Saturday, March 09, 2013

3/9 (Saturday) Quickie

"You can't win them all." -- Jonathan Toews of the Blackhawks has the right idea. But Chicago's run sure was fun while it lasted (and, after that start, they are still expected to finish with a Cup title).

Now, the new super-streak is the Heat's. Miami won its 17th straight last night. While impressive, all that matters is whether or not Miami wins the title. (Spoiler alert: They will.)

Georgetown-Syracuse: End of an era. I grew up on Georgetown-Syracuse. It is arguably the defining rivalry of the East (Duke-UNC being "South") and the game of the day in college hoops.

I will miss it, but like Texas-Texas A&M, I don't quite understand why the two schools won't schedule a non-conference game against each other. Is everyone THAT petty? (Answer: Yes.)

So let's enjoy this now -- hopefully the game will have all sorts of clips of 80s and early-90s goodness from this fantastic rivalry.

Kentucky's win-or-stay-home moment: As discussed yesterday (see below), Kentucky's loss to Georgia on Thursday night means that they are now outside the NCAA Tournament field of 68, making today's regular-season finale versus Florida (the regular-season SEC champ) a must-win (short of UK storming to an improbable title in the SEC Tournament).

From Florida's perspective, the opportunity to ruin Kentucky's season (and Calipari's blueprint) should be all the motivation they need.

Oh, and UNC-Duke tonight. UNC has this "small ball" mojo going -- that's something that Duke has had some experience with in previous seasons. As well as the Heels are playing right now, Duke is playing better -- but in a season like this, it won't be a surprise if the presumptive 1-seed is upended. (It won't matter -- if Duke loses today and wins the ACC Tournament, it will be a 1-seed.)

Can't decide what was more impressive: Deron Williams' barrage of 3s to start the game versus the Wizards or Kobe's series of dagger 3s to end the game versus the Raptors.

Hey, Tiger is still up top at Doral -- making today a "watch the leaderboard" (if not "watch the tournament") day.

Enjoy your Saturday.

-- D.S.

Friday, March 08, 2013

03/08 (Friday) Quickie

The story of the year in college basketball isn't the turmoil at the top of the rankings. It's not Gonzaga's rise to No. 1. It's not the revival of Indiana or the sublime individual skill of Georgetown's Otto Porter (or the freakishness of IU's Victor Oladipo).

The story of the year in college basketball is Kentucky -- the sport's defending champion -- going from the top of the sport to its dregs in less than a year.

John Calipari was supposed to have cracked the code -- a "Moneyball"-style arbitrage of the NBA's mandatory college year for top prep players, importing a new crop of future Lottery picks on an annually renewable basis, harnessing their talent as a sort of NBA finishing school.

Cal's pitch was brilliant in its simplicity: You've got to spend a year waiting for the NBA Draft -- if you spend it with me, you will play, you will get developed for the NBA and you will compete for a national championship.

But the arbitrage falls apart if Kentucky misses the NCAA Tournament entirely, which they are now on the verge of after choking at mediocre Georgia last night.

With a regular-season finale versus SEC regular-season champ Florida tomorrow at Rupp, UK -- in Calipari's own framing -- is in a win-or-bust situation.

(Needless to say, if there were any concerns about Florida being motivated, the opportunity to effectively end rival Kentucky's season an invalidate the Calipari Model should be enough.)

Granted, Kentucky has been missing Nerlens Noel for weeks -- he was only the No. 1 NBA talent in college hoops -- but they were struggling while he was out there, too.

And, granted, next season Kentucky has the best recruiting class since the Fab Five coming to Lexington. (This season's freshmen were highly touted, too, but not like the '13 prep class.)

The reality is that if Kentucky isn't going to compete for national championships, all Cal offers is playing time (he better hope this season's freshmen don't stick around trying to make good on this season's dud, clogging the pipeline for next season's imports) and a track record of sending players to the NBA. There are plenty of coaches who can deliver that.

The model should work, but like arbitrage on Wall Street, sometimes the model doesn't stand up to the reality of the market.


*Mariano Rivera to retire after '13 season: Only the greatest relief pitcher ever and, arguably, the greatest pitcher ever. Even Yankee-haters respect Rivera. More on this on Monday.

*Thunder hold off the Melo-less Knicks in NYC: Closest thing to a moral victory that the Knicks will get this season. (Meanwhile, is there a more confounding player in the NBA than JR Smith?)

*Tiger shoots co-leading 66 at Doral: All it does is set up "win or fail" expectations for the rest of the weekend.  (Beats the alternative, I guess.)

*Blackhawks Watch: At Colorado tonight (loss alert?!), hosting Edmonton on Sunday.

*Jadeveon Clowney takes out $5M insurance policy: Only $95M less than his ultimate market value in the event he blows out his knee next season like teammate Marcus Lattimore.

(Know what the best insurance policy is? Not playing college football and waiting for the 2014 NFL Draft -- like he wouldn't still be the No. 1 overall pick?)

*NFL: Dolphins lock up WR Brian Hartline -- he was Ryan Tannehill's binky, so it makes sense to keep him around. He's no game-breaker, but steady (and very productive last year). But they still need a game-breaker.

*Deals: Rockets lock up GM Daryl Morey through 2018. He is Houston's MVP and the best GM in the NBA.

*The non-Catholic Big East is the new "America 12": Reminds me of "Conference USA," one of the worst names in sports-branding history.

*Civics: Doesn't it feel like Atlanta just built the Georgia Dome?

*Weekend Viewing Guide: Syracuse at Georgetown (noon Saturday), the finale of one of college hoops' best rivalries. Still don't understand why they can't set up an annual non-conference match-up.

(This season, at least, Cuse-G'town is a bigger/better game than Duke at UNC, tomorrow night at 9. Yes, it's a great rivalry, but it lacks real stakes. So UNC loses? Still in the Tournament. So Duke loses? Maybe it makes UNC's season, but Duke still is positioned for a 1-seed if they win the ACC Tournament. It is the fundamental issue with college hoops rivalries in the regular season: There are no real consequences.)

But, occasionally, you get exceptions, like Florida at Kentucky tomorrow at noon -- bringing it back to what we were talking about at the top, the consequences of losing to a rival in the regular season couldn't be bigger for Calipari and the 'Cats.

-- D.S.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

3/07 (Thursday) Quickie

Last night's big winner: Jamal Crawford, who pulled off a between-the-legs alley-oop pass to Blake Griffin that was a good reminder that even in a season that feels like a Heat d'accompli as it relates to the playoffs, the sport is built on the night-in-night-out aesthetic brilliance.

Was last night the Heat's best win of the 16 straight? It was arguably the grittiest, the kind of grinder that you typically need en route to 16 wins in the playoffs -- which, at this point, is the only "16" that really matters for Miami.

Speaking of streaks, the Blackhawks -- sports' best ongoing drama right now -- won again, on a last-minute tie-breaking goal in front of an absolutely frenzied home crowd. That's 30 straight games with a point, 11 straight wins and a 2013 season still without a loss. Amazing.

College hoops: It is an early-March truism -- desperate Bubble teams will necessarily play with more urgency (especially at home) than teams that are locked into the Tournament.

That was the story of Villanova over Georgetown, of Iowa State over Oklahoma State, of Xavier over St. Louis and of Georgia Tech over Miami.

Of those four winners, it's probably too-little-too-late for two of them, but for the other two, it is a resume-bolstering moment.

MLB Spring Training: Yankees-Red Sox has lost so much of its luster over the past year or two that it feels like MLB is ripe for a new leading rivalry, and I would nominate the Phillies and Nationals, who really do seem to dislike each other. The Phillies are on the decline, but clearly have enough money invested to want to scratch and claw back into relevancy; the Nationals are on the ascent, and clearly see beating down the former class of the NL East as a stepping stone to their own validity. When Roy Halladay is buzzing Nats in a spring training game, you know you're on to something good and ugly.

Today's viewing guide: Thunder-Knicks and Clippers-Nuggets NBA doubleheader on TNT... in college hoops, it's ostensibly Wisconsin at Michigan State at 9 on ESPN, but why not the opening round of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament on ESPN3? All four Mo Valley teams angling to make the quarterfinals have a theoretical chance of playing their way into the NCAA Tournament. All they have to do is win four straight games, and they're in. Easier said than done, but still: Doable!

Today's loser: David Akers, finally released by the 49ers.

-- D.S.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

3/06 (Wednesday) Quickie

Today's biggest winners: (1) Ohio State, (2) Blackhawks, (3) Russell Westbrook, (4) Terrell Sinkfield, (5) Von Miller, (6) Regis.

*Ohio State beats Indiana in Bloomington:'s Eamonn Brennan nailed this -- a road win over an elite team was the remaining hole on Ohio State's resume. Time to add the Buckeyes to the short list of teams with the potential to win four straight in late March and make the Final Four. 

(As for Indiana, they are still on the list, but -- yep -- those are doubts creeping in. Losing at home on Senior Night is what the old, pre-revived Hoosiers would do.)

*Blackhawks extend point streak: That's 20-0-3 on the season, 29 straight games with a point (extending back to last season) and 10 straight wins. The most must-follow team in sports keeps it going -- at this point it is folly to try to predict when this ride will end.

*Thunder thump the Lakers: Russell Westbrook (37 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists) with a reminder of why he is among the Top 5 most must-see players in the NBA and the X-factor in OKC's run for a second straight West title. Even Kobe tweeted out compliments after the game.

*Name to Know: Terrell Sinkfield, the Northern Iowa wide receiver who dropped by the pre-draft "Pro Day" at the University of Minnesota and ran a reportedly blistering 4.19 (and if that seems too good to be true, he also reported ran a 4.27, which is hardly slouching). Speed alone isn't enough to make it in the NFL -- but it sure helps.

*Von Miller says the Broncos are going to win the Super Bowl: Whatever his motivation, isn't that exactly what you want any player on a contender to say? Like he's supposed to say "We'll try our best!" or "Next year: Making the AFC title game or bust!" The fact that he was inspired by his 6-year-old cousin emerging from a coma makes it all the more inspired. If any player is allowed to make that kind of boast, it should be someone in the argument for best defensive player in the AFC.

*Regis Philbin was the headliner of the official promotion for Fox Sports' new ESPN competitor, Fox Sports 1. Regis will host a daily talk show head-to-head with ESPN's flagship daily shows PTI and Around the Horn -- that won't end well for Regis. It is unclear that Regis resonates with a younger audience, but it is easy to understand the interest in bringing in a "brand name."

The key will be the co-host that they pair with Regis -- the sports version of Kelly Ripa. (It's not without precedent: Michelle Beadle was largely unknown before being paired with Colin Cowherd on ESPN's SportsNation show, where she quickly established herself as the real star of the show.)

In the end, sports talk shows are fun, but sports networks make their money (cable fees and advertising) on showing live events. Fox has the existing assets -- and certainly the deep pockets -- to be competitive when it comes to securing live sports rights (like, say, Big East basketball).


*Tweet of the Day: "Kid Blake: Who are you? Future Blake: you from the future... Don't listen to anything else I've told you just start wearing a cup." (from Blake Griffin, in response to Serge Ibaka merely earning a $25K fine for his groin shot on Griffin from Sunday).

*ICYMI: Don Van Natta's #longread on NFL commissioner Roger Goodell -- the newsy bit was that Goodell's biggest fear is a player dying on the field, but that feels like Goodell's shiny object meant to distract you from the actual issue -- the thousands of hits to the head that, over time, trigger CTE and other brain injuries that inevitably overtake players long after they have put themselves at immediate risk on the field.

*Johnny Football Watch: If Johnny Manziel's family wants an insurance policy for the remaining year he plays college football before going pro, he should just drop out now and work with George Whitfield or another NFL-prep QB coach for the year...

*College football hot stove: Michigan's chances of being nationally relevant in 2014 got a big boost with incumbent starting QB Devin Gardner getting an extra year of eligibility. Michigan's offense got better when he took over for Denard Robinson, and two years from now, he should be an elite QB nationally.
*Conference realignment: For selling their league name and giving up their marquee basketball teams, the Football League Soon To Be Formerly Known As The Big East is going to make a cool $100M. And that's on top of the cash from their TV deal. Not bad...

And the farthest thing from a winner: Man U. fans, watching their side bounced from Champions League by Real Madrid after an entirely iffy red card.

-- D.S.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

3/05 (Tuesday) Quickie

Today's big winners: Brittney Griner, Notre Dame women's hoops, the Heat (again x 15), Joe Flacco, Kobe, Dwayne Bowe (and Alex Smith), Jack Nicklaus.

First off: In the ongoing discussion about where LeBron James ranks among all-time NBA players (short answer: there is an apples/oranges problem, but he is probably already Top 10 and will finish his career no less than Top 3 but possibly No. 1), we clearly are overlooking one thing:

LeBron isn't even the most dominant basketball player in 2013 -- that would be Baylor's Brittney Griner, who capped Senior Night with 50 points. Greatest women's college hoops player ever? She's in the conversation, that's for sure. Unclear there is an analogue in the NBA for Griner's potential impact on the WNBA -- maybe Patrick Ewing when he came out of Georgetown?

It was a big night for women's college hoops: ND beat UConn for the Big East title in 3 OT, in the women's college hoops game of the year.

Meanwhile, on the LeBron beat: The Heat won their 15th straight. I might as well keep repeating what I said yesterday -- the season is over. Everyone else is playing for second place. And that's OK -- there is nothing wrong with watching basketball played at a near-ideal level by the runaway champs.

Tracking: Carmelo Anthony's knee.

Eating: Joe Flacco, flush with Ravens cash, going to a McDonald's drive-thru.

Talking: Kobe, who says that if Serge Ibaka gave him a groin-shot like Ibaka did to Blake Griffin on Sunday, Kobe "would have smacked" him. Kobe-in-twilight continues to be the best Kobe.

NFL: The Chiefs reached a deal with Dwayne Bowe, who will have as much to say about Alex Smith's impact in KC as anyone except Jamaal Charles.

Golf: Look at Jack Nicklaus with the Tiger-trolling! Jack said Tiger "better get going" if he is going to topple Nicklaus' record for major wins. Five years ago, we all would have said "That's just going to motivate Tiger even more!" Today, of course, it's unclear that the challenge won't unnerve Tiger. There is no "turning it on" for Tiger anymore.

Let's be real: Nicklaus is right.

-- D.S.

Monday, March 04, 2013

3/4 (Monday) Quickie

First of all: Oh my god, that buzzer-beater by the New Rochelle (NY) high school player to win the playoff game. To all the folks saying "Never seen a more incredible shot," I think I agree with you.

I consider the NBA season over. The Heat are going to storm their way to the NBA title, and LeBron is going to carry them there with the greatest individual season since the peak of Michael Jordan. Sunday's win in New York wasn't flashy -- just devastatingly effective.  Watching the league's best player at the peak of his effectiveness? There are a lot worse playoff plot lines.

Blackhawks keep winning/not losing: My kids love hockey, so we ended up watching most of the Blackhawks-Red Wings game yesterday, and oh wow, was it entertaining. Much of that had to do with the stakes (Chicago's season-opening point streak), but layer in the rivalry, how hard the Red Wings were playing and how rabid the Detroit fans were about watching the Wings snap Chicago's streak. Then the Hawks ripped their heart out. I have to imagine it is simultaneously thrilling and excruciating for Chicago fans that the incredible start has raised expectations to "Stanley Cup champion or Fail."

Kobe's dunk on Josh Smith (and leading the Lakers back to .500)
: LeBron may be jaw-dropping in his sheer dominance, but if I had to pick a single player to watch right now, it would be Kobe -- in his career twilight but so maniacally desperate to get the Lakers back into the playoffs that he seems to be playing as hard as he ever has.

CBB: Gonzaga will be No. 1? Covered this yesterday -- I can respect Gonzaga as an excellent team (I have no problem already penciling them into the Final Four, wherever they end up in the bracket) but reject them as having earned the (entirely vestigial) No. 1 spot in the latest regular-season poll. Their strength of schedule is just too spotty.

Michigan holds off Michigan State
: Big win for Big Blue, but still don't see Michigan with the defense to win four straight in late March to get to the Final Four.

Meanwhile: No change to yesterday's opinion that Ryan Kelly had the single-best performance by a college basketball player this season on Saturday night in Duke's win over Miami.

MLB: Mike Trout's agent does him no favors griping about his salary. Of course he is wildly underpaid, but it is unclear complaining about it now fixes anything. On the one hand: Yes, some young stars are going to be underpaid relative to market value, often extremely. On the other hand, non-rich teams being able to control their young talent on reasonable contracts is at the heart of what little competitive balance actually exists in baseball. Isn't he satisfied that in 5 or 6 years, Trout is going to command $300 million?

NFL: Peter King has a great detail leading MMQB this week that Bob Kraft didn't want Tom Brady to leave the Pats like Joe Montana left the 49ers. I appreciate that, but if the Patriots had a successor to Brady who was as good as Steve Young was at the tail end of Joe Montana's career, wouldn't a clear-eyed organization like the Patriots do exactly what the 49ers did? Why get sentimental about it now, when sentimentality is precisely what the Pats have NOT stood for during its Belichick/Brady Dynasty?

Dennis Rodman's trip to North Korea: On the "Te'o Scale" of jaw-dropping absurdity, it's at least a 7, possibly an 8.

Get well soon, Bradley Beal.

-- D.S.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

3/3 (Ryan Kelly) Quickie

I'm not a Duke fan (to say the least), but Ryan Kelly wins the weekend.

Coming off a 7-week layoff, his 36-point outburst in front of a frenzied home crowd (and floor-slapping teammates) against a Top 5 team that had previously thrashed the Blue Devils in a win that pole-positions (or "poll-positions") Duke for a 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament was THE signature individual performance of the year in college basketball.

The five other college hoops stories I'm paying attention to:

*VCU. Holy moley. What the Rams did to Butler was something I never thought any team would be able to do to Butler. If you weren't at least noodling on the idea of VCU being talented enough to make a Final Four run, this is your moment to start.

*Louisville tops Syracuse at the Dome: The Orange aren't necessarily a team you consider an offensive juggernaut, but they are Top 20 in offensive efficiency. However, Louisville is No. 1 in the country in defensive efficiency, and it showed. The Cardinals have got to be on anyone's short list of bonafide Final Four contenders -- their defense is just too good, and combined with a more than "good enough" offense.

*Shabazz Muhammad didn't exactly dominate college basketball in his one-and-done year (as you might expect a No. 1 national recruit would), but 18 points in a home finale upset of a ranked conference foe isn't a bad finish.

*Otto Porter Watch: 28 and 8 in a G'town win over Rutgers for the should-be/could-be/would-be national player of the year.

*Gonzaga will probably be No. 1, but Saturday's 29-point thrashing of lowly Portland is a good reminder that the Zags play a creampuff schedule. Don't get me wrong: Gonzaga is a very very good team -- I will have no problem penciling them through to the Final Four. But there are a dozen teams that could go 16-0 in the WCC in any given year and many multiples that could put up gaudy win totals playing in that conference.

Watching today: Michigan St-Michigan at 4 on CBS, plus ducking in on the NBA afternoon double-header (Heat-Knicks, Thunder-Clippers) on ABC.

-- D.S.