Coming Home Never Felt So Good
On Friday night, less than 48 hours from their game with Michigan State, the Louisville Cardinals were mopping the floor with Arizona in their Elite Eight matchup. They were playing at a frenetic pace. They were forcing turnovers and immediately translating them into easy baskets. Everybody was bombing away from downtown. They put up over 100 points, almost unheard of in any college basketball game that does not involve six overtimes. And yet, despite this near perfect showing, Tom Izzo's charges were not fazed in the least on Sunday.
After a tight first half where buckets were at a premium, the Michigan State Spartans assumed total control in the final 20 minutes, flexing their muscle and exposing Rick Pitino's Cardinals in the process. It was classic Izzo lockdown defense. Man-to-man, nothing easy. Terrence Williams, Louisville's superstar senior with an eye on the NBA draft lottery, was practically blasted into the 2nd round with his invisibility act in the biggest game of his career. Travis Walton and company turned him into a jump shooter, which is like turning David Ortiz into a base stealer. Williams is the key to everything that Louisville does, and the masterful defensive job put on him by Walton and others cannot be overlooked. Terrence Williams may have been lauded recently by Sports Illustrated as the "Next great point forward," but in my eyes, the guy's main position has always been "athlete," and not a whole lot more. Today showed it.
It's become apparent that asking for big games out of Chris Allen and Durrell Summers at the same time is too much to hope for. But if just one of them can hit 3-4 big shots each game, Sparty's chances of winning increase greatly. Summers was the sizzling wingman on Sunday, canning several big hoops in the 2nd half on his way to a super-efficient 12 points on just 6 shots. As for Allen, it is only a matter of time before the Michigan State basketball program is looked into with a serious NCAA probe for trying to use an athlete more than the allotted four years of eligibility. In the middle part of the decade, Chris Hill played in East Lansing for his entire college career, and now he has tried to secretly return with a different surname, but the unmistakably similar inconsistent jumper. Izzo might get an occasional outside burst from this bushy eyebrowed fellow, but I don't think the risk is worth the reward here.
So many people had penciled Louisville and North Carolina into the championship game. But Goran Suton was not having any of it. Suton has beautifully blended an inside dominance with a feathery touch from long range to become one of this tournament's most dangerous players. Kalin Lucas has not been putting up Big Ten Player of the Year numbers in the tournament. He has led the team confidently, though, and hit shots at big times, including the clutch personified And-1 against Sherron Collins in the waning moments against Kansas. Draymond Green has gone from pudgy non-factor to invaluable sub off the bench, helping to make up for the void left by the now pulse-less Raymar Morgan.
And through it all, there is Tom Izzo. While the shots may fall some days and others not, hard-nosed defense never goes anywhere. And true to form on Sunday, it was Izzo's trademark team D that took center stage. The Big East was regarded all year as the best conference in America, but it appeared the Cardinals had not witnessed anything close to this kind of basket prevention at any point in the year. Most other big-time coaches flee their program at some point for the bright lights of the NBA or the irresistible dollars from another school. But not Izzo. He has remained fiercely loyal to this team over the years, and now he is being rewarded with a Final Four trip in his home state.
It is well known that the people of Michigan have been struggling for some time now with this plummeting economy. Vacant storefronts are becoming the norm. Cash flow is not what it used to be. However, one thing remains certain. There will be plenty of green floating around the city of Detroit next weekend...and they will be in search of one thing that even money can't buy.
A National Championship.
Saw the new Nicolas Cage movie "Knowing," and the only thing I walked out of there 'knowing' is that this was possibly the worst piece of film I'd ever laid eyes on. Nicolas Cage...to steal a line from classic 90's band Offspring, "What in the world happened to you"?? Moonstruck put you on the map for good in '87 and you were on your way. In the 90's, you could do no wrong. You charmed us with Honeymoon in Vegas and It Could Happen To You. Then you made us laugh (or me, at least) with Trapped in Paradise. Then you thrilled us with back-to-back-to-back hits in The Rock, Con Air, and Face/Off. Even Snake Eyes started growing on me after the 50th viewing. Then this decade began and you were still pretty much on your game. The Family Man was an underrated flick, albeit a tarnished one by the involvement of perennial movie downer Tea Leoni. Matchstick Men was clever enough, and The Weather Man is actually pretty good if you give it a chance and aren't afraid of being depressed for a couple hours. But the last few years have not been good to Mr. Cage.
There was The Wicker Man, an absolute abomination of a film (now that I think about it, does every movie this guy does end in the word 'Man'?) And most recently, Knowing, which in short, was one of those movies that you end up checking your cell phone 75-150 times during the course of the two hours to see how much more you have to go. It's like being in a terribly boring class. You're just trying to do whatever you can to get to the finish line. That was me in Knowing. It was basically the poor man's Day After Tomorrow/Sixth Sense/Mercury Rising. Those are solid movies to be sure, but put them all together, reduce the quality by 85%, and this Nic Cage rubbish was the result. His son in the movie was no great shakes, either. The kid had about as much range as an actor as Deivi Cruz did as a 250 pound shortstop with the Tigers in the late 90's.
I would warn you of possible spoilers in this review, but the truth is, the whole movie is a spoiler. As in, go see this movie, and your entire week will pretty much be spoiled. If you find yourself in desperate need of a Nicolas Cage fix in the near future, steer clear of your local theater at all costs. Instead, I suggest going to rent World Trade Center from Blockbuster and rooting hard for Cage to get permanently caved in by all that rubble. That way, maybe the space-time continuum would change the events to follow and we would be spared from these atrocious performances he has inflicted on us in the years since.
This Week's Edition of "Unfortunate Lottery Picks of the Past"
"With the 9th pick in the 1995 NBA Draft, the New Jersey Nets select Ed O'Bannon, Forward, from UCLA"
Ed O'Bannon remains to this day one of the bigger mysteries in NBA draft bust history. If you watched the guy lead his UCLA Bruins to the national title in 1995, you walked away thinking the guy was going to be a borderline star in the league for the next decade and beyond. O'Bannon was a svelte 6'8 swingman with a real smoothness to his game. He could take you off the dribble, shoot the 3, and also rebounded the ball very well from the three spot. But once Ed got to the NBA, it was a different story entirely.
Maybe it was the smoothness of O'Bannon's game that was also his undoing. Things came so easily to him in college. It might have been hard for him to understand the need to ratchet up the intensity that much more when it came to the NBA. As it happened, Eddie O came to an awful Nets team led by Armon Gilliam and Chris Childs, and he still couldn't find any minutes. The longer 3-point line in the league also affected him in a major way. Once a 40+ percent shooter from the long line in Westwood, O'Bannon was now a guy that sank an embarrassing 10 of 56 3s in his rookie year.
He was coming off a memorable tournament run at UCLA where he was voted the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four. He was coming to a franchise in dire need of some young blood after making draft mistakes each of the last two years with Yinka "No Dime" Dare and Rex Walters. On paper, O'Bannon to the Nets looked like a match made in heaven. Fast forward a few months. The once can't miss All-America from college basketball's winningest program was buried on the depth chart behind 34-year old Vern Fleming, a veteran just playing out the string in his final NBA season. Turns out O'Bannon was pretty close to the end as well.
A year later, Ed was unloaded to the Mavericks, where he promptly played a few garbage time minutes and called it a career. A mere two seasons into his NBA dream, the man that had gained national fame by finally leading storied UCLA back to the promised land was being shown the door at age 24. It puzzled me then, and it puzzles me now. The guy was 6'8, lefthanded, could run the floor, handle/shoot the rock, and always stepped it up as the stage got bigger. But somehow, it did not translate to the pro game. It did, however, earn him a spot, along with Mike Sweetney and Rafael Araujo, on our list of "Unfortunate Lottery Picks of the Past." Please join us next time as we examine the plight of another historic draft bust; the right handed equivalent to Ed O'Bannon, former Pistons #1 selection Mr. Rodney White.
"Getting a Haircut" Thought of the Week...
"How about you watch it with the electric razor around the ears, pal?"
Whereas the barber should be handling the tool with a careful sensibility, instead it is somehow a better strategy to simply wield the sharp object in any direction with no fear of damaging my main hearing mechanisms. Do what you want on top of my head, around the back, but take an extra second and make sure the ear does not get clipped. That's soft cartilage, baby!! And how clueless do they act when it does happen? You flinch a little and give off a facial expression that says "Watch it...that stung!" And they're always like, "Oh, I didn't catch ya there, did I"?? No, no, not at all...I am just writhing here in pain and shouting obscenities for a completely different reason. So if you happen to be reading this, "Russian woman working the 3rd chair on the left at L.A. Clips," make sure next time the haircut is injury free. Because you can get as many haircuts as you want in your lifetime...but ya only get one set of ears.
A Small Glimmer of Hope??
Just when you thought they were dead and buried for good, the ballers representing the D go out and squeak by two of the NBA's elite, the Wizards and 76ers. Ok, maybe not elite, and maybe not even good, but they are still NBA teams for the most part. Slowly but surely, the Pistons are getting their troops back from the injury list and working them back into the lineup.
First, it was Rip Hamilton on Saturday night. Nice to see Rip take it easy on his first night back by only hoisting 29 shots.
Then it was Allen Iverson, who returned on Sunday after a long absence due to the always treacherous "sore back" epidemic. I was a little surprised that in the newspaper, they didn't just list Iverson's real ailment. That being the famous, "Yeah, I'm just fine, but I'm not touching the ball enough and now I hear I may not be starting anymore, plus the good college games are about to get going, so I'm gonna stop traveling with the team for a bit while I 'recover,' and will decide to come back when everything is all 'healed up' and 'one hundred percent,' not just because the playoffs are around the corner and I want to play in those if we make it" injury.
Rasheed Wallace is supposedly on his way back soon as well. It will give the Stones a full lineup for the first time in a long time. And with Will Bynum stepping forward as a dark horse MVP candidate, the boys might have one more run in them yet. As the legendary George Blaha always says, "Don't look now," but the Pistons and Magic are still on course to meet in the opening round of the playoffs. And last I checked, Dwight Howard still turns to mush when he goes up against Rasheed and Stan Van Gundy's head is still liable to explode at any minute, especially if faced with this nightmare pairing.
It's been a nasty year all the way around, but let's just wait and see for a little longer. Maybe it's just blind faith coming from a guy that once compared Rafael Addison to Scottie Pippen, but I think there is one final push coming. You can get in your pajamas, turn off the lights, and get under the covers...but don't sleep on these Pistons just yet.
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