everything that's on my mind
(as if there's not already enough people doing this)
Thursday, April 13, 2006
A king and a kingdom
I went over to my daughter's school this morning for chapel, as it was "Awards Day" and she was receiving an award. So, I went over the see her accept it. As I've noticed before when I attended her chapel, they always say the Pledge of Allegiance at some point during chapel. I'm still not sure how I feel about that. I'm not against teaching children to be patriotic, but I also don't want them to learn blind patriotism, either. It seems there are too many Christians today who believe that the Republican party is God's party, and George W. Bush and other Republicans can do no wrong. No matter what questionable actions these people take, some stand behind them regardless. The same is true of people on both sides, but it seems Christians are more often than not aligned with "the Right" (this is, at least, my perception, and may not be reality.)
In fact, the whole idea of "pledging allegiance" to the flag or this country doesn't quite sit well with me anyway. I love this country and am glad I was born into it. I am grateful for the freedoms we have, particularly our religious freedom. However, while I do believe that God wants us to be good citizens in our country and obey the laws while they do not conflict with His, I'm not so sure that He desires for us to pledge allegiance to anyone or anything except Himself. I'm reminded of Derek Webb's song, "A King and a Kingdom", from his newest disc Mockingbird:
my first allegiance is not to a flag, a country, or a manIs it wrong, in a Christian worship setting, like chapel this morning, to mix patriotism and allegiance to an earthly kingdom in with our worship of God and our allegiance to His kingdom? I have no problem with teaching good citizenship or patriotism. However, I don't want to teach my children that America is "God's country" and is always right in it's actions. Sometimes, the government and the people being governed are just wrong and sinful, and as Christians we must recognize it and oppose that which is contrary to God's expectations of us as followers of Christ (regardless of whether or not whatever political party we might align ourselves with chooses to agree.)
my first allegiance is not to democracy or blood
it's to a king & a kingdom
Will the children at this Christian school, somewhere down the line, forget that their first allegiance is to be to God, not America? Probably not. But I'm still a little uncomfortable with things like American flags in church buildings, or singing songs about America in a worship setting (as sometimes happens with churches, particularly on the Sunday prior to July 4), or pledging allegiance to an earthly kingdom. God is my King, and his kingdom is where my citizenship lies first and foremost. Sometimes, because of how I see others defending the earthly kingdom of America, I have to wonder if they feel the same way.
I think about this type of thing a lot these days, and haven't completely thought it all through, so I'm sure it will come back up again. Perhaps in early July...
It's been a busy week and I haven't posted anything until today, plus I'm leaving town this evening and won't have a computer for the next few days. I was planning to try to write something Easter-related prior to the weekend, but I haven't had time and won't be able to now, so perhaps when I'm back home on Sunday I'll make some time. However, I thought I'd point to a few other good posts I've read in recent days from a few of the blogs I read regularly (not necessarily Easter-related, though).
Homosexuality : from Mike Cope. Be sure and check out the comments as well, as there is more discussion there.I'm also planning to start reading The Secret Message of Jesus by Brian McLaren this weekend, so I may be posting some about that soon. I've seen a number of people (who received pre-release copies) posting reviews of the book on their blogs, and I'm looking forward to reading it as well.
Harry Potter and Easter : from Grant English. "Jesus takes the ordinary and makes it extraordinary."
The Judas Monologue : from Keith Brenton. Interesting and creative. I've always wondered what was going through Judas' mind.
Jesus Excepted : from Scott Freeman. Do we qualify Jesus' words, especially the ones we don't like to hear?
Saturday, April 08, 2006
The party's over
Well, this will be my last post until late fall devoted strictly to college basketball. More specifically, it is the post I mentioned previously regarding a look back at the season for Duke and the careers of Shelden Williams and J.J. Redick. And, even though it's not December, I do have - in the spirit of Festivus - a few grievances to air as well. So, bear with me - it's my last one, and it's a long one. Here we go.
First of all, Duke had a great season. That simply cannot be argued. Anyone who would argue it would likely have some type of strong bias against Duke (i.e. the "duke haters"). They had an outstanding year, and Redick and Williams specifically had a great year. They were 32-4 overall, and they were 11-3 against teams in the NCAA tournament. Their losses were to Georgetown, North Carolina and, in the tournament itself, LSU. Their wins against ranked teams in the tournament included Texas (a #2 seed), Memphis (a #1 seed), North Carolina (a #3 seed) and Boston College (a #4 seed) who they beat twice. Other tournament team wins included Seton Hall, Indiana, Penn, Bucknell, Davidson and NC State. They were the regular season champions of the ACC at 14-2, and also won the Preseason NIT and ACC tournaments.
There were some great moments as well. Dockery's 45-footer to beat Virginia Tech. Redick dropping 41 on Texas (and 40+ two other times as well) and also his 5 straight games of 30+ points. Redick's record breaking 30 points against Miami, passing Johnny Dawkins as Duke's all-time leading scorer (as well as the many other records he broke this season). Winning at Chapel Hill, always a great win, as well as both hard-fought wins against Boston College. The freshmen's play in the ACC tournament, as well as Redick's amazing shooting against Boston College in the final. And, of course, winning the two tournaments, especially the ACC, which was their ninth straight final, and their seventh win in the last eight. (It truly has become "The Duke Invitational.")
While the season did not end the way they wanted it to, it cannot take away from what an outstanding season they had. They finished the season - prior to the NCAA tournament - ranked #1 and only one team (George Washington) finished with fewer losses (3) and only three other teams (Connecticut, Memphis and Gonzaga) matched their finish with only 4 losses. While they weren't one of the greatest teams ever to play at Duke, they were a great team this season in college basketball.
Redick and Williams
After the loss to LSU, I was a little amused at some of the articles that almost seemed to be comparing Duke to a mid-major team and seeing some write about Redick as if he were the worst player ever to play college basketball. After all they had accomplished, one game suddenly made people believe they were horrible. The truth is, there is a certain kind of player that gives Redick more trouble than he can overcome. Few teams have that kind of player. Memphis did. Temple did. Michigan state did in last year. And LSU did. The taller, long-armed, significantly more athletic player can stay with him and keep him from doing what he wants to do. Plus, LSU's other defenders helped out a lot, and Duke's dependence on his scoring hurt them too much in that game. It didn't happen that often. But to suggest Redick is less than a great college basketball is the result of either stupidy or bias.
Others pointed to Redick's difficulty in sweet 16 games over his career. Again, Redick, while in great shape physically, is not a terribly athletic player, and he has faced great defense in 3 of those games (I honestly don't recall much about the Illinois game in 2004.) First, against Kansas, Heinrich played him very well. Let's also not forget, though, that Redick was a freshmen at that time, and a very one-dimensional player. Last year, as I've already mentioned, Michigan State threw several athletic players at him. Then, of course, Garrett Temple's defense for LSU this year. LSU was the reason he wasn't scoring, and the officials were letting the teams play, so he wasn't getting to the foul line, either. That's not a criticism of the officials, or in any way blaming the officials - it's just a fact. They called it the same both ways. And Duke was used to getting to the line more. Some, of course, are saying "without Duke officials, they couldn't get the calls." That, of course, is stupid. It was just a different style of officiating than they had played against most of the year, and it's not always easy to completely adjust to that, and Duke never did in that game.
As I said, certain types of players have given him trouble, and only certain teams have them. Should he have still played better in those games? Probably. But defense had a large role in his difficulties in those games. That cannot be ignored. However, many say, you're defined by what you do in March. Maybe so, but what did or didn't happen in March doesn't erase the rest of the year or his whole career. Just look at the record books. Redick had a great season and a very good career. Period.
The same is true for Shelden Williams. He had an outstanding career and, like Redick, improved every year. He was constantly in foul trouble his first 2 years, but continued to improve in all areas of his game and was one of the top players in the country this season along with Redick. It was unfortunate that he was sometimes in the shadow of Redick because his season and career were equally great, and he will be missed next season as much as Redick.
Also, for those who take such great joy in pointing out that Redick is not going to be a great player in the NBA, I'd just like to say this: congratulations for pointing out the obvious. There's no doubt media types and possibly even NBA folks have placed him higher than he should be, but even as a huge Redick fan it's obvious to me that he's not going to get great at the next level. He will likely play for a while - maybe even a long time - and be a guy who comes in for some offense here and there. But, he's not got the game to be great at the next level, and he never will. He's not the next Larry Bird. He's not even the next Danny Ainge. So, if you're going to dance around on draft day when Redick isn't a lottery pick and tell everyone "I told you so", you might want to consider that most intelligent basketball fans already knew it before you told them. You'll just look stupid.
A word about tournament's past: many have begun to harp on Duke's difficulty in getting past the sweet 16 in recent years. I have a few reasons I think that is true. For one thing, they're a much bigger target than they used to be in the 80's and early 90's. As Duke became a great program again in the late 80's (don't forget they were great during the 60's under Vic Bubas), they were often not seeded #1 in the tournament. They were not often expected to make the final four. That made it a little easier on them, because they were not the target. They have become a benchmark - a great program, a great coach, and usually great players. So when you beat Duke now, it means something. That is evidenced by seeing Georgetown and Florida State fans storming the court like they'd just won the national championship after beating Duke this year. It's happened elsewhere over the last 8 or 9 years as well.
After the early 90's, Duke became a "dynasty" of sorts, a team that is most hated, but also most envied. While they did have a couple of down years in the mid-90's, they came back strong starting in 97 and their success since has fueled the hatred of other fans. There's no better example than Maryland fans, who seem to be among the most vile towards Duke players. While knocking off Duke hasn't meant knocking off the defending national champion for 4 years now, it still is pretty special for one of two reasons (or maybe both) - people love to beat a great program, or people love to beat the team they hate the most. Whatever the reason, people love beating Duke, and people are more and more motivated to do so. There's also the fact that Duke has often been a #1 seed during the last 9 years, so that also motivates teams in March to knock them off. You get a shot at Duke and at a #1 seed - two for the price of one. They are a huge target.
Back to the sweet 16: Duke has now lost 6 times under Krzyzewski in the sweet 16. All 6 times the team they lost to went on to win the regional and reach the final four. In 1987, Indiana won the title. In 2000, 2002, and 2003, they lost to Florida, Indiana and Kansas, respectively, all of which went on to the title game where they lost. And in 2005 and 2006, Michigan State and LSU went to the final four before losing.
In fact, in 17 of the last 21 years, they've reached the sweet 16. Three of those years (91,92,01), they won the championship. In 8 of those years, they lost to the eventual champion (86,87,88,90,94,98,99,04). So, in 11 of those 17 years, they've won it or lost to the champion. And in the other 6 years (89,00,02,03,05,06), they lost to a final four team. What does all of that mean? I don't know. But it's not like they've been losing to Bucknell or Bradley (see Kansas), or to UAB (see Kentucky), or to NC State (see Connecticut). When they've lost, they've usually lost to teams that play during the final weekend, and more often than not on Monday night.
Of the sweet 16 losses, I'd say only one of those losses was a bad loss which they should have won - and that was against Indiana in 2002. There was no excuse for that. In 2000, they were a team playing 3 freshmen, losing to another team with some freshmen and a bunch of sophmores - and those sophmores had lost the previous season at Duke by 30 points. Perhaps that contributed to their motivation. In 2003, they were seeded lower than Kansas, so that's can't really be a bad loss - they were expected to lose to a very experienced, senior-led Kansas team. In 2005, they were seeded higher, but they did finish only 3rd in the ACC and played a very talented (although lower seeded) Michigan State team that had begun to play really well at the end of the season. I think that can be argued either way. Then, of course, there was LSU this year, which I've already discussed more than once.
Another thing I've seen some of was this - "you can't spell choke without K" - which I saw online after the LSU game in a couple of different places. In other words, there are those saying Coach K has begun to choke in March. Since the tournament expanded to 64 teams, how has Coach K and Duke done? Just a few stats:
Okay, more specifically, sweet 16, particularly in recent years.
- Duke has been to 10 final fours. The closest, in 2nd place, is North Carolina, with 7 final fours during that time.
- Duke has 3 titles. Only 3 other schools have more than 1 (Kentucky, Connecticut, and North Carolina - all with 2 each.)
- Krzyzewski has 3 titles. Only 1 other coach has more than 1 - Connecticut's Jim Calhoun (2).
- Since Duke won back-to-back titles in 1991 and 1992, they have only one other title (2001). Only 3 schools have more - the same three mentioned above.
- Krzyzewski is 3-4 in title games. By comaprison, Dean Smith was 2-3, and Bob Knight is 3-2. Rupp was either 4-1 or 4-2, I believe. Wooden, of course, is by far the best. (This is based on at least 5 appearances - I don't know if any other coaches have reached the title game 5 or more times. But they're going to be well under .500 if they did.)
Also, many will point to 86 and 99 as teams that should have won it all. As for 86, it was K's first final four, and despite having the best team, it's not often that a coach wins it the first time. Billy Donovan won it this year, but it was his second visit. Jim Boeheim went to 3 over 17 years, but only that third time did he win it. Jim Calhoun managed to do it, but he was much older and experienced by that time. Tubby Smith did it, however, he did it with Rick Pitino's players, but hasn't been back since.
- They've been to 9 straight (98-06). Nobody else more than 2 straight. Don't know the stats on who's been there the most besides them in those 9 years. I also do not have stats on who has been in the most regional finals (Duke has 4, and Michigan State has 4, but I'm unsure about any others. I think Connecticut and Kentucky may have been to 4, also, but I'm not certain.)
- During those 9 years, they've been to 3 final fours. Only Michigan State has been to more (4) and North Carolina (3) has matched them. As for titles, Duke has 1 in that stretch, and only 1 school (Connecticut with 2) has more than 1.
- Duke has lost in the sweet 16 in 5 of the last 7 years. However, how many schools have advanced to the elite 8 (or further) more than twice during that time? Only four other schools - UConn (3), Kansas (3), Arizona (3) and MSU (4). I don't think I'm missing anyone there, but I could be.
As for 99, the media - more than once - referred to the tournament as the "Duke Invitational". Duke had appeared dominant throughout the season. However, the ACC was not nearly as strong as usual that year, and many forget that Connecticut also only had 2 losses that year. And, something I've never heard mentioned, but is in fact true, is that Connecticut was ranked #1 during the season for more weeks than Duke. All of that, coupled with the media hype of crowning Duke champion before the tournament started, made Connecticut a team on a mission - not just to win, but to beat Duke in doing so.
I recall some idiot reporter (sorry for the redundancy) in the post game press conference asking Calhoun if he felt like Villanova did when they beat Georgetown (and, by the way, if you look at the facts, that 85 title game was not as big of an upset as it has been made out to be. They played two close games in the regular season.) Calhoun was offended, and rightly so. He pointed out that they were a very good team, only had 2 losses, etc. Duke - not unlike UConn in 2006 - had the most talent. But I've never felt like they were necessarily the best team. I think UConn played better as a team in that championship game, and that's why they won. So, I don't personally put much stock in any "choke" talk regarding those 2 title games.
As for other title games, there was nobody on the planet going to beat UNLV in 1990. And, Arkansas clearly had the better team in 1994. Duke had overacheived by reaching the title game that year.
Let's also not forget one other stat: Coach K still has the NCAA tournament wins (68) of all time. I think he's doing alright so far.
A final word about Duke hating and officiating
There are websites devoted strictly to "Duke hating". I've found several, but am not going to link to them here. It pretty much proves my point about the envy and hatred out there. They pick out the most trivial things and make a big deal of them. My only response is that these poor people really need to get a life.
As for officiating, it was a hot topic this year. I've commented previously about the Boston College and Florida State games this year, where the complaining was the loudest. The Great Officiating Conspiracy (as I like to call it) began at the final four in 2001. This is where, at least in large part, the complaint that "Duke gets all the calls" either began, or at least was proclaimed the loudest and became national. I've read that even Gary Williams is convinced Duke was able to come back from a 22-point deficit about 13 minutes into the game (notice that - there was still 27 minutes of basketball left) because of the officials. Duke, after Maryland gained that lead, outscored Maryland by 33 the rest of the way. So it seems the theory is that for Duke to do that over the last 27 minutes of the game, it took help from the officials. Evidently, it did NOT take any help from the officials for Maryland to outscore Duke by 22 to get that lead in only 13 minutes! Am I suggesting Maryland benefited from the officials in the first 13 minutes? Actually, I have never seen the game a second time. I'd have to be able to watch it again. But, to suggest that Duke needed help and Maryland didn't is just absurd.
Shane Battier had another theory. In a television interview, Battier suggested that Duke won the game in Januray when they erased a 10-point lead in the final 54 seconds of a game in College Park, which Duke went on to win in overtime. (I'm sure they had help from the officials to do that, too. wink, wink.) Battier suggested that, as they started chipping away at the lead, he could see it in the Maryland's players eyes - they'd seen this before. Now, Battier may just be making a good story out of the situation, but again, to suggest that this was impossible without help from the officials is insane.
People love to point at Duke losing big second half leads against Kentucky in 1998 (18 points), or Indiana in 2002 (14 points, I believe) when they want to talk about "choking". Yet, when they start complaining about officiating in Duke games, they never seem to mention the officials having aided Kentucky or Indiana.
Evidently when a team comes back from a large deficit to win a game, they only get help from officials if their name is Duke.
Well, there's still hope for next season. I don't anticipate many people picking Duke to win the title next year. They lose 5 seniors overall, 4 who played significant minutes. However, they have another talented freshmen class coming in, some of which - like McRoberts and Paulus this year - will be depended on from the start. Center Eric Boteng is transferring (there's no ill will, but he thinks he'll play more elsewhere). I hate to see a center leave when you already have a senior center graduating, but maybe it will be for the best. DeMarcus Nelson could emerge as a star next year. If he can stay healthy, he will likely have a great season. I expect Paulus to improve a great deal over the summer. I anticipate a great year from him as well, and expect he will improve his shooting over the summer and be an important scorer from outside with Redick gone, along with his point guard duties. Sophmore David McClure, who redshirted this year, will also be back. So, I think they'll have a good amount of talent, albeit young talent.
The key to the whole season, however, is Josh McRoberts. First, is he going to return? It's not yet known. He's projected as a lottery pick currently, and could end up leaving. That decision, evidently, has not been made yet. Assuming he does return, Duke could have a very good year. They are ranked in the top 15 in one preseason poll I've seen (yes, they're already releasing polls.) But that could drop significantly if McRoberts leaves. The promise he showed at the end of the season - particularly in the ACC tournament - will be important to Duke next year. He will be much more aggressive and score much more with Williams gone. Their dependence on him and Paulus together will be key, and if he doesn't return, it will hurt them all year long. So, hopefully he will make the decision to stay at least another year.
So, here's to a great season this year. It didn't end with a championship or even a final four trip. But it was great nonetheless. And if McRoberts returns next year, they should have a pretty good year as well, despite their youth.
Only 7 months until the season starts...
Tuesday, April 04, 2006
Dance : day ten - final
After such a great first two weeks, the NCAA tournament really ended with a thud at the final four. After two boring blowouts on Saturday came yet another boring blowout last night, as Florida beat UCLA without much difficulty. I didn't even watch the second half. I was exhausted from a long weekend (actually, I guess it was a short weekend since we lost an hour) and with the game apparently decided already, I went to bed at halftime. I recorded the second half in case it turned into a game, but now see no reason to go back and watch it.
Well, that's all I've got. I still plan to reflect on Duke's season and the careers of Redick and Williams, probably later in the week. I still have some comments I've been meaning to post.
- Now we have to endure a couple of days of stupid headlines like "Noah doubt about it" (ESPN) and "Chomping Block" (SI). I'm sure there are many more.
- Wasn't UCLA supposed to have the better defense?
- It seemed evident early on that Donovan was going to be a very good coach someday, and it's not surprising that he's gotten to this point now. I still don't like him (Pitino begat Donovan, plus I can't forgive him for 2000), but he just moved from being considered a good coach to a very good coach. Some will see he's moved to great coach, but I still think it will take a second title for him to move to "great coach." Or, at least more time and more success, even if he never got the second title. But I believe that will eventually happen. If most of these guys are back next year, it could happen then.
- Of course, his next title may not happen at Florida. I don't doubt he'll be back next year, but I must wonder, will he will stay at Florida for the long haul? Especially if a "basketball school" came calling? More specifically, if, say, Tubby Smith were to leave Kentucky in the near future and they gave Billy a call? If I were in charge at Kentucky, he'd be the first guy I'd call when Tubby leaves. Hey, if I were in charge, I'd probably be calling him today - Tubby leaving or not. If he stays, Florida could become one of the great programs of the next 10 or 20 years. If another "basketball school" calls, he might go, depending on the school, but I would think he would definitely consider leaving for Kentucky. And Kentucky would be insane not to at least ask.
- There's also the Big East possibility. Anyone up there looking for a coach should be calling him, too. That's where he's from, that's where he played, and the Big East is a basketball league full of basketball schools. He would get to coach against coaching legends like Jim Boeheim, Jim Calhoun and his old mentor Rick Pitino, instead of names like Mark Gottfried, Rick Stansbury and Stan Heath. I say he would certainly consider a Big East job as well.
- CBS has got to find some people better than Greg Gumble, Clark Kellogg and Seth Davis. Actually, I don't mind Davis that much, but the other two have to go. And when is ESPN going to unload Digger Phelps - who knows nothing - and Doug Gottlieb - who knows less than Digger? We need some quality people here, folks. And don't even get me started on Jim Nantz...
- I heard a week or so ago that Noah had already said he was returning to school next year. I've already seen an article this morning with the headline something like "Noah in no hurry to decide future." Translation: He's leaving.
- Noah was listed 14th on last week's update at NBAdraft.net, and I suspect he'll move up when it's updated (today, I believe.) He's not a guy who has to worry about money, but I suspect as a lottery pick, he'll move on.
- Speaking of the mock draft, Tyrus Thomas of LSU shot up to #1 last week after the regional. I'll be interested to see if he falls (and how far) after not showing up at the final four. Glen Davis was around 19th, so his performance likely won't make a huge difference, but he's already stated that he's returning anyway.
- Wally Hall is an idiot. Yes, everyone in Arkansas knows this, but I've read a few of his articles in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette sports section over the last couple of weeks, and felt compelled to say it again.
I suspect the women's game tonight will be much more interesting than was the men's. Obviously, I hope to see Duke win it, but it should be a tough game, and it won't be over at halftime, like all of the men's final four games were. Of course, the best part about the game will be that Ivory Latta and her teammates will have to watch it at home.
Sunday, April 02, 2006
Dance : day nine - final four
I did not get to sit and watch the final four games as I usually do. A family event took precedence, so I had set my DVR to record them and planned to watch them on Sunday. It turned out that I saw part of the Florida-GMU game, then managed to make it home in time to see the second half of the late game between LSU and UCLA, which was already pretty much over.
It seemed most everyone not from LSU, UCLA or Florida wanted to see GMU win it all. But Florida has been playing really well and they seemed to be shooting the 3 well, at least during the time I was watching. The game seemed to get away from them late in the first half, and after that I think maybe they never really could recover. It was, however, a great run, and I think it's not going to be a long time before we see something like that again. It may happen again very soon.
As for UCLA and LSU, I actually felt like UCLA would win this game, but I didn't think they'd blow LSU out like they did. What was up with Glen Davis? He looked like he'd run from Baton Rouge to Indianapolis before the game. He appeared to be winded from the opening tip. I could understand if they were playing in Salt Lake City, maybe, but why did he suddenly appear to be horribly out of shape? And did Thomas even play in this game? I don't even remember hearing his name. Anyway, UCLA embarrassed LSU, who looked more like the team that played Iona and Texas A&M than the one that played Duke and Texas. I think LSU was a good team who had 2 great games, but were not really a serious contender to win it all.
A lot of people are picking Florida, but I think UCLA may just have enough to do it one more time. Of course, if you saw my bracket, you'd know how little that means.
Speaking of LSU getting embarrassed in the final four, not only did it happen to their men, but also to their women. Duke's Lady Blue Devils hammered LSU's Lady Tigers by 19 points tonight for the chance at the championship on Tuesday night. Both teams were #1 seeds. LSU's Seimone Augustus was the nation's leading scorer this season, and in an ironic twist, Duke's defense held her scoreless for the first 22 minutes of the game, and to 14 points overall (although about 6 of them came in the late minutes of the game when it was already decided.) I say ironic because that's what LSU's men's team did to one of the top men's scorers, Duke's J.J. Redick (who continues to rack up player of the year awards, and rightfully so.) LSU appeared to depend far too much on Augustus (sounds familiar...) and Duke's balance won the game for them.
Duke's opponent was decided in the early game, when the other two ACC schools in the final four squared off. Maryland, who finished 3rd in the ACC, would play North Carolina, who finished 1st and was #1 coming into the game (Duke finished 2nd in the ACC). Maryland has had UNC's number of late, including having an early February win that was UNC's only loss of the season coming into the game. Now, Maryland has given them their other loss of the year as well, a nine-point win. UNC losing is good enough, but seeing coach Sylvia Hatchell and point guard Ivory Latta - perhaps the most annoying player ever to play college basketball - just made it that much better.
So, Duke and Maryland will play Tuesday night and Maryland has had UNC's number, Duke has had Maryland's, having won, I believe, more than 10 in a row agains Maryland prior to the ACC tournament, where Maryland finally beat them. It's certainly not a given, and both are great teams, but Duke is in it's fourth final four since 1999, and I think this time they get it done.
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
March 28, 1992
I remember nearly 5 years ago, when I started my new job in Huntsville, a co-worker came by and saw a Sports Illustrated from 1992 sitting in my cube. It had Bobby Hurley on the cover, and the title read "Dynasty". He immediately said, "Is that the year Christian Laettner hit the shot to beat Kentucky?" I said, "Yes, it was." Then I found out why he brought it up - he was a UK graduate. Seems every time I meet a UK fan and they find out I'm a Duke fan, they bring it up first. From what I read online, it still hurts and it still fuels their hatred for Duke. But, I don't mind seeing it over and over every March.
I was in a Chili's restaurant in North Little Rock when Laettner hit the shot. I had scheduled a date - a first date, in fact - for that night, having been mistaken about the game time. I thought it was in the afternoon, and was horrified to find out it was that evening. Some priorities, huh? Anyway, I went on the date. We were going to eat and then to a movie. As we sat in Chili's, I continued to hear people in the bar area roaring occasionally when something would happen. Evidently, it was when Kentucky was making great plays, because being in SEC country (even though it had just become SEC country that very season), the people were pulling for them. Plus, Duke had started to become what they are now - a team people liked to dislike (which has now grown into hate.)
As we got up to leave, she first went to the restroom. As I waited, I walked over to the bar area to see what was happening with the game. I said to someone, "What's the score?" They gleefully replied, "Kentucky 103, Duke 102 - 2 seconds left!" I was crestfallen. How could this happen? How could they lose this game? They were supposed to repeat. They'd been #1 all season long, only lost 2 games by 2 and 4 points, and were clearly the best team in the country. Now it was going to end here, short of the final four, and even worse, at the hands of Kentucky??
What I didn't know was that in the huddle, Mike Krzyzewski was telling his players, "We're going to win this game." Evidently, despite the circumstances they faced at that moment - needing to go the length of the court in :02 and score - they believed him.
As the teams broke from the timeout, I stood there and watched a TV probably 30 feet away. I only saw one play in that game live. It was the best play of the game. I would later see it all on tape - which I'd set as soon as I realized my scheduling error. But I saw the pass from Grant Hill. I saw Laettner catch, dribble and shoot. I saw the ball hit the net. I saw the Duke bench explode onto the court. I saw Laettner running down the court. At this point, the crowd in the bar deflated, and as my date was returning from the bathroom, I was able to verify that indeed the shot had counted.
Duke 104, Kentucky 103.
Some argue that it was the greatest game ever. I'm sure Kentucky fans aren't as passionate about that as Duke fans. I recall something that former Kentucky player John Pelphrey - who was one of the four Kentucky seniors on that team, all of whom I believe are fondly remembered by UK fans for what they did for UK basketball (and rightfully so) - said on the ESPN Battlelines episode about this game. I don't recall the exact quote. It was something about how everyone has their high points and low points in life, but not everyone has their low points replayed on ESPN all the time. So, certainly, the game is probably not remembered as fondly by Kentucky fans and players. But certainly, basketball fans all over the spectrum - from Duke lovers and Duke haters - have to admit what a great game it was. There were more great plays in the game - by both teams - than I can list here. The last minute of the game alone was full of unbelievable plays. And while Laettner's final shot is what is most remembered, his "perfect game" is sometimes not. He went 10-10 from the field and 10-10 from the line in that game. If he hadn't, Kentucky would have won.
I realize I am, as a Duke fan, biased about the game, but I think there's not much question from unbiased sources that this very well may have been the greatest game in history. I know it's the greatest one I've ever seen. I still watch it at least a couple of times a year. And 14 years later, it never gets old.
Monday, March 27, 2006
Dance : day eight
Can this tournament get much better (besides, obviously, if Duke had continued to win?)
Well, just watched UConn go down at the hands of George Mason. Connecticut took a 12 point lead late in the first half. It seemed at that point they expected Mason to just go away. Or maybe they were just hoping they would.
But Mason didn't. Not only did they make a run, they took the lead. And then inexplicably gave up a 4 point lead with 17 seconds left, and UConn appeared as though they might escape one more time - which is all they've done so far in this tournament.
It seems whenever an underdog loses a chance to upset a team and is forced into overtime, they fold up and lose without much of a fight in overtime. I was afraid that would happen to George Mason. But, man, they came out firing. They scored first and continued to score, keeping the pressure on Connecticut. Then, it looked like they might actually give UConn a third chance late in the game - missing their final 3 free throws - but held on as UConn could not score on the final possession, and Mason goes to the final four with a 2 point win.
I heard Mike Lupica babbling on this morning on ESPN about how Jim Calhoun would be in the ranks of Wooden and Rupp, having won 3 titles in 8 years. That was, of course, if they continued on. Lupica, who is a loud-mouth know-it-all who seems to enjoy hearing himself talk more than Dick Vitale and could not be more annoying, spoke too soon. It's almost as great to see Connecticut lose as it is to see Lupica proven wrong.
Mason becomes the first "mid-major" to reach the final four in the era of the 64 (or 65) team tournament. They did what others have come close to doing. And what everyone expected Gonzaga to do first - and most of them expected it this year. But instead, it was the team that everyone said shouldn't even be invited. Since then, they've beaten a final four team from last year and the last two national champions. They've crashed the party big time. And they may not be done yet.
Greg Doyel, in an article on CBS Sportsline, says the following:
Today, now that George Mason has beaten UConn to get into the Final Four, people are going to write about David and Goliath.I guess we'll see next weekend.
What if George Mason is Goliath?
I didn't watch a lot of this game, but Florida held off Villanova. Villanova couldn't match Florida inside, and couldn't hit anything from outside. Basically, Villanova was the last hope for both the Big East and the #1 seeds. Everyone said the Big East was the best conference, and I would have to agree with that. It was expected they'd definitely have one, and likely have two, teams in the final four. There was even a decent possibility they could end up doing what no conference had done since 1985 - have 3 teams in the final four. In 1985, the Big East did it. They had a chance to do it again. But it didn't happen.
Now, the best conference joins the second best conference (which many say was the Big Ten) in having NO teams in the final four. And, with Villanova's loss, there are also NO #1 seeds in the final four, for the first time since 1980.
It's been a wild ride so far. If this continues for the last 3 games, this may have been one of the best episodes of March Madness to date.
Sunday, March 26, 2006
Dance : day seven
Well, we're down to 6 now.
I'm not really surprised LSU won. I mentioned the Duke factor yesterday. But I still thought Texas was on a mission and that they might pull it out. I don't like PJ Tucker, who I think is a punk, but I like Rick Barnes and wouldn't mind seeing him succeed. Of course, I went to college with a lot of people from Texas, and listened to them babble on and on about how great the state of Texas is, so I don't mind seeing Texas teams lose whenever possible. I will not be surprised to see LSU win it all. Also, with LSU winning, the SEC gets it's first team since 2000 (Florida) into the final four, and only the second in the last 8 years. They've had quite a drought, but it's over now, and actually could end up with 2 teams in if Florida wins tomorrow. (Kentucky, as I always like to point out, will miss it for the eighth year in a row now. You gotta love that.)
This was one of the ugliest games I've ever seen. Memphis was throwing up brick after brick in the first half, and they just could not seem to gain much ground after UCLA took the lead. UCLA looked like they were playing to prove something - that not enough people took them seriously. Granted, I'd not seen them play all year long, but I originally picked them for the final four (as I mentioned before) because everyone said they were playing well. After watching them play against Alabama and Gonzaga, I wasn't that impressed. But I was glad - as always - to see Calipari and Memphis lose.
I'll go ahead and pick the first final four game (although I reserve the right to change my mind before next weekend.) UCLA has continued to win, and they may very well be able to knock off LSU like they did Gonzaga and Memphis, but I am - at least for now - going to go with LSU in this game.
Saturday, March 25, 2006
Dance : day six
Boston College was my only hope, as an ACC fan. I thought they had it done against Villanova, but were on the short end of a couple of really bad calls late in regulation. The first one has already left my mind, but the second was a traveling call on Dudley in which a Villnova player tied him up and Dudley lost his balance and took steps. There was no way this could be anything other than either a jump ball or a foul on the Villanova player (it looked like a pretty good tie-up to me, so it should have been a jump ball.) But the officials chose to make a bad call instead.
Now, this didn't cost BC the game. It hurt their chances of winning, but they missed way too many free throws. Had they made one of those missed, they would have won. Instead, they lost in overtime. But everyone always remembers the bad calls (or, as in my case, at least 1 of 2).
The second game I did not watch, so I haven't got much to comment on. I picked Georgetown, but wouldn't have been surprised either way. Since I believe Billy Donovan to be the anti-Christ, I hope Villanova advances to the final four.
Didn't see any of the George Mason-WSU game, either. Didn't really care. Not surprised either way in this one, too, but I expected GMU to maybe pull it out since they were playing near home. And they did.
Connecticut continues to play uninspired for much of the game and then pull out a win. Actually, I didn't see it, either, but I have to assume. I read about a goal-tending non-call in UConn's favor that may have cost Washington the game. But the only highlights I saw were of Washington fouling when up by four, giving UConn a three-point play, then giving up a three at the end to send it to overtime. They should have won it anyway. Nevertheless, Uconn moves on.
I think the regional finals could all be very good games. Since a new round is starting, I figure I'll go ahead and pick again.
Atlanta Every team that has beaten Duke in the sweet 16 during the Krzyzewski era has advanced to the final four. That's 5 times prior to this year. LSU could make it a sixth, but I think Texas just may pull this out, so I'm going with them.
Oakland I picked UCLA to reach the final four in my original bracket, before switching it to Pitt, and I picked them the other day, so I'll stick with them. UCLA advances.
Minneapolis I realize there's a very good chance Florida will win this game, but I just can't pick them. Now that BC's gone, I'll have to go with Villanova.
Washington I can't think of a better story than George Mason, whose presence in the tournament was questioned by many, reaching Indianapolis. But I just don't know if they can do it one more time, even against a UConn time that will likely leave the door open for them much of the game. As much as it hurts to say this, I think Connecticut will keep going.
Friday, March 24, 2006
Dance : day five
Three exciting games last night out of the four, which is what you want at this point.
Obviously, for a Duke fan, huge disappointment. LSU played great defense, particularly on Redick. I actually expected Shelden Williams to have a more difficult game than Redick. Williams was great, but he was pretty much the only one. It was not unlike the Temple game, except LSU is better than Temple. Normally, if their opponent scores only 62, Duke would win by double-digits. But their inability to score against LSU's defense was what killed them. Williams scored - 23 in fact - but Redick could not, and their lack of a consistent third scorer, which has been a problem all year, killed them again. The players not named Redick or Williams were 7 of 29 from the field. Overall, they shot horribly, but most of that was LSU, who had 9 blocks (according to the box score, but I'd say it was more than that), not to mention the altered shots. LSU was physical and the officials were letting both teams play, and Duke did not handle it well. Fouls that they normally get when driving to the basket were not being called as often, which lead to less free throws - also something they're used to doing a lot.
In the end, they still had a shot at winning late. With Duke fouling to put LSU on the line at the end, LSU managed to miss a couple of free throws. Unfortunately, both misses resulted in offensive rebounds for LSU, forcing Duke to foul again and LSU to shoot more free throws. One trip down the floor for LSU resulted in 3 trips to the line. In addition to that was a breakaway when an LSU player got behind the Duke pressure on an inbounds play at Duke's end of the court. You give up plays like that in the final minute, you don't really deserve to win.
I didn't watch a lot of the Texas - West Virginia game. I nearly went to bed during halftime of the late games because both were up 10+ at the time. But when I saw the local news reporting that Texas was only ahead by 3 in the second half, I returned to the game. It seemed West Virginia could not stop Aldridge, who seemed to be pulling rebounds and scoring at will. However, West Virginia did not give up. A few missed free throws by Texas late in the game kept them close. When Pittsnogle hit the 3 with :05 on the clock, I was expecting overtime. But, a great shot at the buzzer sends Texas to the final 8, where there should be a good game with LSU.
Saw absolutely none of the Memphis - Bradley game, since Duke-LSU was on here, and I didn't watch during halftime or after Duke-LSU was over (I was watching post-game press conferences on ESPN News.) So, I hear Memphis looked impressive again. However, despite Bradley's upsets thus far, the "mid-major" teams never play as well the second weekend. Therefore, I still don't know what to think of Memphis. They look great, everyone says, but it's just like their conference - they still haven't played anyone. Their highest seed so far is #9 Bucknell. So, I'll see what they do against UCLA before I crown them national champions, as some seem to be ready to do at this point.
If the Texas-West Virginia finish wasn't good enough, how about the UCLA-Gonzaga game. I, again, almost left for bed after the Texas game was over, because Gonzaga was still up 9 with around 3 minutes left. I figured - since they'd led the whole game, and mostly by double-figures - that it was already over. But I stayed a few more plays, and suddenly it was a game again. Gonzaga fell apart in the closing minutes, allowing UCLA to score 11 straight and pull off the win. J.P. Batista fouled UCLA on the rebound of an Adam Morrison miss - Gonzaga was up 3 points - with 19 seconds remaining. UCLA hit two free throws, and then with the clock ticking down, UCLA stole the ball from Batista after the inbounds, and hit a wide-open layup to take the lead. After a Gonzaga miss and foul, UCLA hit another free throw for the final margin. It was an amazing finish for UCLA, and an equally amazing collapse for Gonzaga. Morrison buried his face in his jersey and laid face down on the floor for a couple of minutes after the game was over. Many believe this to be his last game at Gonzaga, expecting him to enter the NBA draft.
Well, it seemed appropriate that Redick and Morrison, whose scoring and player of the year battles have lasted all season, would exit together. Both of these guys have had oustanding years and have been great college basketball players. It seems that at least 50% of the articles I've read today regarding the LSU game or Redick's career seem to questino Redick's true ability, suggesting or implying he's not as good as he's appeared all year. This, of course, is crap. It's pretty simple. Just look at the facts from the last four years. His improvement and his accomplishments speak for themselves. To suggest that he has become anything less than a great college basketball player (which, as I said, it seems people are lining up to say today) can only be the result of either stupidity or bias. He was a great player. One cannot suggest otherwise and expect to be taken seriously.
I look forward to tonight's games. My favorite team left in the tournament is "whoever is playing Connecticut." I really hope to see BC make it to the final four. Only a few times in the last 20 years has an ACC team not been there (87, 96, 03), so they're the only hope left. I like their players and Al Skinner, so I hope they can get it done.
Next week, I plan to have some final thoughts on Duke's season, the careers of Redick and Williams, and some thoughts on Duke's recent problems advancing past the sweet 16 (I have a theory - a couple of things that I believe contribute, at least in part, to this difficulty.)
Thursday, March 23, 2006
And the madness resumes
Just a few thoughts and observations before the madness starts again this evening...
No repeats this year in the final four. Louisville, of course, didn't even make the tournament. Michigan State lost in the first round, and Illinois and North Carolina lost in the second.
Duke is in the sweet 16 for the 9th straight year, which equals North Carolina's run from 1985-1993 (during the era of 64+ teams in the tournament.) UNC actually appeared in 13 in a row, but the first 4 were prior to the expansion and did not require winning 2 games to get there. I think the next longest current streak is 2 straight.
Traditional powers not in the sweet 16 - Kentucky, UNC, Kansas, Indiana. You expect these schools to be there most years. This year, none of them are there. The only schools there that you could call "traditional powers" would be Duke and UCLA. (Connecticut's success is more recent, and Georgetown was a power in the 80's, but I wouldn't personally call them traditional powers. At least not yet.)
Heard Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann, on The Dan Patrick Show on ESPN Radio, talking about picking your bracket by which mascot could win a one-on-one battle. For example, the UCLA Bruin would beat the Gonzaga Bulldog. Part of the conversation went something like this:
Patrick: You've gotta think the bruin beats the bulldog.There was more and it was just cracking me up. Those guys are hilarious, and it's been great to hear them together again.
Olbermann: Sure, a young bear beats a bulldog, but it may take a while since he's not yet been sufficiently trained.
Patrick: But wouldn't a devil beat just about anything??
Olbermann: Yes, but we're talking about a blue devil. This is a devil who apparently has some sort of circulatory problem, so who knows.
A word about CBS
Okay, so, just as I do every year, allow me to complaing about CBS' coverage of the tournament. Let's see... how can I describe it... it's horrible. Yeah, that sounds about right.
I hate the fact that you can only see one game at a time, and that it's a game that (supposedly) will be of most interest to your region of the country. Then, even if that occurs, they'll switch to another game at any given time. Sometimes, this is good, because you might want to see the last minute of a close game elsewhere. Other times, they just switch to show you what's going on with 16:34 left in the first half of the Nevada-Montana game - as if anyone outside of Nevada and Montana care. I won't even go into the sport personalities in the studio or calling the games. There's going to be just as much good and bad with any other network there.
Here's my solution: ABC needs to have this contract. ABC could then, on the network channel, broadcast a similar type of coverage that CBS currently does now. However, they could also farm out all of the games (this is particularly necessary in the first weekend) to other channels they own. There are a maximum of 4 games happening at once. The network could broadcast the regional game, but all 4 games could also be broadcast elsewhere - ESPN, EPSN2, ESPN Classic, ESPN News, ESPNU, or even ABC Family. Then, regardless of the regional coverage, you could switch to the game of your choice. This would be the ideal. If you have cable, you can see all of the games. If not, you can still see the normal coverage on ABC.
Well, since I picked most everything wrong in my pre-tournament bracket, I'll go ahead and pick the final four from what we have left. Here's my picks for regional final games, with the winners, with no commentary:
Atlanta: Duke beats West VirginiaSo, there you have it. Now you know to bet on everyone I picked to lose...
Oakland: UCLA beats Memphis
Minneapolis: Boston College beats Georgetown
Washington: Washington beats George Mason