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Tuesday Morning Point Guard

February 10, 2004 Columns No Comments


Tuesday Morning Point Guard

by Dean Austin

Back in the saddle again after a short break I thought I would ruminate on not only this past week but the last couple as well in a Super Duper Bumper Edition of the Tuesday Morning Point Guard. Of course it might be the fact that I have notes from the past three weeks and don’t want to not use them. But if you won’t tell then neither will I and that double negative is just between us.

Ten College Basketball Thoughts

1. Any Stanford grads at ESPN? It was a great shot but how many different ways can Sports Center show Nick Robinson draining that three? That being said a tremendous game between Stanford and Arizona at Maples Pavilion.

1a: An excellent piece in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat by Lowell Cohn this weekend talked about the Stanford victory, but also pointed out the issues the Cardinal have with their opponent’s speed at both ends of the floor. Mike Montgomery’s team will of course prove me wrong, but I’m not convinced this is a team that will make the Final Four.

1b: California 87-83 Arizona; now that’s the Cal team that I talked about at the start of the year who should be capable of beating anyone. As always Leon Powe was superb, the country just hasn’t discovered this kid who as a freshman leads the Pac 10 in rebounding and is in the Top 20 nationally. The problem for Cal has been that no-one else has stepped up; at least not until Amit Tamr who has had an off season started raining three pointers for the Bears hitting five three point shots.

1c: It probably will take a couple of recruiting classes but Dick Bennett may well get the Washington State Cougars to growl. A 55-48 defeat of UCLA at Pauley isn’t a bad start, especially given the widely reported information that it was the Cougars first win there, ever!

2. Once again I have to agree with Dick Vitale, which I tend to do far too much. I should find something to disagree with him, but I digress. There is no greater rivalry in any sport than Duke vs. North Carolina in college basketball.

2a: I have never understood the constant praise that Sean May of North Carolina receives. He may be averaging almost a double-double but I’ve seen way too many plays where he isn’t focused. So it was with some surprise that I watched the Tar Heels beat Virginia on January 24th. I didn’t see May take a single possession off, not one.

2b: May reminds me a lot of Erik Dampier currently with the Golden State Warriors in that I remember being unimpressed with Dampier when he played at Mississippi State even when he was being lauded by numerous national correspondents. I couldn’t pin point exactly what it was until I saw a Tournament game in person between UCLA and the Bulldogs in 1995. The Bruins center that day, George Zidek completely took Dampier to school with his positioning around the basket on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor. Similarly I don’t like May taking plays off but it is more than that. I’m just not sure what… yet.

2c: Point that may interest only me: If I recall correctly the other part of that West Regional double header was Maryland vs. Connecticut. UCLA went on to win the Tournament that year. Not a bad couple of games to see.

2d: North Carolina is in the middle of a killer stretch of games vs. Duke, at Wake Forest, at Georgia Tech, vs. Maryland and vs. Florida State. Surely anything better than 2-3 would be a surprise?

2e: Six losses in eight games for Wake Forest have the Demon Deacons plummeting down the polls. Not so fast Kimosabe. Wake Forest are my current pick for “Team from a major conference with a seed lower than #4 to blow up a bracket,” come tournament time.

2f: Let’s say North Carolina wins its remaining home games and loses its road games. Does a 17-10 Tar Heel squad that is 7-9 in conference play go to the Big Dance with a win over #1 Connecticut?

2g: And for that matter what about Wake Forest? They too have the real potential to end up 7-9 within the conference. If you work under the assumption that the Skip Prosser’s squad win two of their three final in conference games against Duke, Florida State and NC State the Demon Deacons still need a split from four road games, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Virginia and Maryland to finish within conference at 8-8.

3 I hadn’t given much attention to South Carolina. Sure they’d won a bunch of games but no one of real significance and a ten point loss to Temple seemed to indicate the talent level. Ironically I started to take notice after a three point loss vs. Florida. Subsequently Dave Odom’s squad has beaten Georgia, Auburn, Tennessee, LSU, Alabama and Vanderbilt while losing at Kentucky and Mississippi. Of the six teams that they beat in that stretch, not one of them is a slouch; all are capable of playing at the highest level. The secret may well be the assist to turn over ratio that has only recently turned down from a high of 1.3/1. Only Vanderbilt in the SEC has a similar ratio which probably explains the close two point game between the teams. That sort of level is played by such teams as Louisville, Arizona, Connecticut, North Carolina and Cincinnati.

4. It may have been back on January 21st but quite a fascinating game between Louisville and Cincinnati in Conference USA. A tight game at 56-52 in the Cardinals’ favor was blown wide open with a 37-14 run to finish the game. And yet it seems that both clubs were so focused on that game that they have been unable to gather themselves since.

4a: Back to the game and I liked the inside work and positioning of Louisville especially early in the first half.

4b: I was surprised that Cincinnati didn’t press the Cardinals fiercely. It will be interesting to see if a top team does that or if Huggins does that in the return February 21st.

4c: Separated at birth, Bob Huggins and Jim Belushi?

5. Lost to Connecticut by 3 in Connecticut and blew out Syracuse by 21 in Syracuse. Ok Pittsburgh I’m sold, that’s a good team.

6. While I take notes during the week, I usually write the bulk of my column on a Sunday. It’s 8.26 am on Sunday as I write these lines and I decided to take the first few of these “thoughts” and write about each conference. I wrote down the conferences in order based on stories and thoughts that came to mind first. Pac-10 because of the Stanford vs. Arizona game; Cal finally playing to their potential etc. Isn’t it so indicative of the drop off within the conference this season that the Big 10 was the sixth conference I listed?

6a: I was checking some scores online these past couple of weeks and at the time Michigan State was up 62-58 with 32 seconds left against Purdue. Great win I thought and one that would be important come tournament selection time. Boy was I shocked as Purdue came back to win in overtime. That in a nutshell is the Spartans season. I know it has taken time but I’m officially off the, Michigan State will come good, bandwagon.

6b: And I’m not sure which bandwagon I’m on. This is going to be one of the most open tournaments in a long time. You give me just the starting five against another starting five and the choice is easy; Arizona. However Basketball doesn’t work that way and a bench, even if only three more players is important.

7. Coaches with medical problems were in the news while I was away. Rick Pitino took a leave of absence for something that sounded awfully like a kidney stone, although you would assume that his doctors have ruled that out. His symptoms sounded depressingly similar. Meanwhile Utah coach Rick Majerus ended up in hospital with heart problems. I wonder if the personable Majerus will end up in the studio at ESPN next year. A TMPG wish for a speedy recovery to both gentlemen.

8. Grant Wahl over on CNN/SI is a favorite of mine. I really enjoy his stuff but he outdid himself at the start of the month with his All-Hobbit team. Fall down funny.

9. If you aren’t out west you probably missed the crazy ending to the BYU vs. New Mexico game. BYU ties the game with seconds left but the Cougars Mark Bigelow dances onto the court in celebration as the game continues. The refs have no choice but to, correctly, call a technical giving New Mexico two shots and the ball. Amazingly New Mexico misses the two shots only to throw the ball more than half way down the court on the ensuing inbounds play for Danny Granger to make a lay up. Unbelievable!

10. The game I’d pay to watch this week is Stanford vs. Cal. It’s the game of the season for both teams and a Cal squad that finishes second in the Pac 10 with a defeat over Stanford and a positive conference record could make it awfully difficult for the seeding committee come Tournament time. Right now only Arizona and Stanford from the Pac 10 get into the tournament unless something very strange happens. Hence my interest in the potentially “strange.”

Five Non-College Basketball Sports thoughts

1. Funnily enough as I was pushing around a column prior to the Super Bowl I wrote the following. “I’ve tried for a week and a half to get even moderately excited about the Super Bowl and I just can’t. While this seems to have an element of the Rams vs. Titans match up of a few years ago when the Rams were everyone’s pick, it’s one big yawn here in Austinville.” And you know what? It was still a big yawn in Austinville even with the last minute field goal. Tom Brady is a very good Quarterback, a two time MVP winning Quarterback at 26 and probably the calmest Quarterback I’ve seen running the two minute drill. But I don’t consider him a “star.” Montana had that certain something, Bradshaw, Rice, Marino, Ray Lewis, Sapp, Favre have it too. Brady doesn’t, just like Aikman didn’t and neither did Simms. And for those Dallas and New York fans frothing at the mouth, Emmitt did and so did Lawrence Taylor. That’s what this Super Bowl missed, a true star.

2. The starters for the NBA All-Star game were announced. Apparently the NBA thought that publicizing their snooze fest during the equally sleep inducing week before the Super Bowl made sense.

3. What both Basketball and Football have in common is far too much free agency. I understand the players’ legitimate need to work where they wish to and for as much money as they can but it’s killing both games. Baseball had a great playoffs but it was because the storied franchises of the Yankees, Cubs and Red Sox were in the post season. Put the same players in the uniforms of Colorado, Cleveland and Tampa Bay and I don’t think half the audience watches. There has got to be a way to manage the needs of both the players and the teams when it comes to keeping some kind of continuity in the game.

4. It continues to look as if the Players and Owners are on a serious collision course in the NHL. Certainly a lot of the discussion is rhetoric but there are nasty economic realities that will have to be faced. Rather than the traditional franchise mode I’d prefer to see a European style multiple division mode with relegation and promotions allowing relevance for all teams throughout the year. As long as the regular season is virtually meaningless the NHL and NBA will have their issues.

4a: I continued to be stunned by the compassion and forgiveness that Graham and LuAnn Snyder have shown in the wake of the accident that claimed the life of their son Dan Snyder of the Atlanta Thrashers. I sincerely doubt given such circumstances that I could even come close. Amazing, amazing people.

5. Quite simply probably the greatest comeback in the Cup history of English Soccer happened this past week. Manchester City, the team US captain Claudio Reyna plays for and Tottenham Hotspur which features US keeper Kasey Keller had tied in the English FA Cup. For a rough reference, think of the single elimination passion of March Madness spread over 5 months in a competition separate from regular league play. Anyway the original game had ended in a tie in Manchester and so a “replay” was required at Tottenham. Spurs, as Tottenham are known, were up 3-0 at half time and City had seen their best player leave with an injury and had one player sent off. So with ten players against eleven all that City does is storm back to win 3-4! There is no US equivalent that I can even use as an analogy. Unbelievable!

And a couple of Non-Sporting Thoughts

1. Oscar nominations. I find it bizarre that Johnny Depp being nominated was a surprise to some. Come on, that was a phenomenal performance and was the primary reason for the success of Pirates of the Caribbean. Ben Kingsley, Bill Murray and Sean Penn I understand but Jude Law? Please! Peter Dinklage for the Station Agent or Russell Crowe for Master and Commander would have been so much more worthy.

1a.Other significant misses by the academy include Sean Astin for best supporting actor and Sir Ian McKellen for best actor. However, by far the most egregious error was somehow whiffing on Pirates of the Caribbean for Original Score.

2. Regular readers know that I’m a huge fan of The West Wing. I really enjoy catching up on the old episodes although depressingly they show just how brilliant the first season was and how far the current season is behind even if it’s still better than most stuff on television. What frustrates me about the early episodes though are the great bit characters that are used once and never return. I was watching the Stackhouse filibuster episode (highly recommended) again and there is a great GAO intern called Winifred Hooper, played by Cara DeLizia, who back chats Rob Lowe’s Sam Seaborne. She was such a cool character and one that would have been great to use, for example, when Seaborne was running for office in the California 47th. I see that all the time in The West Wing, the missed opportunities to reuse great actors and characters.

3. I know No Doubt has a hit currently with It’s My Life but try and find the original by Talk Talk.

Look for the latest Austin Index later in the week. Can I have the top five listed in my Upset Quotient get upset again within 48 hours?

     

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