Tuesday, April 08, 2014

4/8 UConn Dynasty Quickie

*Decent argument to be made that UConn's 4 titles in the past 15 years makes them a quasi-dynasty.

*Even better argument to be made that Shabazz Napier belongs in the top tier of all-time college hoops players, because of three very important qualifiers:

(1) He played a meaningful role on TWO national-title teams (putting him in the rare air of Hurley-Laettner-Hill and Noah-Horford-Brewer).

(2) In the second one, he wore the "carry-the-load superstar champ" role of Carmelo, Kemba, Danny Manning, Glen Rice and Anthony Davis.

(3) This one was most interesting to me: He joined an extremely exclusive fraternity of players who played meaningful roles on two NON-CONSECUTIVE national-title teams.

The sport is defined by its championship tournament, individual brilliance within that tournament and the exclusivity of winning multiple titles.

Because of that, I'd argue that Napier ends his career in the top tier of all-time ("all-time" meaning: 64-team era since 1985) talents:

The 10 I'd pick: Manning, Larry Johnson, Laettner, Hurley, Hill, Carmelo, Noah, Davis, Napier, with one spot open for your particular favorite snubbee.

*Looking ahead to next year: By far the most intriguing team is SMU, snubbed by the Tournament committee, but whose two wins over UConn sure do look good this morning.

-- D.S.

Monday, April 07, 2014

4/7 One Shining Moment Quickie

*John Calipari wins, regardless of whether or not Kentucky wins the national title tonight. The mere fact his squad has made it this far (even with preseason No. 1 expectations) is affirmation enough.

*I remain bludgeoned by Florida's loss to UConn: I was "title or bust" for this squad; wow, I will miss these seniors; the game wasn't even close.

*It's an open question whether you'd rather have "thoroughly beaten" or, like Wisconsin, "you coulda/shoulda/woulda won." I guess the latter would be harder to take.

*It's one thing for UK's frosh to come in and go "one-and-title" -- that's amazing. It's another for UConn's seniors to get the rare TWO titles over four years. Napier & Co. join an exclusive group.

In the past 20 years: '92 Duke players on '91 team (Hurley, Laettner, G Hill, T Hill, B Davis, Antonio Lang), two players on '98 Kentucky's team who were also on '96 team (Jeff Sheppard and Allen Edwards), '07 Florida on '06 team (Noah, Horford, Brewer, Humphrey, Green, Richard, Hodge, various bench-warmers).

Kentucky has three bench-warmers who were on the 2012 title-team roster: Long, Malone, Polson.

*I am genuinely baffled over who to pick to win. Both teams are on such a roll. UConn gets the edge defensively; UK gets the edge inside. It's honestly hard to fathom one of these teams will be "national champ."

-- D.S.

Friday, April 04, 2014

4/4 Final Four Quickie

*Let's go back two weeks: My expectations for Florida are nothing short of "championship or bust." That makes Saturday's semi against UConn a must-win.

*Count me among the folks who think that Florida has an advantage having already played UConn -- and lost, short-handed, at the buzzer, in Storrs. This team doesn't quite resemble that one.

*Wisconsin-Kentucky is fascinating: Wisconsin is playing at as high of a level as that program has EVER played; Kentucky is on a remarkable roll. My head says Wisco; my gut says UK.

*Thunder snap Spurs' winning streak: The NBA Playoffs are going to be phenomenal.

*Who wants Chris Johnson? (A much easier analysis: Pete Carroll has more than earned his contract extension -- hard to displace Belichick and I guess you can make a case for Harbaugh, but it's arguable he has ascended to Best Coach in the NFL status. Which is remarkable.)

Enjoy your weekend!

-- D.S.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

4/3 Playoffs? Playoffs! Quickie

*My Wizards are back in the NBA Playoffs for the first time since 2008. I'm beyond excited.

This is not to be understated: In the past 25 years, they have been to the playoffs a grand total of 5 times, including 4 first-round exits (including the amazing '97 Bullets team featuring Webber and Howard that was cursedly broken up). No one appreciates the mere notion of "playoff eligibility" than a Wizards fan.

*MLB: Mark Buehrle had the best game of the day yesterday, but give me the suddenly ageless Tim Hudson, who pitched into the 8th, allowed only 3 hits and K'ed 7. He turns 39 in July.

*Big day in DC: Kain Colter is meeting the media.

*If I had the No. 1 pick of the NFL Draft, Jadeveon Clowney is the most can't-miss defensive prospect. (Sammy Watkins is the most can't-miss on offense, but hard to take a WR with No. 1 pick.)

Saturday, March 29, 2014

3/29 Elite Eight Quickie

*This Kentucky team reminds me of the 1992 Michigan team where the "Fab Five" earned a 6-seed and zipped all the way to the title game. UK now claims the top TWO best games of the tournament.

*I clearly should have picked my Elite Eight by including the two teams that beat Florida this season (Wisconsin, UConn) and the one that came closest (Kentucky in SEC tourney title game).

*So Mike Trout will be entering free agency at age 29? His deal will make Miguel Cabrera's look modest. Unlike Cabrera, he'll still be worth it.

-- D.S.

Monday, March 24, 2014

3/24 Sweet 16 Quickie

*"The Best Round of 32 Game Ever" -- college basketball immortality, frankly -- was worth the (presumably) premature dispatch of Wichita State, against (a clearly underseeded) Kentucky.

*I celebrate the outcome: I am mostly a "process over outcome" person, but in this exceptional case: If Wichita State was going to get bounced in the Round of 32, isn't it amazing that they did it in an insanely hard-fought game against an insanely talented team that finally put it all together?

*Compare that to the brutal ending for Creighton, which was never in their game and got annihilated by 30. For all of Doug McDermott's brilliance, it makes the ending all the more ignominious.

*Stanford's upset was remarkable: They made zero 3s and played with no true point guard. In that case, YOUR team (in the Tournament or not) has no excuse not to make it to the Sweet 16.

*Let's reset for the Sweet 16:

- Louisville vs. Kentucky is great but UL will throttle UK.

- The best match-up is Dayton-Stanford. One of these teams will be one win from the Final Four.

- The most dangerous team is Tennessee; it's an open question whether four days off is going to cool them off.

- Things are lining up for a Final Four of Florida, Michigan State, Arizona and Louisville -- just like... well, most of the country predicted.

-- D.S.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

3/22 Mercer Mania Quickie

*Mercer over Duke is a quintessential NCAA Tournament result.

*I tweeted this right after the game: There is nothing quite like the "Duke first-round NCAA Tournament loss." It's a national celebration of schadenfreude, transcending basically everything.

*If I had to rank my most desired outcomes every year in the NCAA Tournament, they rank "My team wins the national title," then -- a close second -- "Whenever Duke loses (ideally right away)."

*My 5-year-old son Jonah, who was watching the game with me, appreciated my enthusiasm over the upset-in-progress and the ending, but really didn't like when I said that I "hate" Duke.

And he's right. "Hate" is not just a bad word to flaunt in front of a kid (who can't grasp the nuances of the word) but inelegant. The reality is that I love seeing them lose.

(Post-script: Astutely, he asked what I would do if HE played for Duke. Would I "hate" them/him? I sheepishly said I would be rooting like crazy for him to win.)

*The glorious Mercer win eclipsed everything else that happened over the First Thursday and Friday. Let's give SF Austin a shout-out for knocking off a VCU team that -- if we're being honest -- choked.

*Looking ahead to today:

(1) Florida BETTER win (FWIW: Pitt has had a LOT of trouble with elite defenses this season)...

(2) Your Everyone-Should-Be-Rooting-For-Them team is North Dakota State, in a very winnable game vs. San Diego State...

(3) My Upset Special (it's on my bracket, so it MUST be right) is UConn over Villanova.

I went 27-5 in the first two days, which is OK (I'm in the 92nd percentile nationally) but certainly not spectacular. More importantly, I lost two Sweet 16 teams: Duke (like almost everyone else) and VCU.

-- D.S.

Friday, March 21, 2014

3/21 Tournament Friday Quickie

*What an entertaining First Thursday -- from Dayton at the very start to Harvard's upset (or "upset") to the slew of terrific endings/chokes last night, a great day.

*Luke Winn nailed it: It's not just enough to have an elite defense -- you have got to be able to score efficiently, too.

So here are the teams that are Top 10 in adjusted D and Top 20 in adjusted O: Florida, Louisville, Wichita State. (UVA is on the cusp, and Arizona, Kansas and Michigan State are Top 40 at least.)

*I was 12 out of 16 yesterday -- same as my 5-year-old, for what it's worth. I missed Harvard, Texas, Saint Louis and Dayton. My 7-year-old was 14/16.

*My favorite stat: 80% of billion-dollar brackets were busted after the very first game of the tournament. (I kind of love that people are focused on the billion-dollar bracket, despite its absurdity.)

*Today's best games: Duke-Mercer right at the top of the day, Oklahoma State-Gonzaga at 4:40, SF Austin vs. VCU in the early-evening and Kansas State-Kentucky in the late-evening set.

Enjoy it.

-- D.S.

Monday, March 17, 2014

3/17 Selection Monday Quickie

A few thoughts about the bracket:

*"Championship or bust" for Florida: It's one of the greatest things in sports -- "title or fail." Those are the stakes for Florida this year. I'm all-in on the Gators winning it all.

*I have never seen a bandwagon as strong as the one carrying Michigan State from the 4-seed (underseeded, to be sure) to the Final Four (and, in the case of ESPN's experts, all the way).

*OK, I'll bite: I have Michigan State upending UVA en route to the Final Four. (However, I am NOT on the Louisville bandwagon -- if they didn't have to play Wichita, I'd be more bullish.)

*Match-ups giving me the most pause: Wisconsin-Creighton and the VCU-UCLA sub-region. And tons of teams that are seemingly clear favorites scare me as probable underperformers.

I think the guts of the bracket -- 64 to 8 -- are as murky to predict as any in recent memory. That's a good thing (if not so great for my chances at picking a bracket successfully).

-- D.S.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

3/13 Thursday Quickie

*Thanks to the University of Maryland's Merrill College Povich Center for Sports Journalism for having me out last night to talk about Entrepreneurial Journalism.

*I'll be back on campus tonight to watch my alma mater Whitman HS play in the boys' basketball state semifinals against Annapolis HS. Go Vikes!

*Yesterday, I also got to sit in on an Aspen Institute "Project Play" session with a bunch of really smart people talking about redefining youth sports. I'm super-intrigued by Dick's Sporting Goods' #SportsMatter concept that created a crowd-funding platform to help youth teams that need it.

*My favorite deal of NFL Free Agency week wasn't even a free-agency move -- it's the Eagles trading for Darren Sproles. Chip Kelly is going to do ridiculous things with him.

*Four days until Selection Sunday -- today is annually one of the best college hoops days of the year, with a slew of conference tournaments going all day and bubble teams in must-win positions.

-- D.S.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

3/11 SXSW Hangover Quickie

*Huge thanks to SXSW for having us as part of their inaugural "SX Sports" event. And thanks to Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury for being such a good sport for our session with him.

*Joel Embiid's back problems: He should never play another minute for Kansas again. I don't care if he is medically "cleared" for the back half of the NCAA Tournament -- everyone should be focused on his long-term future as a basketball player and caution should prevail.

*Phil Jackson to the Knicks: Posting and Toasting's Seth Rosenthal has the best take on this. I could try to pull out my favorite points, but just take the 3 minutes to read his argument.

-- D.S.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

3/4 LeBron Quickie

This was LeBron at the height of his mastery over basketball -- and the height of efficiency:

Making threes at a ridiculous rate, and when he did shoot 2s, they were high-percentage (if also high-effort) shots near the rim.

Unstoppable. Just watch: -- D.S.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

3/1 2nd Birthday Quickie

*Happy 2nd birthday to my swee' pea, Lucy. (Whew: The first two years of the third kid go MUCH faster than the first two years of either of the older kids.)

*Bummed to be missing the fabulous Sloan Sports Analytics Conference this year (here's my take on it from 2010), but thanks to GW's Sports Management program for letting me host a 1:1 conversation with Geoff Reiss, head of Sports for Twitter.

*Steph Curry remains in the Top 3 most must-see players in the NBA (LeBron, Durant). FWIW, Kevin Love is No. 4. I'm ready to put John Wall in the Top 5. (Anthony Davis is his main comp.)

*My father-in-law is in town from Gainesville today for Lucy's birthday, which means we'll get to watch the Gator basketball game together -- he's a die-hard fan, and that's always a treat.

-- D.S.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

2/25 Trout Dirk Kansas Quickie

*Mike Trout is a bargain at $30M a year. And Trout is loving life to be hitting free agency at age 28. (Expect the Nats to pay Bryce Harper something similar -- without the free agency at his peak. If they have to pay a premium to tack on a few extra years, so be it.)

*That Dirk shot was awesome.

*Do you buy Kansas as a Final Four contender? Absolutely. There are 7 teams in the KenPom Top 30 for both adjusted offense and defense: Louisville (17/7), Florida (9/10), Kansas (5/27), Wichita St (16/13), Villanova (8/20), Syracuse (22/9), Pitt (25/22). (Arizona is JUST on the outside: 32nd on offense, but No. 1 on D.)

If I had to pick 8 teams with the best shot at the Final Four, Kansas is among them -- along with Florida, Wichita St, Syracuse, Arizona, Louisville, Michigan State (13/34) and either Wisconsin (6/40) or Virginia (43/4).

UVA feels too nouveau riche this season and will eventually run into a superior defense that they can't score on. Still: Would a Hoos fan really turn down a trip to the Sweet 16?

March starts in just a few days....

-- D.S.