Friday, March 23, 2012

Indiana vs Kentucky--Sweet 16 Version


Can Indiana beat Kentucky again?  That’s the question that’s been on every basketball analyst’s mind since the Sweet 16 matchup was set.

The simple answer is, well, yes!  They’ve already done it once, so there’s no reason they can’t do it again.
I ought to have this framed

That game in December is most likely in the top five Hoosier basketball games of all time.  Christian Watford’s shot might rival Keith Smart’s shot to win the 1987 National Championship.  At the time, I argued there might be no bigger shot in Indiana history, because of where the program has been the last few years.  It brought the Hoosiers back to the forefront of college basketball again, hopefully for a long time to come.

But the doubters will say, hey that game was an early season game in Assembly Hall and they needed a last second three pointer to do it.  Fine, all those things are true, but Indiana was the better team for most of that game.  Believe it or not, as young as the Hoosiers are, they have that much experience, too.  Guys like Jordan Hulls, Christian Watford, and Verdell Jones are all upperclassmen, and have played Kentucky before.

What’s different about this game coming up tonight is that Kentucky has gotten better.  Yes, they have a ton of freshman like every Calipari team does, but like every Calipari team in recent memory, those freshman are the most talented players on the floor.  Anthony Davis is likely to be not only the freshman of the year, but the national player of the year as well.  Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is an NBA talent (reports yesterday said that MKG will declare for the draft whenever the Wildcats are done playing).  Marquis Teague is one of the players who’s improved the most.  Kyle Wiltjer won’t blow anyone away with athleticism, and he doesn’t get a ton of PT, but he shoots 41% from beyond the arc.

Let’s not forget to mention the Wildcats’ sophomores, Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb.  Jones disappeared in the first meeting in Bloomington, but I don’t think that will happen again.  Jones only scored four points, and looked like he wanted to run and hide.  Lamb can light it up from deep whenever he wants to.

For Indiana to beat Kentucky again, a few things have to happen.

1. Indiana Must Take Care of the Ball
There may be no better transition team in college basketball than Kentucky.  Turn the ball over (which Indiana is prone to do), and Tom Crean will have nightmares featuring alley-oops and highlight reel dunks.  Indiana will be without Verdell Jones III, who while can be turnover prone, can also make a mid range jumper.

2. Indiana Must Hit Their Threes
Anthony Davis is the nation’s best shot blocker.  So, Indiana can either try to draw Davis away from the rim, or they can knockdown more three’s than they miss.  Easier said than done, sure, but IU is one of the best three point shooting teams in the country.  Jordan Hulls, Watford, Will Sheehey, Derek Elston, and Matt Roth are all shooting at least 39% from deep.

3. Indiana Must Get Anthony Davis in Foul Trouble
Davis had foul trouble in December in Bloomington, but he’s not likely to again.  He’s been really good at not fouling, especially lately.  Hopefully Cody Zeller is able to go right at Davis and draw a couple of early fouls, forcing Calipari to sit Davis.

4. Indiana Must Rebound Well
I expect Tom Crean to employ more zone than man, so as to neutralize Kentucky’s alley-oop game, slow the game down, and force UK to make shots to win.  As most basketball fans know, it’s tough to reboundout of the zone.  Watford, Zeller, Victor Oladipo, and Elston need to have big games crashing the boards.

Full disclosure, I think Kentucky will win the game, as much as it pains me to say it.  That being said, I think Indiana has more of a chance to come out on top again than people realize. 

Plus, I can’t tell you how happy I’d be to see Casual Gamer Reed’s reaction.







Thursday, March 22, 2012

NFL News and Notes


Saints Bounty Penalties

Needless today, I was a bit shocked when I got in the car yesterday afternoon and heard sports talk hosts here in Chicago talking about the biggest story of the day.

Gregg Williams was suspended indefinitely by the NFL
Not that I was shocked that they were talking about the biggest story of the day, but I was shocked to hear what it was. 

The NFL has suspended former Saints’ defensive coordinator Gregg Williams (now with the Rams) indefinitely, head coach Sean Payton for the entire 2012 season, GM Mickey Loomis for eight games, and linebackers coach Joe Vitt for six games. 

These are unprecedented actions, but then again, we’re dealing with an unprecedented situation.  Plus, we know that Commissioner Roger Goodell loves to make an example of people to try and deter others from taking the same action.

That’s just it, though.  Multiple former players have come out and said that stuff like this goes on everywhere, it’s just the Saints that got caught.  But what compounded their issue was not stopping this bounty program when the NFL directed them to.  As Jeff Duncan points out in today’s New Orleans Times-Picayune, the blame falls squarely on those in charge of the Saints.

I don’t think the NFL could afford to NOT level stiff penalties against those involved.  As many have pointed out over the last 24 hours, player safety is a paramount issue in the league right now, and the NFL must do all it can to emphasize the issue.

I have no problems with any of the penalties.

Tebow Traded

Say the name Tim Tebow, and everyone stops talking, their ears perk up, and they listen.  With Peyton Manning taking over the starting role in Denver, Tebow became expendable.  The Jets, of all teams, traded for Tebow yesterday not once but twice.  I’m not a Jets fan (Bear Down), but if I were, I wouldn’t like it. 

The Jets are already almost a laughing stock in the NFL because of the inconsistencies of Mark Sanchez and Rex Ryan’s feet—er—mouth.  I don’t think they need the added attention of Tim Tebow.   That being said, maybe they can effectively vary their looks on offense with Tebow coming in to run the wildcat.

Bears Sign Michael Bush, Matt Forte Feels Disrespected

Today the Bears announce they signed running back Michael Bush to a four year contract.  Matt Forte promptly tweeted: There's only so many times a man that has done everything he's been asked to do can be disrespected! Guess the GOOD GUYS do finish last.... 

The Bears have placed the franchise tag on Forte, which will guarantee him just under eight million dollars.  They also had Marion Barber and Khalil Bell on the roster before they signed Bush.  The general consensus is that they’ll release Barber, partly because of the mental gaffe he had at the end of last season.  As for the franchise tag, Forte has said that he’s OK with it, as long as the two sides continue to work towards a long term deal.  He’s apparently taken the Bush signing as a bad sign for his contract situation.

What Matt Forte must get over, and “Pay Forte” supporters must get over, is that while he’s been highly effective in his four year career, running backs aren’t what they used to be even five years ago.  The position is becoming less and less of a position where guys are effective for longer than five or six years.  The Bears are right to be smart about what they do with Forte. 

By signing Michael Bush, they are PROTECTING Matt Forte!  Forte should be THANKING the Bears for signing a guy who rushed for nearly 1,000 yards last season.  By signing another effective rusher, they are trying to extend the NFL life of Matt Forte!  They should still lock up Forte, but if I were Phil Emery, I wouldn’t give him anything longer than a three year deal.  

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

1600 Words on the Sweet 16

There’s so much buildup to the NCAA Tournament.  Teams have been practicing since October and playing games since November.  For 68 teams, the success of the season comes down to six games in March.  The tournament always flies by.  Before we know it, we’re watching the national championship game on a Monday night, and can’t wait until next November to start it up again.

There’s only one team that will win their last game, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t be a successful season for the 67 teams who don’t cut down the nets in New Orleans.  Now that we’re through the first full weekend, we’re down to the final sixteen.  Here’s my Sweet (and Sour) 16.

WINNERS

1.       Kentucky
Freshman Anthony Davis has become more of an
all-around player this year.
There is no denying that the Kentucky Wildcats are the best team in the tournament.  Their number one overall seed was no fluke, and they only lost once before the SEC Tournament championship game.  They’ve annihilated both teams they played so far in the tournament (although Iowa State kept it close for 25-30 minutes before I blinked and Kentucky went up by 20).  Indiana was the only team to beat them in the regular season, on a last second three in Bloomington.  It pains me to say that I think the Wildcats get their revenge on Friday night.

2.       Kansas
The Jayhawks had no trouble with Detroit in the Round of 64, but they ran into an, in my opinion, underseeded Purdue team playing with a chip on their shoulder.  Having watched Robbie Hummel play his entire career in West Lafayette, I can say that he’s one of those kids I would pick for my team anytime, anywhere.  They’ll take on a pretty decent NC State team who (patting myself on the back here) I predicted would make it this far.  I think the Jayhawks’ athleticism gives them the clear advantage here.

3.       North Carolina
They’ve shown that they can be the best team in the country.  They’ve also shown that they can run and hide with the best of them.  The Tar Heels come in banged up.  John Henson sat out their second round matchup against Vermont, and point guard Kendall Marshal had wrist surgery on Monday.  Marshall may try and play, as the wrist he broke is on his off arm.  There’s just no way he can be as effective as he needs to be though, especially as the primary ball handler.  They can probably beat the Bobcats of Ohio without him, but an Elite Eight matchup with Kansas would be different.

4.       Syracuse
What a season for the Orange.  Bernie Fine, eligibility issues, drugs, and now Fab Melo won’t play for the rest of this season.  To say it’s been a roller coaster for the Orange is an understatement.  It’s been more like Apollo 13.  Give Jim Boeheim credit for keeping his team on the right track through all the distractions.  Say what you will about the end of their second round matchup against #16 UNC-Asheville, but the Orange are one of the best teams in the country, even without Melo.  That being said, the loss of Melo most likey will derail their ultimate goal—the National Championship.

5.       Marquette
Buzz Williams is one of the best coaches to watch on the sidelines.  He’s got to be the most hyperactive coach in college basketball.  If I were him, I’d buy 35 new shirts every season, because he sweats so much during a game it probably ruins the shirt.  Nevertheless, he’s got the Golden Eagles playing at an extremely high level.  Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom makeup one of the best one-two combos in all of college hoops.  I’ve got them in my Final Four, and they could find themselves playing in the championship game.

6.       Ohio State
The Buckeyes fall this far down on my list because I don’t fully believe in them.  Don’t get me wrong, they can be one of the best teams out there, but there’s just something about them that I don’t like, and I can’t put my finger on it.  Get Jared Sullinger in foul trouble, and their advantage on the block goes out the window.  On the other hand, I believe that one of the ingredients to winning in March is good guard play and Aaron Craft provides that, especially on the defensive end of the floor.  If William Buford gets hot, the other team had better run and hide.  They take on in state rival Cincinnati in the Sweet 16.

7.       Michigan State
Gotta love a Tom Izzo team in March, right?  This group of Spartans is no different.  While the injury to Brandon Dawson hurts, Draymond Green is the type of player, the type of senior, who will do ANYTHING to make sure his team wins.  Keith Appling provides strong backcourt play.  Travis Trice and Adreian Payne are part of the young core.  Add in the Izzo effect, and the Spartans will be a tough out the rest of the way.

8.       Baylor
The Bears are a good team, and they’re certainly capable of making the Final Four.  But personally, I haven’t been super impressed with them.  They struggled with South Dakota State, and beat a Colorado team that won the very weak Pac 12.  Perry Jones III can be one of the best in college hoops, but he has games where he doesn’t show up at all.  The Bears will settle for jump shots, and that’s when they struggle.  Quincy Acy needs to play well, and Brady Heslip needs to shoot well for the Bears to have a chance.

LOSERS

1.       Ohio
The Bobcats are the most qualified to be dubbed Cinderella.  That being said, I think the ball is over and the glass slipper won’t fit anymore.  I won’t pretend to know anything about Ohio basketball.  Good for them, though.  They upset a good Michigan team, and then were able to escape South Florida.  They’re at the big boy table now, though, up against the Tar Heels.


2.       NC State
The Wolfpack are a good basketball team.  Mark Gottfried is one of the best coaches no one knows about.  CJ Leslie is a spectacular player who can fill up the stat sheet and take over a game.  He has some decent supporting players around him, but ultimately not enough to go any further.  I expect a close game with Kansas, but as I said earlier, the Jayhawks are just too athletic, and too good.

3.       Xavier
Think back to December.  December 10th to be exact.  The opponent was crosstown rival Cincinnati.  What ended up being a blowout win for the Musketeers turned ugly when a brawl erupted with just a few seconds left in the game.  Then Terrell “Tu” Holloway dropped this gem.  Xavier lost five of its next six, but somehow they’re in the Sweet 16.  Holloway made a shot that big time players make to beat Notre Dame, then they put Lehigh back in their place.  Wouldn’t be totally shocked to see them beat Baylor, but I don’t think so.

4.       Cincinnati
Mick Cronin is a good coach.  He handled the Xavier brawl situation with class.  Some say his suspensions weren’t enough based on the actions of his players, but that’s beside the point.  The Bearcats start four guards, and I worry about Yancy Gates’ ability to stay out of foul trouble against Jared Sullinger.  The Bearcats’ run ends here.

5.       Wisconsin
Wisconsin basketball reminds me of Big Ten football.  They’re great in conference, but when it comes time for postseason play, they can never get over the hump.  They haven’t been past the Sweet 16 since 2005, when they lost the regional final to the eventual champion North Carolina.  Bo Ryan is a good coach, and they play their game all the time.  They want to slow it down, but that’s not to say they can’t run.  I think, though, they’ll have trouble with guarding Syracuse, even without Fab Melo.  Badgers out.

6.       Florida
Billy Donovan knows success in March.  Three Final Fours and two National Championships.  They got by Virginia in the second round, then caught a break when Norfolk State knocked off Missouri to advance to the round of 32.  The Gators quickly put them back in their place, opening a 47-19 halftime lead.  They’ll face significantly better competition in Marquette, who as I mentioned earlier has a legitimate shot to get to the final game.

7.       Indiana
As a Hoosiers fan, it’s been an incredible season.  Tom Crean has done a great job with the team.  Quite frankly, they’ve already far exceeded my expectations for the year.  I thought that they’d be an NIT team for sure, maybe on the bubble of the Big Dance.  I guess I underestimated the effect Cody Zeller would have.  It’s not just Zeller, though.  It’s the improvement of Victor Oladipo and Will Sheehey, along with Christian Watford.  That all being said, they’re up against a Kentucky team that is playing their best ball of the season right now, and they’ll be out for blood.  Watford’s game winner at Assembly Hall in December is a moment I’ll never forget, but Indiana must play this game in Atlanta.  The Hoosiers won’t get blown out, but I don’t think they’ll win, either.

8.       Louisville
The only question you have to ask yourself about Louisville, is “How did Peyton Siva do?”  He plays well, they usually win.  He doesn’t play well, they usually lose.  This game against Michigan State is as much a toss-up as any of the games this weekend.  Can’t decide…but I did pick MSU in my bracket, so I’ve got to go with Sparty.

Hello, My Name Is...

What’s more awkward than the walk off balk?  Some might say I am…but I’ll try to make sense here.

Yeah, that's my
ugly mug
A little about myself.  In my 24 years of life, major Chicago sports teams have won eight championships.  The Bulls have their six, the White Sox have a World Series (say anything about the Cubs to a White Sox fan, and their response will simply be “2005”), and the Blackhawks ended their Stanley Cup drought in 2010.  My beloved Cubs haven’t won since 1908…which was eight gajillion years ago, but for some reason I go into every April theorizing exactly how they’ll win it all this year.

I’m an Indiana University alum, which means I have an intense dislike for Purdue and the University of Kentucky.  The Hoosiers’ return to basketball greatness has been one of the greatest rides of my life, no matter what happens this Friday against Kentucky. 

I graduated from IU with a degree in sport communication, broadcasting.  I’m currently a sports producer for WGN Radio, and I host a sports talk show on Chicagolandsportsradio.com.  I also officiate high school basketball in the suburbs of Chicago.

This will be about anything and everything happening in Chicago sports and across the country…maybe even the world.  I hope you enjoy it.

There was an error in this gadget