For the first time in a long time, the state of Michigan has two very good teams in the Big Ten. Michigan State snapped up their 9th straight win Saturday afternoon against Kansas. The Jayhawks are a shell of the championship team they had last year, but it's still a solid win over a great program. With a glance at the Spartans' upcoming schedule, that win streak could continue to grow towards 15 in the coming weeks. Michigan put away Iowa with ease on Sunday by playing some of the best defense Crisler Arena has seen from the home team in some time. Just 16 first half points for the Hawkeyes and 18 turnovers for the game tells you all you need to know about Michigan's effort on that end of the floor.
The main similarity between these two impressive in-state teams is the depth they throw at you every night. Both teams routinely play 9-10 guys, allowing both Tom Izzo and John Beilein to exploit teams with thinner rosters by having fresh legs on the floor at all times. When Izzo can go to the bench and get Chris Allen and Durrell Summers, that is serious firepower off the pine that not many teams can match. Michigan has gotten nice performances in different games by Zack Gibson and Stu Douglas off the bench. With Kelvin Grady moving to the starting lineup the past couple games, Beilein has tightened up the rotation a little bit, but will still need to utilize the team's depth come March.
The game about a month from now in Ann Arbor between the two teams will be something basketball fans in the state have craved for some time: a battle that actually has two legitimate combatants. Kalin Lucas is playing perfect basketball of late for MSU, with his 3-point and free throw accuracy off the charts. DeShawn Sims is quietly averaging 17 and 9 for Big Blue, while scoring in double figures in all 16 contests. While the football rivalry between the two schools consistently provides memorable moments, the basketball version has been dormant for about a decade. The clash on February 10th should not disappoint.
If the Pistons end up making it to the NBA Finals this year, there is only one team that I fear; the Utah Jazz. To put it simply, the Jazz own the Pistons. Saturday night's loss in Salt Lake was the 8th straight to Jerry Sloan's guys, bringing the Pistons record to 2-17 against them this decade. Yikes! I know Mehmet Okur is a very good player, but he plays like a future Hall-of-Famer when he suits up against his old squad. How about 8 of 9 shooting the other night, while going a perfect 3 for 3 from both downtown and the free throw line? Take it easy, Memo.
Their home court, the EnergySolutions Arena, formerly the Delta Center, has been a personal house of horrors for the Detroiters since the building opened in 1991. A big reason the Pistons basically never win there (2-15) is because the officials usually have a very home friendly whistle with the boisterous Utah crowd on top of them. I will never forget the atrocity that took place in the closing seconds of a game there back in 2000. The Stones had played a tough ballgame throughout, trailed by one, and needed to force a miss to have a chance to win the game at the other end. They did more than that. They didn't even allow Utah to get an attempt off, with the shot clock buzzer blaring with the ball still firmly in Bryon Russell's hands. Pistons ball, down one, with four ticks left on the clock. Not so fast. Russell still threw up a shot, albeit comically late, and had it bang off the rim and fall to Jeff Hornacek. The referees DID NOTHING. G-Hill, Stack, and Terry Mills watched the game's final seconds run off the clock with dumbfounded expressions on their faces wondering why the game had not been stopped. Hornacek tossed in a 3 at the buzzer for good measure, and the Jazz had stolen a 4 point win. It was one of the most unforgivable blown calls in NBA history. I remember trying to figure out as replay after replay was shown how in the world all three referees could fail to realize the shot clock was at zero when there was a loud, blaring sound in the arena to indicate the violation, and Bryon Russell was still just chilling with the rock in his mitts. It was one of the only times I remember Alvin Gentry really losing his cool on the court as he tried to get an explanation from the refs as they sprinted off the floor.
That will always be one of the toughest regular season losses I've experienced as a Detroit sports fan. Not that it really meant a lot in the grand scheme of an NBA season, but the grossly blatant home cooking in Utah was hard to stomach. Here's hoping that the Jazz get bounced early in the West playoffs with no chance of reaching the Finals. If they do get there, however, and we happen to meet them, I suggest simply forfeiting the games in Utah, and trying to win the series by taking all four at the Palace. Or, if we are forced to go there and play, at least send in a request to the league that the games be played without a shot clock. They aren't used, anyway.
"Practice makes perfect." Or so the saying goes. Sometimes, for no reason at all, after not playing a particular sport for more than a decade, you come back better than ever before. Such is the case recently with my Dad and bowling. He bowled in a league Wednesday nights back in the day. He was solid, but not spectacular. Maybe carried a 170 average. In the last 10 years, maybe he's been bowling a handful of times. Again, nothing really to write home about. About three weeks ago, everything changed.
He and my brother Sam trekked out to Drakeshire Lanes for a few kicks on a dreary Sunday morning. News of his scores hit the AP Ticker almost immediately. He racked up scores in the 220's and 230's, throwing strikes like I do gutter balls. In other words, very often. A few days later, they stepped out to the alley again, trying to see if this explosion of scoring was the real thing or just some fluke based on performance-enhancing drugs none of us knew about. He is a doctor, after all. Results came back...no fluke. He was a future professional bowler. This time, he'd scored closer to 240 with a run of 7 straight strikes. He said he was laughing after many of the strikes, in disbelief at what was going on. When you play a game or sport for your whole life at a certain level, and you take 10 years off, normally you do not come back infinitely better.
That brings us to this morning. I had to see this show for myself. About two hours and six games later, I was a believer. The high game was a 246, with 8 consecutive strikes. A 9-spare in the 1st, same thing in the 3rd, and a 9 on the final ball of the game. Three measly pins and we woulda been looking at a perfecto. I came to the realization that despite his being an excellent physician, his greatest talent can be found on the lanes. Later in the day, we happened upon a PBA tournament on ESPN. The two mooks in the final finished with scores in the mid 220's. My dad starts a thought with, "If I get a real good ball and start practicing..." The crazy thing is...it doesn't sound that crazy.
Just when you thought fiction could never become reality, it happens right before your eyes. I had always thought that Chubby from "Teen Wolf" was a mere creation by a writer and director that brought a written character to life. Incorrect. This is a real-life player, and his name is James Eayrs. He plays for UW-Milwaukee and is jokingly (at least I think it's a joke) listed at 6'7, 340 pounds. 340 pounds. Um, ok. Now would you like to put your other foot on the scale, Mr. Eayrs? My man is 4 bills if he's a day.
I caught this monster playing a little bit the other night and basically had the time of my life. As if the story couldn't get better, the guy pretty much lumbers around the court shooting 3's the whole time, rarely venturing into the paint. (Check out this clip from the other night, of the game I was checking out. Go to the 6:40 mark to see Big Fella knock down a game-tying trey in the closing seconds.) I've always had an affinity for big, heavier, guys who could step out and hit the 3. There's a reason I have signed up with the alias 'Sugar Mills' for any message board or e-mail in the last dozen years. Terry Mills was 'Mr. Big Shot' for the Pistons way before Chauncey came around. I'm not even kidding. T-Mills buried several game winning bombs at the horn in the mid to late 90's. I always enjoyed Sam Perkins and his "I will not be lifting my feet off the ground at any point during this jumper" technique. Now my main man Eayrs can be added to this list. I know Chubby would be proud. I sure am.
Quick update on some streaks I have been obsessively following. Since I have not written a Baron Davis article in at least 24 hours, you should know that something must have happened. No, not what you think. The streak of him failing to shoot better than 50% in a single game is still alive and well at 49 games. Baron has actually been missing in action for the last number of games due to the always "severe" "bruised tailbone." He has now sat out the last six contests, and rumors are floating out there that he is in no hurry to get back on the court. I'm stunned!! You're telling me that a guy who hasn't had a good game since last March is not rushing to suit up again??? Not exactly "breaking news."
Jose Calderon splashed home all four of his free throws this afternoon, bringing his streak to 79 straight makes from the charity stripe. The record is 97 by the legendary former Bad Boy, Micheal Williams. I think this is one of the cooler records out there. Even the slightest short arm might leave you hitting the front rim, and a little too much power could clip the back iron and careen back your way. To be perfect that many times in a row is highly impressive. I still say Calderon gets nervous around 85 and ends up about a dozen short of history.
Talk about the exact opposite of Jose Calderon. This one really deserves its own column because of how astounding it is, but a short recap will have to do for now. Bruce Bowen, the pesky (more like dirty) forward for the Spurs has now played 395 straight minutes without attempting a free throw. Now, I know that Bowen is not necessarily a "slashing" player and spends the majority of time on offense camped out in the deep corner. He is also a miserable free throw shooter, and was only 1 of 6 on the year before he began the streak. But still, 395 minutes on the court without shooting a single free throw is, for lack of a better word, sick. If he is driving the lane and sees a big guy coming to hack him, does he just make a U-turn and head right back out to the long line? If he gets his hands on a rebound in the late stages of a game with the other team trying to foul, exactly how fast is Bowen passing the ball to a teammate? He did not set the world on fire last year, but he still managed to can 45 free ones by year's end. This year, in 728 total minutes of action, Bruce has hit one free throw. If anything, opposing coaches should be aware of this and sending Bowen to the line any chance they can. Just give him a minute to get on MapQuest and find out how to get there. It's been a while.
It is never okay to actually enter your real name for the scoring when you go bowling. If you have made this mistake before, please refrain from doing so again in the future. It's your one chance in life to be creative. Don't let it pass you by. E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org