Michael Frazier to an apparent concussion -- on top of a previous injury to Will Yeguete that has him out for at least a few more weeks -- really tests Florida's depth. They were only going to go 7 deep in the Tournament anyway, but now they're down to 6 for the stretch run, which is enough to wear out any team.

*LeBron: Ho-hum, just a triple-double. This is basketball being played at a level unseen since Michael Jordan's BEST days.

*Good start for women fighters in UFC.

*I think yesterday was the day Manti Te'o and the whole ludicrous story became a non-issue with the NFL Draft. Te'o has a bigger issue: He's just OK and certainly not spectacular.

-- D.S.