Friday, March 09, 2007

Illinois 58; Indiana 54

First overtime game all year in the Big 10, and fittingly there were all of 12 points scored, many at the free throw line. It wasn't pretty (no Illinois game this year has been), but that win should get the Illini into the tournament. I will be surprised, but not shocked, if the Illini are left out.

One thing about watching Illinois: It's sad to see a team shoot 56% from the line in a game that goes to OT and thing "Gee, I wish UCLA could be that good from the free throw line".

I'll be the one guy who doesn't rip on Rich McBride. They focused on him all night, he could never really get open (though he missed the one open three that he had), but he didn't force up 30 footers, and a couple of times he drove and passed off for shots that either led to baskets or fouls.

And Brian Randle probably wishes he hadn't spent the off-season kicking all those kittens and puppies that belong to Big 10 refs.

The Afternoon After

In the cold dark following the cold light of what was this morning, I'm finally beginning to come to terms with last night's debacle against UC Berkeley. There's still no way to sugar coat it. It was a team failure at every level, including leadership. I guess you could give them credit for not giving up after being down by 16 in the first half, but when you're trying to find a positive for one of the best teams in the country, that's nearly the definition of damning with faint praise.

On the other hand, I'm the same guy that said just a few days ago that I wouldn't mind seeing them lose early in the PTT just so that they could get some rest. Still, even that's a faint silver lining in a very dark cloud. And I'm loathe to fall for the "loss is a wake up call" line of reasoning. Top teams shouldn't need a wake up call.

That said, the national media still believes in the Bruins, and it's hardly the time to give up on them. Most of the big names still believe that UCLA will be a number one seed, or at the very least, the #2 seed in the West (which, quite frankly would be much better than being the #1 seed anywhere else). The seed position doesn't bother me. Regardless of where you're seeded, you still need to run the gantlet to win the whole thing. But staying in the West would be a very nice reward for an excellent season, despite what we've seen in the last week.

I still can't seem to find an explanation for the way Arron Afflalo played yesterday. Like I said, I don't know if he was sick, or nursing an injury, or if there was some family issue that had him worried, because he certainly didn't play like he's played at any other point in his three year career. I'm not trying to bag on the guy, because I'm sure no one feels worse about it than he does, but geez, what an awful performance. And still, just one made free throw from any of the many culprits could have nullified all of that.

The only thing left is to continue to believe in this team. I honestly can't tell you whether they're the same team that left Pac 10 teams in its wake for the first 17 games of the conference season, or if they're the team we saw the last two times they took the floor. But I sure hope they're the former. What I'd like to see next week is the absolute destruction of whatever team the committee decides to feed to the Bruins. Take no prisoners, step on the gas, and do not stop. That's how they can show us that they're back and ready to make a run.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

So long #1 Seed, and So Long West Coast Bracket - Bruins Exposed.

Good time to stop caring, Bruins. So much for being mature.

I don't think there's any other way to say it, but I think the Bruins played themselves out of the National Championship picture tonight. They'll be a two seed, at best. But more importantly, they'll be shipped somewhere out east. They'll be shipped somewhere that's not Sacramento and San Jose, and because of that, I do not think they will reach the regional final.

Tonight's performance was simply embarrassing, and it can be summed up in a couple of numbers:

14 - That's how many free throws they missed. They finished 15/29 from the line. If they had made just one more, they would have won. One shot, unguarded, 15 feet from the hoop. The worst offenders? LRMAM, who was downright pathetic at the stripe, and Mr. Player of the Year himself, who was 1/4.

1 - That's how many baskets they got from Player of the Year, Arron Afflalo. Just one basket, and it didn't even come until overtime.

29 - Not only did Afflalo fail to show up on offense, but he was absolutely destroyed on the other end of the floor. Ayinde Ubaka, who was completely non-existent in the first two matchups with Berkeley, scored 29 points, and was the difference in the game.

In their last two games, they've been beaten by inferior teams in almost every facet of the game, and those weren't teams that play gimmicky basketball. The Bruins simply haven't shown up to play. I'm pretty unconvinced that they'll be able to find it when they need it.

Ultimately, unless he was sick or injured, or unless there's some underlying issue that hasn't made its way to the press, this loss sits almost solely on Arron Afflalo's shoulders. He played arguably his worst game as Bruin both offensively and defensively. He's their leader, and he was completely exposed at both ends of the floor. The Bruins had the ball, tied, with over 10 seconds to play at the end, and they settled for a 25 footer. In the same situation at $C earlier in the year, he demanded the ball, and carried them to victory. Tonight, he flat out disappeared. And now, I think their chances to cut down the nets in Atlanta disappeared as well.

Concert Prep

I'm going to Schuba's (roughly 160 person occupancy) on Sunday night to see the Walkmen with the Broken West. Here's a taste of what I've been listening to in preparation.

"Another One Goes By" is actually a Mazarin track covered by the Walkmen on their most recent album "A Hundred Miles Off". The version presented here is the Mazarin version, even though it's says it's the Walkmen version (but that's OK, because the Mazarin version is better).

And the Broken West stuff is really good too. Really looking forward to seeing them.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

More on HGHMJ - Updated

I was reading through the comments on this diary over the Rev's site, and it brought up a few more thoughts:

acuda27: If Matthews is CUT then what?

First answer: I open one of those bottles of Chimay that I've been saving for a special occasion.

Seriously, and let me be clear about this, I would prefer to see HGHMJ released before the start of the season, even if it means spending Arte's $50MM while HGHMJ goes somewhere else for the league minimum. I don't think he's very good, and I think there's a good chance his one good season was the result of certain enhancements. I also don't think the distraction is good for the team.

I would rather start the season with Reggie Willits and his 11 walks in 56 career plate appearances in center.

Let's compare the two. Matthews brings more power to the table (in terms of slugging - I'm including doubles as part of the power package), as well as a better batting average. It's likely that one of those was the result of certain pharmaceuticals, while the other is notoriously unreliable, especially when the average that landed him this contract was 50 points higher than his career average, and done in a hitters park. Some will argue he brings gold glove caliber defense. Some are stupid. For "gold glove caliber" defense, look no further than Steve Finley.

Willits, aside from being better than HGHMJ defensively, is not going to hit home runs. But he's also not going to make a ton of outs, he's going to get on base a lot. He's not going to strike out a lot. And he's got the potential to steal a lot of bases.

To put it bluntly, the Los Angeles Angels would be a better team, regardless of the money involved, if Reggie Willits was starting in center field than they would be with HGHMJ starting in center field.

The funny thing is, I've never been a big anti-steroid guy. I've never hated Barry Bonds like a lot of other people. And my feeling has always been that if a guy got a substance legally, and it wasn't against the rules of baseball, it wasn't cheating. I'd actually like to see Bonds break the HR record just so that someone may finally call out Hank Aaron and the rest of the greenie poppers of his ERA when the inevitable whining about Bonds begins.

But I really don't care for Matthews. I hated the deal from the moment it was announced. I hate it even more now that last year looks chemically enhanced on top of being incredibly fluky and done in a hitters park. I think it was probably the worst major league deal of the off-season.

Ever since the rumors of the DirecTV deal started going around, I've been of half a mind to give up baseball for good, and half a mind to go out and get DirecTV right away. As a result of this deal, I'd say I'm up to 80-20 against getting DirecTV, at least until the NHL announces a similar deal and I'm forced to get it to watch Anze and Jack Motherfucking Johnson next season.

Bottom line, if he's on the opening day roster, I'm going to have a tough time rooting for the Angels this season. I can't explain it, but that's my gut feeling right now.

UPDATE - Anonymous writes in the comments: "I guess I don't understand why you are rooting for Bonds to break the record (he did not obtain steroids legally) and yet you will not root for the Angels because of a bad signing."

First, I think you're comparing apples and oranges here. I'm not rooting for Bonds because I like Bonds (and I think there's actually an argument that he didn't obtain steroids illegally, but that's another issue entirely). As I said, I just sort of hope he does it because I think the obvious result will be the howls of players from Aaron's day, pretty much all of whom were popping amphetamines like candy at the time. The hypocrites all deserve each other.

Second, I haven't said I won't root for the Angels (though I'll arguably care a lot less). But I do hate the contract, and have hated it since day one. It's another moronic move from a team that just rid itself of the Steve Finley (into Edgardo Alphonso) contract. And mind you, it's not that I'm upset that they overpaid, it's that I'm upset that they paid period. It's frustrating to watch a team put out a roster that is worse than the roster they could have put on the field even if they'd done nothing in the off-season (outside of the bullpen moves). They signed a guy who already wasn't very good, and on top of that, it's turning out that he's also not very likable (with Bonds, I could at least respect the fact that he didn't care that he wasn't likable). I just find the whole thing very frustrating, and ultimately, at this point of the spring, it makes me care a lot less about the Angels.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Conference Tournaments

First of all, let me just say that I'm not really a big fan of conference tournaments in college basketball. I think the concept is kind of stupid, and really doesn't prove anything, especially considering that almost all conferences allow all of their teams to reach to the tournament. It's even more meaningless in the Pac 10, where everyone plays everyone else twice, and the conference can crown a true champion in the regular season.

In small conferences, where they're only likely to send one team to the dance, it's not unheard of for one team to bust their asses all year to win the conference outright, only to lose in the conference tourney and be shut out of the NCAA tournament. I'm not going to look for examples right now because I'm lazy, but it's not a difficult concept to grasp. For large conferences, multiple teams are going to get invited, usually regardless of the outcome of the tourney (hell, the Big 10 conference tourney ends so late that they field really has to be set before the final game anyway). Best case scenario, there are no shake ups. Worst case scenario, you get an NIT bound team who goes on a run, wins the tourney, and sends another, more deserving, team home.

That's not to say conference tourneys aren't exciting. Some of the most exciting basketball I've ever seen was in 1999, when the last place Illini made an improbable run to the Big 10 championship game before losing to eventual Final Four team Michigan State. In that run, Corey Bradford was unconscious, almost singlehandedly willing the Illini to the championship game. It also featured probably the greatest play I've ever seen. Leading Ohio State in the final minute of the semi-final game, Damir Krupalija flew to the baseline to block a three point attempt (probably by Scoonie Penn, but I was probably drunk at the time, so I can't remember). Not only did he block the shot, but he controlled it, and while trying to call timeout as he was falling out of bounds, he was fouled. So what was once an open three turned into free throws for the Illini. Ohio State would later join Michigan State in the final four that year.

Anyway, my problems with conference tournaments aside, here's how I see them falling out in the Pac 10 and Big 10 this season.

Pac 10

Cal over OSU
Washington over ASU

UCLA over Cal
Stanford over U$C
Washington State over Washington
Arizona over Oregon

UCLA over Arizona (again)
Stanford over Washington State

UCLA over Stanford

I'd be absolutely fine with UCLA losing to Arizona or Oregon in that second round game. I think they're still a lock for the number one seed in the West, almost regardless of what happens in the tourney, but I'm pretty sure one win gets it done. And they could probably use the rest. Then again, last year they won the tourney and the extra games didn't seem to bother them.

I also wouldn't be surprised to Washington upset Wazzu, now that they apparently care about defense. I don't buy the "tough to beat a team three times" canard. If a team was that tough to beat, they wouldn't have lost the first two times.

Really, this conference has been so tough this year that I could see any of the top seven teams winning it. Nothing would surprise me outside of Cal, OSU, or ASU making a run.

Big 10

Michigan over Minnesota
MSU over Northwestern
Illinois over Penn State

OSU over Michigan
Purdue over Iowa
MSU over Wisconsin
Illinois over Indiana

OSU over Purdue
MSU over Illinois

OSU over MSU

If it shakes out that way, the question is who goes to the NCAA tournament. OSU and Wisconsin are locks. Indiana is probably in regardless of what happens. A trip to the final would get the job done for MSU. But would that be it? I would assume that two more wins would be enough for Illinois, but if Purdue advances as far, would the committee keep them out? Illinois would have two more wins, and they currently sit 10 spots above Purdue in the RPI. Still, something tells me that short of a run to the finals, Illinois is going to get left out. I know it's counter to what I've said all along, but call it a gut feeling. I said they needed to win one of their last two road games (which they did at Penn State), and one game in the tournament. But the sixth seed means that one win isn't very impressive. They probably need two, and it would really help if Iowa beat Purdue in the quarterfinals. Otherwise, the committee would have to take six Big 10 teams, and I can't see that happening.