Saturday, March 21, 2009

Think Happy Thoughts

I'll write about today's debacle tomorrow. But for now, stay positive.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Quick Thought

Arte, sign the checks. Get John Lackey signed. You don't have two guys who can step into his role like you did when you decided to let Frankie walk. You can't sign another starter on the cheap who can replicate his number like you did when signed Fuentes. If you're losing big time cash in the market, then be honest about it and let us know that we're in for some lean years. But if you aren't, then don't dick around with this. Get. It. Done!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

UCLA 65; Virginia Commonwealth 64

It was a struggle over the last ten minutes. UCLA fans were probably flashing back to the ASU debacle from earlier in the season as an 11 point lead was slowly whittled down to one, giving VCU's Eric Maynor a chance to win the game in final seconds. But the Bruins forced VCU to use more clock than they probably would have liked, Maynor mishandled the ball a bit before the final shot, and the ball fell off the front end of the rim, giving the Bruins a one point victory as the clock expired.

This was really kind of a strange game for the Bruins. They struggled to pull away early, but finished the first half on a 13-2 run over the final five minutes to take a 10 point lead into the half. The second half was a bit up and down, with teams trading scores until about the six and a half minute mark. What happened then may have been the turning point in the game had the game ended differently. With an 11 point lead, Jrue Holiday made a nice move to get to the basket, but fumbled the ball a bit on the way to the hoop and blew the lay up. A quick strike by VCU the other way turned what should have been a 13 point lead turned into a 9 point lead, and things continued to tighten until the final buzzer.

Contributions came from many hands tonight. Josh Shipp led the Bruins with 16 points and added 8 rebounds. He had two baskets early in the second half when the Bruins were struggling to make field goals. Nikola Dragovic had average offensive numbers, but his 13 rebounds were key. Jrue Holiday played very well in a key second half stretch after Darren Collison picked up his fourth foul. As for Collison, he struggled with fouls, and did not have a very nice line (2 assists, 3 turnovers, 4 fouls), but finished with ten points. Alfred Aboya grabbed seven boards, but his key numbers were his four steals and 5 free throws made in 5 attempts, including the Bruins' final two points. The surprising number for me was 0. That's the comined number of minutes played by Drew Gordon and Malcolm Lee. With Collison's foul trouble, and the size up front for VCU (mainly Larry Sanders) I expected each of those guys to see the floor, but Ben Howland really shortened the bench. [update: Per Brian Dohn, Drew Gordon did not play because of a concussion he suffered earlier in the week].

As for the Rams, Sanders had 10 points and 11 rebounds to go along with floor blocks. It seemed like altered at least 10 shots, and he was a force inside. Eric Maynor led all scorers with 21 points, 15 of them in the second half. And pardon my subjectivity, but for a good stretch in the second half, it seemed like if a Bruin looked at Maynor, he was going to the line. He only made five of fifteen shots, and that tenth miss was the difference in the game.

UCLA has to get ready for Villanova, who will basically have the home court advantage that the Bruins have enjoyed for the last few years. They struggled mightily against the Eagles from American University until simply dominating the end of the game. It's not an insurmountable task for a team with as much talent as UCLA. They'll play the first game of the day, tipping it off at 10:05 Pacific time. As much as the late start may have benefitted the Bruins tonight, they'll need to be ready for the early tip on Saturday.

Unorganized Thoughts on Illinois and UCLA

Lucky me! Both teams play tonight at the exact goddamn time, which means I'll be watching the Illini on television, and the Bruins on the computer. But the similarities don't end there. They also happened to be the only two teams (that I noticed, anyway) that were called out as immediate first round upsets by first rate douchebag, Seth Davis. That immediately calmed my nerves, safe in the knowledge that Seth Davis picking against a team in the first round is a virtual ticket for that team to the second round. I don't know, I checked his wikipedia page (which is pretty funny) and apparently his basketball expertise is limited to "graduating from Duke". Not playing for Duke, mind you, but simply graduating from Duke. Anyway, I'm totally discounting matchups here, because I've been a little overwhelmed with coverage and other stuff, and I honestly don't care about the matchups. Both the Illini and the Bruins are teams that should enforce their will on weaker opponents, but we shall see.


Honestly I'm surprised they got a fifth seed, considering Chester Frazier's injury and their spotty play down the stretch. I'm of two minds about the loss of Frazier. On the one hand, they'll miss his defense, his hustle, and his leadership. But the intangibles are his key contribution, and if I have to loss one guy, well, I'd rather keep all the guys with the tangibles. As a mediocre offensive team, if you're going to lose one guy, it may as well be your worst offensive player.

The main problem I see with the Illini is the inability to get an almost guaranteed basket when they really need one. When your opponent goes on a run, occasionally you need to slow things down, go back to basics, and run a play that has a good chance of either getting a basket, or getting to the line. Illinois simply doesn't have the personnel to do that. You can break a run with jump shots, but you don't want to rely on jump shooting to break a run. We saw it last weekend in both games. A gainst Michigan, after going on a run that turned a one point halftime lead into a 20 point lead, the Illini let Michigan go on a run of their own to cut the lead back to seven. Mike Davis finally made a 15 foot turn around hook shot to stop the bleeding, and that seemed to carry the Illini to the victory. You do not want to rely on 15 foot turn around hook shots when you desperately need a basket, because when those don't fall, you end up missing 16 straight shots like they did against Purdue.

I think their tendency to go into long periods where they fail to execute has kept me from completely buying into this team. I think they're going to win tonight, but admittedly, that's based on nothing but faith and hope. They'll start four guys who can really shoot it if you include Davis and his conscience (i.e., he's not a long range gunner, but he doesn't try to be). I think Mark Tupper is dead right that Demetri McCamey, a.k.a. the Little Sleep, is the key man for Illinois. I really thought he was step up against Purdue and have the type of game that he had against them in the tournament last year (and against Indiana in the regular season), making big shot after big shot. I don't know if he's nursing an injury or recovering from an illness, but he's been quiet, and he needs to play like he's shown he can if the Illini are going to advance past tonight and hopefully into next week.


Contra my thoughts on Illinois, I'm surprised they dropped to a six seed. This team has confounded all year, going through stretches where they looked like a top 5 team, and stretches where they looked like a team that wouldn't garner an NIT invite. My hope is that the six seed, and the outpouring of negative feelings about their chances, will serve as a wake up call. I'll be honest, picking with my head, I have them in the final four. I based that on just looking at the brackets game by game. If they get past tonight, they'll have a tough match up with Villanova in Philly, but if they win that game, I think they can beat Duke and Pitt. I think they have the easiest bracket if they get past this weekend, but that's a tall order.

Unlike the Illini, this team is loaded with offensive talent, which makes games like they played against ASU a couple months ago, and U$C in the conference tournament particularly strange. They start four players who won't just make and take the occasional three pointer, but are legitimate three point threats every time down the floor. And Alfred Aboya has matured into a decent offensive post player, while Nikola Dragovic has recently shown a proclivity for going to the basket. This is a team that should be able to score with anyone in the country.

The defensive side has been even more confounding. A hallmark of Ben Howland's UCLA teams, the '08-'09 Bruins have not covered their end of the floor very well. Maybe it's the lack of multiple big men to cover the middle. Maybe they're a little slow on their hedges. They've been burned on slipped screens numerous times this year. This seems like the worst defensive team they've had over the past few years.

Probably what concerns me most about this team is what I perceive as a lack of heart, for lack of a better word. I hate to criticize 18-22 year old kids with label, but they just don't seem to dig in and find that little something extra when they needed the same way the Bruins have over the past few years. This team would not have erased that deficit against Gonzaga. This team would not have beat Berkeley and Stanford down the stretch the way they did last year. They showed some glimmers in their PTT game against U$C, but there just seems to be a spark missing from this team. A guy who can give them that spark is Drew Gordon, who always seems to be fired up. An unexpected performance from on of their freshman guards, or maybe a big night from James Keefe, could also ignite them.

Still, they start three seniors. They have four players in the rotation who have been a part of three straight final four teams. They are LOADED with experience. That's something you can't put a price on at this time of year. And regardless of the way they've looked at times, they still have a boatload of talent, and they have a world class coach. I'm hoping that their poor seed is a wake up call. They've kind of dicked around all season, and they've had this week to get serious. We'll see what kind of stuff they're made of. I think they have the talent, the bodies, and the coaching to put together another long tournament run. The question is whether they believe that.

Monday, March 16, 2009

I'm Starting My 2009 List Early

I didn't do a 2008 top 10 albums list, but I'll start my 2009 list today. The best album I'll hear this year has already been released, and in a major upset, it's not the new Super Furry Animals album (available via download today).

It took all of six days in 2009 for Animal Collective to release Merriweather Post Pavilion, but it's pure brilliance from start to finish. But don't take my word for it. Sample some of the reviews aggregated by Metacritic:
Merriweather finds one of the most talented, most creative pop bands finally and gloriously figuring it all out....

What’s more important is that Merriweather Post Pavilion is not just one of the finest things you’re going to hear in 2009 but that it should sit well next to albums like Kid A on lists of the best music made in our time....

Has the album of 2009 been unleashed in January? I can’t see anything else coming near it....

Is Merriweather Post Pavilion the flawless album that it's been willed to be? Taken as a whole I'd say it's pretty damn close....

I tried to get into some of the previous AC albums and couldn't. Too experimental and just plain weird sounding to me. But when Panda Bear released Person Pitch a few years ago, it was full of glorious Brian Wilsonesque melodies, and was a taste of Animal Collective could do if they tried to a mainstream album that still sounded like Animal Collective. They succeeded.

The universally loved tracks are going to be 'My Girls', 'Summertime Clothes', and 'Brother Sport', with 'Lion in a Coma', 'In the Flowers', and 'No More Running' probably in the second tier. But it's really a joy to listen to from start to finish. The middle section, which sometimes feels a little long, is the very slight sour that makes the sweet extra sweet. And like the Beach Boys at their best, the melodies are pure cane sugar. Whether it was a conscious decision to make an album for the masses, or just serendipity, the result is near perfect joyous pop.

Give it a few listens to take effect. It's best to listen to it a few times while you're working. Sooner or later, it will all click.

Here are My Girls and Brother Sport.