Monday, March 31, 2008

Assessing Stephen Curry's Future in the NBA

After Stephen Curry scored 70 points in leading the 10th-seeded Davidson Wildcats to victories over 7th-seeded Gonzaga and 2nd-seeded Georgetown, the sophomore sensation receivedome 1,800 Facebook friend requests. Davidson’s Fall 2007 enrollment was just 1,674 students. Needless to say, Curry’s name has spread far from the small liberal arts college campus outside of Charlotte, N.C.

Curry added 33 points in a decisive 73-56 win against Wisconsin in the Sweet 16. After scoring 30+ points in his first four career NCAA Tournament games (he scored 30 in a first round loss to Maryland last season), Curry was “held” to 25 points on 9-25 shooting from field in a dramatic 59-57 loss to top-seeded Kansas. Even in defeat, Curry made headlines, being named Most Outstanding Player of the Midwest Regional and deservingly so.

While Curry’s dreams of a Final Four appearance won’t be realized this year, the dream of following in the NBA footsteps of his father, Dell Curry, who played 16 years in the league, now seems almost certain. The question is, what kind of pro would Stephen Curry be?

The parallels to his father are obvious in terms of his shooting touch. Dell ranks 21st in NBA history in 3-pointers made and 22nd in career 3-point percentage, leading the league in the 1998-99 season. However, Stephen shows signs of being a more prolific scorer. His averaged 21.5 points per game as a freshmen, 25.9 as a sophomore, and most impressively, he’s averaged 31.6 against stiff competition in his five-game NCAA Tournament career.

With two years of eligibility left, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Curry stick around in school for another year or two. Being at a small school like Davidson, he may not want the bright lights of the NBA just yet. And his wiry 6’3” 185-pound frame may not be the prototypical NBA body.

But the buzz surrounding Curry may never eclipse the level it’s at right now, save an unlikely repeat march in the tournament by Davidson. NBA scouts have to be impressed by the way Curry handled the variety of defenders and defenses that were thrown at him over the past couple weekends. Curry is likely a mid-late first round pick at this point with a lot of upside.

His body resembles Monta Ellis, but he doesn’t have quite the same explosiveness. I think the better comparison is Sacramento Kings guard Kevin Martin. Listed at 6’7”, Martin is a few inches taller than Curry, but he is also listed at the same weight of 185 pounds. While Curry may be bothered most by taller, longer defenders, he’s very crafty with the ball and moves well without it. Plus, running of the screens at Davidson is one thing, but coming off a pick set by an NBA big man should help free Curry, who doesn’t need long to fire his quick-release jumper.

That’s Stephen Curry’s NBA ceiling: Kevin Martin’s innate ability to score combined with Dell Curry’s feathery touch from beyond the arc. At this point, the biggest question marks are on defense. At this point, his body is not strong enough to handle most NBA 2-guards so the question is whether he can defend quick point guards. Otherwise, he becomes a defensive liability.

On the other end of the projected-future spectrum, I’d compare Curry to someone like Juan Dixon, who averaged better than 25 points per game for Maryland on their way to winning the 2002 tournament. Dixon is another undersized guard, who at 6’3”, 164 pounds played shooting guard in college. Dixon is now on his fourth team in six seasons, averaging 8.8 points for his career and only 4.3 this season. For me, a career mirroring Dixon is the low end projection for Curry.

Curry is best suited as a scorer. He’s played with a good point guard in Jason Richards at Davidson and I think he’ll be most successful as a scoring guard rather than as a playmaking point guard. His size makes that a tough fit in the NBA, but if teamed with a big, physical point guard, Curry can become a 15-20-point a game scorer in the NBA.

Personally, I’d like to see him stay in school for at least his junior year and maybe his senior year as well. Add a few pounds in the weight room and add a few moves to his offensive repertoire.

Here’s the dilemma. The odds are that if he stays in school, his draft stock dips a bit after the hype of this tournament becomes a memory and he goes late first or possibly even early second round. However, he enters the league more polished, more NBA-ready and has a better chance at a long, successful career a la his father.

If he enters the draft this year, the upside is that he’ll get drafted earlier and maybe someone even takes a flyer on him at the backend of the lottery, earning him a significantly more lucrative contract. However, he’ll also be burdened with greater expectations and less physical tools to live up to them. With an NBA father, Curry doesn’t fit the mold of many who make the jump to the pros. He certainly doesn’t need the money. So while no one could blame Steph Curry if he decides to capitalize on his fame and turn pro, I’ll applaud his wisdom if he chooses to return to the place where he will have cult hero status that goes beyond any number his Facebook page can count.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Playing the NBA Match Game

The seedings in the Western Conference get jostled almost daily. With more than two weeks remaining, a glance at the standings today reveals that nine teams are still very much in play for any of the available eight playoff spots. And those “If the playoffs started today…” graphics are essentially useless until the matchups are actually set in stone, which likely won’t be until the final games end on April 16.

Until then, here’s a look at how the team’s have fared against all eight potential playoff opponents.

Green/blue in the column indicates a series win. Orange/red indicates a series loss. Everything else is either a 2-2 split or has games left to be played.

A quick glance at the chart gives you some idea of which team doesn’t want to face a particular team in the playoffs. Only the Hornets, currently in first place, have not lost a season series to any of their potential playoff competition, though Utah leads them 2-1.

Phoenix, however, has yet to win the season series against any Western playoff foe and has already lost the season series with the Lakers, Hornets and Spurs.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Predicting the Final 10-12 Games in the NBA's Wild, Wild West

The race for the Western Conference playoffs is likely going to go right down to the final day of the schedule, April 16, when 8 of the 9 teams vying for a spot will be in action. (The Lakers’ season wraps up one night earlier.)

With each team having between 10 and 12 games left on their respective schedules, I just had to peak ahead. Below, I dare to prognosticate how they’ll finish based on their remaining schedules.

Seed. Team, Projected W-L

1. San Antonio Spurs, 57-25
After losing 6 of 7 earlier this month, it’s hard to believe the Spurs could finish with the best record in the West, but they’re only 1 game back of the number one spot today, 6 of their final 10 are at home, and only two of their road games are against fellow Western playoff contenders.

2. New Orleans Hornets, 56-26
The Hornets are quietly buzzing along with the best record in the West as of today. However, the scheduling gods aren’t smiling down on them. They’re currently on a 6-game road trip that includes Boston and Orlando. All in all, 8 of their final 12 games are on the road. Throw in home dates with Golden State and Utah, and the Hornets may have the toughest schedule the rest of the way in the West.

3. Los Angeles Lakers, 56-26
If the Lakers lose the April 11 date with New Orleans, the Hornets will own the season series tiebreaker. A Lakers win would split the season series 2-2 and the next tiebreaker would be conference winning percentage, which is currently up in the air. The Lakers have 7 of their final 10 games at home, 8 if you include the “road game” at the Clippers in Staples Center. With all three games against West contenders at home, the Lakers would be in position to secure the top seed if it weren’t for their myriad of injuries.

4. Utah Jazz, 54-28
By virtue of winning the Northwest Division, the Jazz would be assured one of the top four seeds. However, home court advantage in the first round still goes to the team with the better overall winning percentage. That matters as much to Utah as anyone in the West. Utah is one of only two Western playoff contenders with a losing record on the road. With road games against New Orleans, Dallas and San Antonio down the stretch, the Jazz are likely to start the postseason on the road.

5. Houston Rockets, 55-27
Houston plays just 3 of its final 10 games at home. The good news is that only 3 of their 7 road games are against Western playoff contenders. The bad news is that they play a back-to-back at Denver and at Utah in the final week of the season. A win this Sunday at San Antonio would be huge as they kick off a 5-game road trip. A Rockets-Jazz rematch of last year’s first round 7-game series would be fantastic.

6. Phoenix Suns, 54-28
Back-to-back losses to beasts of the East, Detroit and Boston, have to have Suns fans wondering about their championship potential. Their closing schedule features 6 road games and 5 home games. A back-to-back this Friday and Saturday against Philadelphia and New Jersey, two Eastern Conference teams fighting for playoff positioning, should not be overlooked before Phoenix closes the season with its final 9 games against teams from the West.

My predictions had the Dallas Mavericks, Denver Nuggets and Golden State Warriors finishing the season deadlocked at 50-32, which means I had to consult the rules for a three-team tiebreaker. They are as follows:

1. Best head-to-head winning percentage among all teams tied
2. Highest winning percentage within division (if teams are in the same division
3. Highest winning percentage in conference games
4. Highest winning percentage against playoff teams in own conference
5. Highest point differential between points scored and points allowed

Talk about potential drama. Dallas (sans Dirk Nowitski) travels to Denver tonight. The teams split their first two games. The Nuggets also have two games remaining with Golden State (1 home, 1 away) after splitting the first two games against the Warriors. Dallas currently leads Golden State 2-0, but the Mavs and Warriors also have two games remaining.

For the record:
  • Dallas is 3-1 against Denver and Golden State with 3 games remaining (1 home).
  • Denver is 2-2 against Dallas and Golden State with 3 games remaining (2 home).
  • Golden State is 1-3 against Dallas and Denver with 4 games remaining (2 home).
Depending on your perspective, the Warriors are in the best or worst position. They currently have the worst head-to-head winning percentage among all teams tied, however four of their final 12 games of the season are against their direct competition. If they sweep Dallas and Denver, they’re almost surely going to be in. Anything short of that, and it’s anybody’s guess.

My guess? Golden State gets 2 from a Dirk-less Mavs team and splits with Denver, making them 4-4 in the three-way head-to-head series. And Denver wins tonight against Dallas, which puts the Mavs at 3-4 and the Nuggets at 4-3.

That would mean Denver gets seventh slot, Golden State slips in at number eight and the Mavericks would be the odd team out. Shocking to imagine the number one seed from the West last year could miss the postseason after adding Jason Kidd, but it’s entirely possible in the West this year.

Calling Out Kobe Bryant

Do you want to win your first MVP, Kobe? Of course you do. Championship, Finals MVP, regular season MVP. That’s your mindset. And you want it all now. Do that and you’ll force your critics to shut up, stand up, and ‘fess up to you as the greatest baller on the planet today.

But in order for all that to happen, you need to shut up and step up first. Enough is enough, Kobe. We get it already. Nobody in the league today matches your competitiveness, your will to win, your ‘I want to be the best’ inner drive. But you’re going about it all wrong by showing up the referees.

You played with Shaquille O’Neal for eight years, witnessing firsthand that star players actually don’t get all the calls. No one in the history of basketball was involved in more physical contact without a whistle than Shaq. The refs could have called a foul on almost every possession, but Shaq rolled with the punches. Oh by the way, he also won multiple championships as The Man, 3 Finals MVPs and a regular season MVP. Fuel for the fire. (You’re welcome.)

This year, you are arguably the NBA’s MVP. Arguably. But your role in the Lakers most recent loss, an unthinkable 108-95 clunker at home against the Bobcats, defies MVP logic. The glaring number on your 27 point, 6 rebound, 3 assist stat line is 2 as in the two quick technical fouls (his 14th and 15th for the season) that got you ejected during the fourth quarter of what was a bad loss, plain and simple.

One more tech in the Lakers’ final 10 games would earn you an automatic one game suspension. At your current rate of one technical foul every 5.5 games, it’s not that much of a stretch to think you could cost the Lakers home court advantage in the playoffs by missing a crucial game down the stretch. In a Western Conference race where you’re nearly as close to the top of the standings as you are close to the lottery, one game means more than ever. You, more than anyone, should know that and honor it.

Few can get to the basket at will the way you do, Kobe. Fewer still can finish the way you can with the left or right hand, off the glass softly or with authority over a would-be shot-blocker. So why do you insist on doing that screaming/moaning/grunting routine every time you drive to the basket? It’s not professional. It’s not believable. And it’s not acceptable from the game’s best player.

Just make the play and play on. If you get fouled, the refs will probably call it. If not, they won’t. Every once in awhile they’ll make a mistake. Either score despite the contact or make up for it on the defensive end. But you have to put a stop to your verbal flopping. No one likes a whiner. And let’s face it, Kobe, you have no reason to complain. Not this year.

The basketball gods have smiled upon you. Bynum’s blossomed. Farmar’s flourished. Sasha’s shimmered. And they gave you Gasol for crying out loud. They handed you your perfect pick-and-roll compliment, a missing piece to the Lakers championship puzzle and you didn’t lose anyone to note besides “Mr. Addition by Subtraction” Kwame Brown.

There are just 10 games left in the season. It’s winning time. The schedule is such that you don’t have to leave the Pacific Time Zone for the rest of the season. Heck, you only have one game left outside the state of California. Losing to Charlotte was a serious slip-up. Still, you should lead the Lakers to the top seed in the West regardless of injuries. That’s what an MVP would do.

No excuses. No more whining. No more technicals. Just win, Kobe.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Podcast 3/26/08

Matt and Mike resume their eight-part NFL Draft preview with the NFC West. Plus, Ryan Colvin joins in their discussion about the NBA's Western Conference, the NBA MVP and the NCAA Tournament. Finally, Mike and Matt get nostalgic about their youth in anticipation of WresleMania this weekend.

Listen/download (Run time: 39:03)

Saying So Long to C-Webb

He was my favorite basketball player during the years when I was learning to play basketball. From the moment he first donned the maize and blue at Michigan in the early 90s through his first five years in the NBA playing for the Warriors and Bullets/Wizards, Chris Webber was the coolest player playing.

The shaved head and baggy shorts combined with the brashness to go behind the back and dunk on Barkley made Webber appealing to me as a kid and so did his vulnerability after committing a mental error on the big stage of the NCAA championship. I wrote about Webber’s influence on me briefly a couple weeks ago in my “15 Years After The Timeout” post. And fair or not, that single play is the most universally recognizable moment in Webber’s career.

A Rookie of the Year, five-time all-star and five-time all-NBA selection (one 1st team, three 2nd team, one 3rd team), Webber is a borderline Hall of Famer. But he never won, or even reached a championship during his NBA career. And in two NCAA championship games, his Wolverines fell short twice, including the heartbreaking loss to North Carolina in 1993. For critics, that’s enough to label Webber’s career a disappointment.

When Webber was traded to the Sacramento Kings in 1998, I was put in a bind. My favorite player was suddenly suiting up for a team in the same division as my favorite team, the Los Angeles Lakers. Webber’s arrival vastly improved the fortunes of a Kings franchise that had won exactly one playoff game since moving to Sacramento in 1985.

My allegiance was to the Lakers, and so it was a bittersweet feeling as Webber’s Kings proved to be a stepping stone on the way to three straight NBA championships. The Lakers’ third title team, in 2002, was pushed to seven games in the Western Conference Finals by Sacramento. If it weren’t for a clutch three-point shot by Robert Horry in Game 4 of that series, the Kings probably would have won it all that year, and Webber likely would have had a Finals MVP to vindicate his career.

I didn’t know back then that he would never be that close to the top again. The 2003 season ended in the second round, and Webber played just 23 games in the ’04 season. In 2005 he was traded to Philadelphia. His numbers and production dropped and despite featuring two former #1 overall draft picks in Webber and Allen Iverson, the Sixers couldn’t get out of the first round. The 2006 Sixers failed to even make the playoffs.

Then last year, when Webber was picked up mid-year by Detroit, his hometown team, he started 42 games. But he was not the same player he once was. The man who was once the lead dog of the Fab Five was the fifth wheel on this Pistons team that fell to Cleveland in the Eastern Conference Finals.
That brings us to the present. In a year when big names like O’Neal, Garnett, Kidd and Gasol switched teams, it’s no surprise that Webber’s return to Golden State this season went under the radar. However, his reconciliation with coach Don Nelson was big news. If not for the Warriors or C-Webb, the basketball player, then certainly for Webber as a man. But
just nine games into his comeback, Webber’s knee got the best of him. First The Timeout, then Big Shot Bob and now the bum knee. Webber’s story is seemingly void of happy endings.

But that’s OK. If everyone had a fairytale ending, no one would enjoy fairytales. Webber’s more like a tragic hero. Incredibly gifted, yet significantly flawed. From the recruiting scandal at Michigan to his trade demands after one successful year in Golden State to his injury plagued final seasons, Webber’s legacy is as much about the lows as the highs, but it’s not limited to the lows.

The average fan doesn’t want to admit it, but there’s more Chris Webber in everyman than David Robinson or Tim Duncan. Most people don’t get to ride off into the sunset as a champion or stay at a peak level year after year. Webber didn’t get that chance, but don’t hate him because he wasn’t always great.
If Webber proved anything over his career it’s that everyone makes mistakes. Being a fan of Webber was no mistake for me.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Baseball Preview For Casual Fans

I maintain that baseball is my third favorite sport. Look, there’s even a baseball in the header graphic. But it’s a distant third behind basketball and football. Distant as in I’d rather watch professional, college and high school basketball/football before Major League Baseball.

So my lack of writing about baseball is not so much about disliking baseball. It’s more about my obsession with basketball and football.

That said, I felt called to write my first baseball column for the site today because, believe it or not, the MLB season began today in the wee hours of the morning as the Oakland Athletics battled the Boston Red Sox in the friendly confines of…Japan? Yes, Japan.

Seven months from now, the A’s and the Sox may reconvene for a chilly October playoff series in the U.S. northeast, but they started their 162-game marathon of a season in the Far East. (For the record, the Red Sox won the game 6-5 in 10 innings.)

It may be a prognosticating faux pas to write a preview column after the games have already begun, but let’s be honest, I don’t really know what I’m previewing to begin with and a one game advantage isn’t going to make much of a difference. In the NFL and NBA, I can rattle of rosters of players like family members. In MLB, I can’t conjure up one name for some teams much less determine the lasting impact of Tampa Bay dropping the “Devil” from their Rays.

But after hours minutes of rigorous research looking up which teams play in which division, I found the courage to predict the finish for the Yankees and Red Sox all 30 Major League teams along with a rationale in great detail 10 words or less.

American League East
1. New York Yankees: Eight years between World Series wins makes Steinbrenners go crazy.
2. Boston Red Sox: Lovable losers to Yankees’ reflection in less than five years.
3. Toronto Blue Jays: Joe Carter happened in 1993. Nothing’s happened since then.
4. Tampa Bay Rays: No more Devils. No chance of winning division either.
5. Baltimore Orioles: Cal Ripken’s streak only outdone by O’s losses without him.

American League Central
1. Detroit Tigers: I like big bats and I cannot lie.
2. Cleveland Indians: Always the bridesmaid, never the best team in baseball.
3. Minnesota Twins: Twin partings Hunter and Santana leave ‘Sota sorta bitter.
4. Chicago White Sox: 2005 Champs. 2006 Chump. 2007 Chumpier. 2008 Chumpiest?
5. Kansas City Royals: Minor league players playing in a major league park.

American League West
1. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Geographically challenged, financially charged.
2. Oakland Athletics: Environmentally friendly baseball: reduce spending, reuse strategy, recycle roster.
3. Seattle Mariners: Where Ichiro is perpetually on base and in scoring position.
4. Texas Rangers: Not the Walker version, unfortunately.

National League East
1. New York Mets: City? Check. Payroll? Check? Championships? Hold that thought…
2. Atlanta Braves: If time is a human construct, consider the Braves immortal.
3. Philadelphia Phillies: Mascot doubles as face of the franchise. Sorry Ryan Howard.
4. Washington Nationals: Check, this is real franchise.
5. Florida Marlins: Owner loves fantasy baseball, starts from scratch each season.

National League Central
1. Chicago Cubs: Cursed and cuddly baby bears haven’t won in a century.
2. St. Louis Cardinals: Same outdated haircut, same winning ball club for LaRussa.
3. Houston Astros: Insert steroids joke/essay/lamentation here.
4. Cincinnati Reds: Remember when Griffey was great? Before Cincinnati.
5. Milwaukee Brewers: At least they’ll win more games than the Bucks…
6. Pittsburgh Pirates: …but these Bucs won't: All-time losers after this year.

National League West
1. Arizona Diamondbacks: Not ‘Arizona Backs,’ Tampa, but Arizona back to the playoffs.
2. Los Angeles Dodgers: Torre in Dodger blue won’t be enough.
3. Colorado Rockies: Baseball in the mountains hits a valley this year.
4. San Diego Padres: Did St. Diego really have more than one father?
5. San Francisco Giants: Fewer headlines, homeruns and wins minus Bonds.

1. New York Yankees over 4. Boston Red Sox
2. Detroit Tigers over 3. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

1. Arizona Diamondbacks over 4. St. Louis Cardinals
2. New York Mets over 3. Chicago Cubs

1. New York Yankees over 2. Detroit Tigers

2. New York Mets over 1. Arizona Diamondbacks

2008 World Series
1. New York Yankees over 2. New York Mets

As a Yankee hater, I feel like the Bronx Bombers have been far too cooperative in recent years with postseason flameouts. I expect a big money brawl (not to be confused with Moneyball) in the World Series with a renewal of the Subway Series. Johan Santana will help the Mets push the series to seven games, but the Yankees will find a way to win in spite of Alex Rodriguez’s penchant for poor playoff performances.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Monday After the Onset of Madness

This is what a college basketball hangover feels like. After a weekend of bracket-busting madness, I find my picks ranking me in a tie for dead last over at Tied with my mom.

Once again, knowing so much helped me so little when it came to filling out my bracket. The redeeming factor is that my favorite team in the tournament (UCLA) also doubles as my pick to win it all, and they are still alive. Barely. Even the mighty Bruins flirted with disaster, falling behind by 10 points in the second half.

Three double digit seeds won two games apiece in the tournament. Meanwhile the entire state of Indiana failed me by winning just three games combined. Thanks a lot Butler, Notre Dame, Purdue and Indiana.

Two regions have been nearly without upset. In the East, only 9th-seeded Arkansas beating 8th-seeded Indiana saw a lower seed advance. Ditto in the South where #5 Michigan State over #4 Pittsburgh was the lone surprise. But the West and Midwest regions have made up for it. Twelfth seeded Villanova and Western Kentucky moved on to the Sweet 16 whereas 2-seeds Georgetown and Duke went home early.

For what it’s worth (and at this point, the answer is “not much”), here are my second chance picks for the second weekend of the tournament:



1. North Carolina over 4. Washington State
The Tar Heels will not eclipse the century mark for a third straight game because the Cougars play stingy defense, but Washington State still won’t have enough points to match Carolina’s total with a healthy Ty Lawson running the show.

3. Louisville over 2. Tennessee
I thought Tennessee was ripe for an upset. And after a first round scare against American and an overtime thriller against Butler, I think Louisville is the team that gets in done in a mini-upset.


1. Kansas over 12. Villanova
There’s a reason why Villanova was the lowest seeded at large team in the tournament. As impressive as their comeback win was against Clemson, they received a gift when they received Siena in the round of 32. Kansas will end the Wildcats’ season right here.

10. Davidson over 3. Wisconsin
Davidson is not a fluke team. If the clutch performances of Stephen Curry against Gonzaga and Wisconsin weren’t enough, consider this: the Wildcats haven’t lost a game in 2008. Yes, that’s 24 straight wins since a one-point loss at North Carolina in December 2007. Wisconsin is a strong, tough-minded team from the Big 10, but Curry and company seem to have that magic touch.


5. Michigan State over 1. Memphis
Memphis nearly did itself in at the foul line against a Mississippi State team that had no business being in the game late. The Spartans won’t let Memphis off the hook so easily. Look for the guard combination of freshman Kalin Lucas and senior Drew Neitzel to pull the upset and knock off the first number one seed in the tournament.

2. Texas over 3. Stanford
The Longhorns have the edge on the perimeter and the Cardinal possess the advantage on the inside. In the end, I expect D.J. Augustin to bounce back from an embarrassing airball free throw late in the game against Miami to outperform Stanford’s twin towers, Brook and Robin Lopez.


1. UCLA over 12. Western Kentucky
The offensive highlight of the tournament’s opening weekend belongs to Western Kentucky’s Ty Rogers, who hit a game-winning, buzzer-beating three to defeat Drake in overtime 101-99. The defensive highlight of the tournament’s opening weekend belongs to UCLA’s Josh Shipp, who made a game-saving shot block to secure the Bruins’ 51-49 second-round win against Texas A&M. In the third round, expect most of the highlights to favor UCLA, who simply has too much talent for the Hilltoppers to overcome.

7. West Virginia over 3. Xavier
West Virginia’s Joe Alexander may be the best player in the West region not named Kevin Love. The 6-8 junior is playing his way up the NBA Draft boards and may be playing his team within a game of the Final Four. Xavier won’t go down without a fight, but the Musketeers showed vulnerabilities against Georgia and Purdue and West Virginia is playing better than both those teams right now.



1. North Carolina over 3. Louisville


1. Kansas over 10. Davidson


2. Texas over 5. Michigan State


1. UCLA over 7. West Virginia

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Podcast 3/19/08

It's a special NCAA Tournament preview edition of the podcast. Matt and Mike are joined by friends and fellow basketball fanatics Bryan Krachala and Ryan Colvin to break down the 2008 tourney field in preparation for Thursday.

Listen/download (Run time: 24:08)

Headlines Tugging at My Heartstrings

Generally I have a one track mind this time of year, but March Madness and bracketology have to share the spotlight for the moment. While I’m picking my favorite college basketball team (besides Michigan) UCLA to win the NCAA Tournament this year, my other favorite teams are all making headlines of their own in the sports world.

Headlines by ESPN, comments by me:

Los Angeles Lakers
Bynum likely to return during first round of playoffs

  • The first word on an estimated return plan since the Lakers center went down in January is not great news for Lakers fans. I’m not so much worried about the Lakers faltering down the stretch run of the regular seasons as I am about them gelling together on the fly in the playoffs. Bynum and Gasol, who is now injured as well, have yet to play a game together. There’s no telling how the two young 7-footers will coincide. Talentwise, there’s enough room on the court for them, but until it plays out that way, I’m cautious about the Lakers chances of winning it all this season.
Michigan Wolverines (football)
Top-ranked QB Pryor commits to Ohio State
  • After leading Jeannette High School to the Pennsylvania Class-AA state championship in basketball, Pryor formally announced his much anticipated decision to attend Ohio State University, spurning the likes of Penn State, Oregon, and most importantly to me, Michigan. Wolverines head coach Rich Rodriguez now has to come up with a Plan-B that does not include the 6’6” quarterback with 4.3-speed in the 40-yard dash. Michigan hasn’t beaten Ohio State on the field much lately. Losing this recruiting battle off the field doesn’t help their chances of changing that trend over the next few years.
Oakland Raiders
Davis, Raiders in the midst of eye-popping spending spree
  • Counting the playoffs, the Raiders won 13 games during the 2002 season, which culminated in an embarrassing Super Bowl loss. They’ve won just 19 games combined in the past 5 seasons since that game, and become a league laughingstock along the way. Perhaps only the Clippers are a bigger pro sports punchline. And 78-year-old owner Al Davis gets much of the blame, especially for his handling of coaches (5 coaches the past 7 years) and players (benching Marcus Allen?) This off-season seems like a make-or-break proposition for Davis. He’s doled out huge contracts in an attempt to be competitive and to “just win, baby.” But that method of spending big to win big hasn’t always paid off (see: Snyder, Daniel). My heart wants Davis’ payout to succeed, but my head tells me the silver and black is still not back.

Race, Politics and Basketball

Amid all the fun of March Madness and the NBA’s fantastic fight to the finish for best in the West, let me take a timeout to be serious. Basketball is, after all, a game.

However, I’ve always loved the idea of basketball as a metaphor for life. There are many universal themes that play out on the court, perhaps none more indispensable than the value of teamwork. On the most fundamental of levels, basketball has the capacity to unify those who are otherwise somehow divided. Teams rise over individuals.

One classic example comes from the 2004 NBA Championship where a collection of relatively unknown talent by the name of the Detroit Pistons beat a Los Angeles Lakers team featuring four future Hall of Famers because the Pistons simply played better team basketball.

In basketball, one player matters enough to make a difference but not so much that he cannot depend upon his teammates. In that way, I think life does mirror basketball. Individuals absolutely matter and contribute to success, but ultimate, championship-caliber success occurs within the framework of the team. Only in this case, the team is your state, your country, humanity.

Another idea that populates basketball courts is equality. OK, so every basketball player is not created equal (I’m talking to you, growth spurt I never enjoyed). But every player is treated as an equal. White, black, short, tall, rich, poor, thin, fat – it doesn’t matter when you step onto the court. You may be judged as you approach the court wearing your old school Converse high tops, Stockton-esque short shorts and Worthy-quality Rec-Specs. But if you can ball? Well, then image, status and social upbringing are irrelevant.

Play out the metaphor with me now. If basketball is life, and you only need to be able to play basketball to be treated as an equal with respect and dignity, then it should follow that you only need to be able to live to be treated as an equal with respect and dignity in the real world.

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. The fact is that discrimination is a part of everyday life. Racism, sexism, and ageism exist. In varying degrees, but prejudices exist virtually everywhere.

Yet if you can ball, you’re accepted on the court whether you’re primarily a scorer, a passer, a rebounder, a defender or some combination of these traits.

So if you can live, why aren’t you accepted in society regardless of your particular skill set? Why would anyone not want that?

Two final points:

1. Over the course of the past two nights, ESPN aired “Black Magic,” a documentary directed by Dan Klores. The two night event tracked the progression of the civil rights movement through the eyes of black basketball players whose stories have gone largely untold up until now. Richard Sandomir of The New York Times reviews the documentary.

2. Barack Obama delivered a speech earlier today addressing the issue of race in America and in his candidacy for President. Obama played basketball in high school.

Jodi Kantor’s piece on Obama, published in June 2007, ties it all together:

“Now, Mr. Obama’s friends say, basketball has been his escape from the sport of politics, but also a purer version of it, with no decorous speeches, no careful consensus — just unrestrained competition.

‘He can be himself, it’s a safe haven, he can let his competitive juices flow and tease his buddies,’ Mr. Nesbitt said. ‘It’s just a relaxing respite from the every-moment and every-word scrutinization that he gets.’”

Basketball as a metaphor for life? Watching how the struggles in basketball mirrored the life struggles of the main characters in “Black Magic” suggests that’s not too much of a stretch.

Basketball as a purer version of politics? Coming from a basketball-playing Presidential candidate, it makes sense.

A metaphor for life and a purer version of politics: That’s a lot of pressure to put on a little game that Dr. James A. Naismath created just to give his phys-ed students something to play between football and baseball seasons. But it’s not too much to ask. And neither is change, which is a final component of the basketball as life metaphor.

Just as the game has changed and improved in time – the shot clock, 3-point shot and lack of a peach basket come to mind – so too can we as people change for the better. It’s not always easy to step out onto the court. Basketball is not an easy game. But it’s a game worth playing. So play. Live. Vote. Change.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Winning Six in a Row

The 2008 NCAA Tournament field is set. Between now and the tournament tip-off on Thursday, experts and analysts will break down dozens of factors that contribute to success in the tournament: quality guard play, a low-post presence, 3-point shooting, free throw shooting, rebounding, turnovers, senior leadership, star players. You get the idea.

Some combination involving all those factors and more will eventually result in a national champion, but let’s face it. No one knows exactly what that combination will be. The only guaranteed formula that results in a championship year after year is to win six games in a row.

That is not an easy feat, especially when teams will be facing quality opponents in each round of the tournament with the possible exception of round one for top seeds. Still, one team has to win six pressure-packed games in a row. Eight teams in the field haven’t managed to string together that many wins in a row all season. It’s hard to imagine that changing now for Boise State, George Mason, Georgia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Oregon, UNLV and Winthrop.

Of the 57 teams in the field that have managed a streak of six wins or better, only 18 repeated a second streak of six wins or more. Four teams – UCLA, Georgetown, Xavier and Butler – have three streaks of that length.

Of course, one should also examine the strength of teams beaten during a streak, but in terms of sheer length, some teams stand out. Four teams – Kansas, Memphis, Drake and Davidson – have enjoyed win streaks of more than 20. And Davidson’s current 22-game win streak is the longest of the 14 active streaks of six wins or more.

Wisconsin, Duke and North Carolina are the only teams to register two streaks of more than 10-straight victories. Meanwhile, Kansas and Memphis have active seven-game streaks after amassing streaks of 20-plus wins earlier in the season.

The most important streak of all, however, starts (or continues) this week for someone. It will take some luck, some talent and six more victories.

All the tournament teams are listed below along with their winning streaks of six or more.

1. North Carolina: 18 games, 11 games (active)
*16. Coppin State: 8 games / Mount St. Mary’s: 6 games
8. Indiana: 13 games
9. Arkansas: 6 games
5. Notre Dame: 10 games
12. George Mason: N/A
4. Washington State: 14 games
13. Winthrop: N/A
6. Oklahama: N/A
11. Saint Joseph’s: 6 games
3. Louisville: 9 games
14. Boise State: N/A
7. Butler: 9 games, 8 games (twice)
10. South Alabama: 13 games, 6 games
2. Tennessee: 11 games, 9 games
15. American: 6 games

* will be decided by Tuesday’s Opening Round game

1. Kansas: 20 games, 7 games (active)
16. Portland State: 9 games
8. UNLV: N/A
9. Kent State: 7 games, 6 games
5. Clemson: 10 games
12. Villanova: 6 games
4. Vanderbilt: 16 games, 7 games
13. Siena: 6 games (active)
6. USC: 6 games
11. Kansas State: 6 games
3. Wisconsin: 10 games (active), 10 games
14. Cal State Fullerton: 6 games (active)
7. Gonzaga: 8 games, 6 games
10. Davidson: 22 games (active)
2. Georgetown: 8 games, 7 games, 6 games
15. UMBC: 9 games

1. Memphis: 26 games, 7 games (active)
16. Texas-Arlington: 8 games
8. Mississippi State: 9 games
9. Oregon: N/A
5. Michigan State: 11 games
12. Temple: 7 games (active)
4. Pittsburgh: 11 games
13. Oral Roberts: 11 games
6. Marquette: 7 games
11. Kentucky: N/A
3. Stanford: 7 games (twice)
14. Cornell: 16 games (active)
7. Miami (FL): 12 games
10. Saint Mary’s: 7 games, 6 games
2. Texas: 11 games, 8 games
15. Austin Peay: 6 games (active), 6 games

1. UCLA: 10 games (active), 9 games, 7 games
16. Mississippi Valley State: 9 games (active)
8. BYU: 9 games, 6 games
9. Texas A&M: 8 games, 7 games
5. Drake: 21 games
12. Western Kentucky: 11 games, 6 games (active)
4. Connecticut: 10 games
13. San Diego: 7 games
6. Purdue: 11 games
11. Baylor: 6 games
3. Xavier: 11 games, 7 games, 6 games
14. Georgia: N/A
7. West Virginia: 8 games
10. Arizona: 6 games
2. Duke: 12 games, 10 games

15. Belmont: 13 games (active)

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Fill Out Your Bracket Today

The field of 65 has been announced. Now it's time for you to fill out your bracket. Head on over to to enter "March Mattness 2008" and compete against the picks of others for a chance to win a free t-shirt - not to mention worldwide bragging rights.

Click for instructions on how to enter.

Friday, March 14, 2008

15 Years After The Timeout

Last September, as I stood in the student section of the Big House in Ann Arbor, Mich., and cheered the Michigan Wolverines on to victory against Penn State, I wasn’t thinking about the reason I was among the 100,000+ fans supporting the maize and blue.

Why not? Well, because, technically, that reason doesn’t exist.

The reason I cheered Charles Woodson’s Heisman trophy and national championship season of ’97 is gone. When Braylon Edwards single-handedly helped Michigan storm back from a 17-point deficit to defeat Michigan State, the reason I was ecstatic is extinct. When Manningham un-undefeated Penn State, when the D-line crushed Brady Quinn, when Mike Hart showed heart and when Henne sent Carr out in style against the Gators, my original reason for my Wolverine fandom was only a figment of my imagination.

That reason is the Univerity of Michigan’s 1993 men’s basketball team. Perhaps you know their starting lineup better as “The Fab Five.” Five sophomores: Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Jalen Rose, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson. And almost always with Webber listed first.

While the official records have caused that team’s NCAA Tournament wins to be vacated and their runner-up banner to be removed, the memory of that team remains very real to me.

Fifteen years after The Timeout, it still hurts to watch replays of that game. Down by 2 points with 11 second to play, Webber signaled for a timeout that his team didn’t have resulting in two technical free throws for North Carolina that sealed the deal for the Tar Heels to win the ’93 national championship.

Webber turned pro after the season with Howard and Rose followed after their junior years. But the Fab Five legacy lives on.

Bald heads and baggy shorts, swagger and success. The Fab Five captivated a nation when they arrived on the scene as freshmen as the most highly touted recruiting class ever. They didn’t disappoint either. Despite their inexperience, they led the Wolverines to the national championship game in 1992, losing to defending champion Duke in the finals.

However, it was their return trip to the Final Four in ’93 as sophomores that got my attention. I was eight years old and it is the first NCAA Tournament that I can remember watching. Michigan was young, exciting and flashy—all appealing traits to an eight-year-old basketball fan looking to latch on.

Webber quickly became my favorite player—I bought and wore his jerseys (Golden State Warriors #4 and Washington Bullets #2) so often that a friend at the Y actually thought my last name was Webber—and the Wolverines became my favorite team. I fell in love with the maize and gold colors, the school and even adopted the football team as my own.

As it turns out, Michigan is a football-first school, the winningest program in the history of college football. Ironically, I became a fan because of their basketball team, which despite winning the national title in 1989 with Rumeal Robinson, Glen Rice, Loy Vaught and company, was never the top ticket in town.

And recently, watching Michigan basketball has been nothing short of sad. The fallout of the scandal involving Webber and a former booster was significant. They were banned from postseason participation 2003 and haven’t fully recovered since. In 2004, Michigan won the National Invitational Tournament. They had a losing season in 2005 and returned to the NIT again in 2006, losing to South Carolina in the championship. Last year the Wolverines were bounced in the second round of the NIT. And this season, under new head coach John Beilein, the Wolverines once again find themselves under .500 and out of the postseason.

A school that won a title in ’89 and made back-to-back title game appearances in the early 90s hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 1998. It’s almost as if the entire program stopped when Webber, who played for a team that doesn’t exist, called that timeout that didn’t exist.

I don’t know how long I’ll have to wait before Michigan is part of another tournament memory, but once it happens, I’m going to do whatever I can to pretend the past 15 years of lackluster Wolverine hoops didn’t exist either.

Basketball is Coming to Erie

Duane Rankin of the Erie Times-News:

A news conference is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon to announce that Cleveland will have a National Basketball Development League team playing in Erie starting next season.

The Erie Downtown Improvement District sent an invitation to area
businesses to attend a private meeting at the Erie Bayfront Convention Center. A news conference is scheduled to follow the meeting.

The invitation states that Cleveland general manager Danny Ferry and executives from the Cavaliers and Erie County Convention Center Authority are scheduled to be present at the announcement.

A second headline from reads, “Sertz involved with Erie basketball team.” More details are sure to come from the new conference on Tuesday, but Ron Sertz’s involvement seems to make sense and shouldn’t come as too big of a surprise.

In February, Sertz stepped down as director of operations of the Erie Otters after 12 years with the minor league hockey franchise. And prior to that, Sertz stepped down as tournament director of the McDonald's Classic, a nationally acclaimed high school basketball tournament that just celebrated its 25th anniversary this year. With his basketball pedigree and minor league sports experience, Sertz is as qualified as anyone in the Erie area to make this NBDL franchise a success.

It’ll be interesting to see how the local community supports its first pro basketball team in more than 15 years. The new basketball team will join the SeaWolves (baseball), Otters (hockey) and RiverRats (indoor football) to make Erie a four-sport minor league city, which is a pretty neat feat. Hopefully the teams receive the support they need to stick around.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Podcast 3/13/08

Erie area high school hoops, the NBA, and an NFL Draft preview for the NFC South. It's all in this week's podcast with Matt and Mike.

Listen/Download (Run time: 35:40)

Does Bob Knight Even Own a Suit?

Bob Knight made his ESPN television debut last night, appearing on SportsCenter and throughout the night on college basketball coverage. With the conference tournaments in full swing, Knight was all over the airwaves in Bristol again today, and I couldn't help but notice that he stood out from the crowd.

You remember that old Sesame Street tune? "One of these things is not like the other..." Well, that's Bob Knight in his sweater. Now I realize that the sweater was sort of his trademark sideline accessory, but is he really going to wear a sweater every night in the studio as well?

Digger Phelps, Jay Bilas, Dick Vitale, Hubert Davis — they're all wearing suits as are all ESPN personalities. When they aired "Dream Job" a few years back, I thought I remembered Al Jaffe, vice president of talent negotiation and production recruitment, making a big stink about how ESPN anchors and analysts wear suits, period.

I realize Bob Knight was a big-time hire, but did he actually negotiate a "sweater clause" into his contract? And if so, what's worse? Knight's stubborn refusal to conform or ESPN's decision to bend on the rules for the publicity they're bound to garner by hiring "The General" Robert Montgomery Knight to his first post-coaching gig?

Look, I'm glad that Knight is staying in the college basketball limelight. He's a candid character and an all-time great coach before you can even mention any of his missteps. But come on, Coach, lose the sweater and get with the program. It's just hard to take an analyst seriously, even with as much basketball knowledge as Knight, when he's on TV wearing the same sweater everyone's grandpa refuses to get rid of.

Ditch the sweater for the better. It's really as simple as that.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Kobe Bryant Blog Day

Today is Kobe Bryant Blog Day at Hardwood Paroxysm and the basketball blogosphere is taking the time to do it right.

Not one to miss out on a holiday, I thought I’d join in fashionably late.

My first glimpse of Kobe Bryant came live and in person on March 23, 1996, nearly twelve years ago when he led Lower Merion Aces into the Hersheypark Arena in Hershey, Pa., to face the Cathedral Prep Ramblers for the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association Class AAAA state championship.

That’s right, the same Hersheypark Arena where Wilt scored 100 on March 2, 1962. Kobe was the main attraction in the building some 34 years later.

But heading into the game I knew very little of Bryant other than the fact that he was “very good” and “possibly going to go straight to the NBA.” My focus, as an 11-year-old fan and cousin of Prep’s senior point guard Keith Nies, was on the Ramblers and their defense of this “high school phenom.” And defense it was (take note, Toronto Raptors of the future). In fact, the Ramblers held Kobe scoreless in the first quarter and to just 8 points at the half while building a 21-15 lead.

In the second half, however, Lower Merion surged ahead and Kobe delivered a few highlight reel glimpses of his athleticism en route to a hard fought 48-43 win. What I didn’t know then as I lamented the end of my hometown high school’s loss was that in a span of about three months, Kobe would be drafted into the NBA and immediately dealt to my favorite team, the Los Angeles Lakers.

All of a sudden, the too-talented-not-to-boo Bryant was donning the same purple and gold that I rooted for. And before long, he was making it look too good not to cheer with breathtaking dunks and that potential – perhaps the most dangerous word in basketball – to be great.

Fast forward to March 11, 2008. Kobe is the best player one of the best team’s in the league. That 6’6” high school bean pole – unfortunately, the program didn’t list their weight – has been chiseled, hardened, sculpted, matured and perfected into a basketball art form. Stick it in the opponent’s eye jumpers that give you goosebumps. Crossovers so smooth they break both ankles. Dunks that unleash primal roars from within. And a cockiness/confidence that transforms every Lakers fans into bloodthirsty carnivores when they see Kobe with the ball in an end-of-game situation. We simply know he’s going to make the play.

Notice the ‘we’? We’re all guilty of it. We want to stake our piece of ownership to greatness. And in sports, perhaps more clearly than in any other facet of life, we know greatness when we see it. I was introduced to Kobe as a rival, as a villain. And many have portrayed him as such since. But between those painted lines, whether wearing #33 (his high school jersey), #8 or #24, Kobe has always seen himself as the #1 player on the court. When he retires, and don’t blink because it’ll happen all too soon, don’t be surprised if you tend to agree.

Lowered Expectations

When the Houston Rockets lost Yao Ming to a season-ending injury two weeks ago, many observers speculated that they would fall out of the playoff race in the ultra-competitive Western Conference. Instead, the Rockets have responded to the injury by winning seven straight in Yao’s absence – and 19 straight overall – to pull within a game of the Spurs and Lakers for first place in the West.

With wins over the Hawks and Bobcats in their next two games, the Rockets would own the second longest winning streak in NBA history. Only the 1971-72 Lakers’ streak of 33 straight wins would be longer.

Despite beating their past 10 opponents by double digits, skeptics question the quality of teams the Rockets have beaten during the 19-game winning streak. Highlights of the streak, which began Jan. 29 against Golden State, include home and away wins against both Cleveland and New Orleans as well as victories against Denver and Dallas, albeit without Dirk Nowitski. But 11 of the wins have come against teams with losing records.

Still, you can’t fault the Rockets for beating the teams on their schedule. They have a 19-game winning streak and 19 games remaining. While a 38-0 finish to the season isn’t going to happen, it’s hard to picture the Rockets missing the playoffs at this point. A look at their schedule drives that point home. Even if they were finish by losing against every other team with a winning record and beating only teams with sub-.500 marks, Houston would be 52-30.

Using those same criteria (wins vs. losing teams, losses vs. winning teams), here’s a breakdown of the lowered expectations final win-loss record for all nine Western Conference playoff contenders.

  • Houston Rockets: 52-30 (9 cupcakes)
  • Utah Jazz: 51-31 (9 cupcakes)
  • Los Angeles Lakers: 51-31 (7 cupcakes)
  • San Antonio Spurs: 51-31 (7 cupcakes)
  • New Orleans Hornets: 49-33 (7 cupcakes)
  • Dallas Mavericks: 48-34 (7 cupcakes)
  • Phoenix Suns: 48-34 (7 cupcakes)
  • Denver Nuggets: 46-36 (9 cupcakes)
  • Golden State Warriors: 46-36 (7 cupcakes)
Clearly these teams won’t lose every game against winning competition. And what they do in head-to-head matchups will certainly shape the playoff picture. But it’s interesting to note that based on current record and cupcakes (games vs. teams with losing records) alone, Houston has the inside track on claiming the West’s top seed.

Fixing the NBA's MVP Award

In football, a team has 11 on the field. In baseball, nine players occupy the field. Even hockey has six per side on the ice. But a basketball team needs just five players on the court. By sheer numbers alone, one player has the ability to impact a basketball game more than any other major team sport.

That fact alone makes the MVP of the NBA one of the most prestigious awards in sports. Yet year after year it seems like more people are left complaining that the recipient of the award wasn’t deserving or, more likely, that the most deserving recipient was not awarded.

The problem is that there is no clear definition of MVP. Yes, the acronym stands for Most Valuable Player, but those three words conjure dozens of connotations. And each variation may render a different player most deserving of the award, especially during a year like the 2007-08 season when so many players are playing at an elite level.

The issue of MVP ambiguity is not new. In fact, I heard ESPN’s Ric Bucher raise the issue when he was recently the guest on the BS Report with Bill Simmons. He said the problem is that the league doesn’t want a clear-cut definition for MVP because they think all the arguing about whom is most deserving is good for the league.

OK NBA, I can understand that you enjoy being talked about, but this is the league MVP we’re talking about here. There should be some sort of general consensus. Save the debates for subjects like the dress code, expansion into Europe, changing All-Star Saturday night or playoff realignment.

I understand that there is no foolproof formula to determine an MVP. But when Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitski have three times as many MVP awards as Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, you have to wonder if there might be a system better than the one we’ve got, which consists of votes cast by a panel of sportswriters and broadcasters who basically determine their own criteria for what makes an MVP.

The blog Basketbawful wrote an entry about the MVP issue last year, noting a historical precedent (with a few exceptions) for the MVP to be a player from one of the best two or three teams in the league. Valuing winning seems to make sense, but perhaps they’re overvaluing it when it comes to this most individualistic of awards. That brings me to three important rules that should be mandated for MVP voting.

Rule #1: Do not limit the field of MVP candidates to players from the top two or three teams in the league.
There’s already an award that goes to the player on the best team. It’s called an NBA Championship. Yes, one player in basketball can have more impact on the outcome of a game than in any major team sport. But a very good team is likely still a good team minus one player. (For example, the 1993-94 Chicago Bulls won 55 regular season games and made it to the second round of the NBA playoffs following the retirement of Michael Jordan.) An individual award cannot be based upon a team record. It’s simply illogical.

Rule #2: Do not hand out MVPs as lifetime achievement awards.
I’m talking to you, Karl Malone. Just because a player has had a great career, that does not entitle him to an MVP award. Conversely, you can’t refuse to vote for a player just because he’s already won multiple MVP awards. This award isn’t about change for change sake. This is the NBA MVP we’re talking about.

Rule #3: Do not project MVPs into the future.
A few years ago, I’m sure a number of voters cast their ballots for Steve Nash while in the back of their minds thinking, Kobe had a great year, but he’ll have many more seasons just like this year when he can win MVP whereas Nash is like lightning in a bottle. I need to capture this moment. Now fast forward three years. Nash has two MVPs, Bryant has none and LeBron James is in the same position as 2004-05 Kobe. Don’t worry about what a player will or will not do in the future. Worry about naming the MVP of this season only.

Now that voters know what not to do, the next question is, what should voters look for when naming their MVP?

We’re back to the issue of defining our term. What should an NBA MVP be? And of course, therein lies the challenge because very little can be determined objectively.

Imagine you have the list of top 10 MVP candidates in front of you. Now answer the following questions:

  • The candidates are playing a game against one another. Who’s your first pick?
  • Which player causes the most matchup problems?
  • Which player’s NBA team would suffer the most in his absence?
  • Who is the best all-around player?
  • Who would you want taking the last shot down by one point? Down by two points? Down by three points? At the free throw line?
If you answered the same name for every question, you’re either extremely biased lying to yourself, or there is a clear cut MVP. But most years, many different names serve as answers to that or any comparable set of MVP questions.

The problem is that so much of what makes a great player great is subjective. Does he make his teammates better? How does he perform in the clutch? How well does he play defense? Is he as a leader on and off the court?

Statistics and standings are simply unable to answer these questions. That, of course, is why the MVP is determined by a vote – not a formula – in the first place.

Unless the NBA decides to issue a decree making any one of those questions the focal point of NBA voting, voters will continue to be skewed by their own preferences and beliefs about which of those questions matter most in an MVP candidate. So perhaps we can’t logistically alter the voting. However, we can alter the voters.

Why should the media alone determine the MVP? They only see things from a media perspective, which certainly does not tell the whole story. If the MVP is going to be such a subjective award, why not at least allow it to come from a more representative sampling of voters?

My proposal is simple. Give players and coaches a vote, each worth a third of the total vote. And give the media the other third of the total vote. Players can’t vote for themselves or for teammates, and coaches can’t vote for their players. How is that not a better system?

Isn’t Detroit Piston Tayshaun Prince at least equally – if not more – qualified to tell you if Kobe or LeBron is more deserving of the MVP than a Detroit Free Press writer?

If there’s anyone suited to judge the various subjective qualities that make an MVP, it’s the players that have to go head-to-head with the prospective MVPs and the coaches that have to try to scheme against the prospective MVPs.

In a democratic society, we’re taught that every vote counts. So let’s extend that right to vote in the MVP race to players and coaches in addition to the media. It may not be the perfect solution to naming the most deserving MVP each year, but it’s an improvement that gets my vote. And as for my MVP vote, check back at the end of the season. As of now it’s still too close to call.

Friday, March 7, 2008


Selection Sunday is just nine days away, which means it is crunch time for every team on the bubble. Some small-conference tournaments are already underway and the rest will begin with the next week. Here are some quick links to prepare you for the road to the selection show.

  • One down, 64 to go. You may have missed it among the hoopla of Championship Week, but the first team to qualify for the Big Dance was the Cornell Big Red, who won the Ivy League championship.

  • ESPN’s Andy Katz looks at some of the teams that have work left to do, including a familiar story for Syracuse.

  • What does it mean to be number one? In college basketball, it doesn’t always mean championship, that’s for sure.

  • Duke fans are ready for the rematch with number one North Carolina on Saturday night. The Blue Devils won the first meeting back on Feb. 6 in Chapel Hill, but it’s the Tar Heels that enter the game atop the polls after winning seven straight games following the loss.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Podcast 3/6/08

This week, Matt and Mike discuss local area hoops, including the resignation of Brian Flanagan at Cathedral Prep, Championship Week in college basketball and Brett Favre's retirement from the NFL. Plus, a review of Will Ferrell's new movie Semi-Pro.

Listen/download (Run time: 41:48)

The Worst NBA Playoff Team Ever

With the NBA’s Eastern Conference poised to send as many as three teams with losing records to the playoffs, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to dig deep into the basketball history books to learn about bad (or at least not very good) teams in the playoffs.

The NBA switched from a 12-team to a 16-team playoff format for the 1983-84 season. Since then, 33 teams have qualified for the postseason despite posting a sub-.500 record during the regular season. The combined playoff record of those 33 teams is 24-107, which equals a 0.224 winning percentage. Eighteen of the 33 teams were swept in the first round. In fact, the only team to win a playoff series in a year when they had a losing record was the 1986-87 Seattle Supersonics, who actually won two series before being swept in the Western Conference Finals by the Los Angeles Lakers.

Clearly that Sonics team, which featured three 20-plus points per game scorers in Dale Ellis, Tom Chambers and Xavier McDaniel, is out of the running as the worst playoff team ever. But which team truly deserves that dubious distinction?

From a pure record standpoint, five teams stand out, having made the playoffs despite winning less than 43 percent of their games. The 1994-95 Boston Celtics, 1985-86 San Antonio Spurs and 1983-84 Washington Bullets each finished with a 0.427 overall mark. The 1987-88 San Antonio Spurs finished at 0.378. And the worst winning percentage of all these playoff teams came from the 1985-86 Chicago Bulls, who won at a dismal 0.366 clip.

Believe it or not, Michael Jordan was a part of that Bulls team. It was his second year in the league. However, due to injury, he played in just 18 regular season games, which may explain the lackluster record. The Bulls were swept by Boston in the first round but not before Jordan managed a 63-point performance in the Boston Garden, foreshadowing a career of memorable playoff performances.

Still, is Jordan’s ’85-’86 Bulls team really the worst to ever play in the NBA playoffs? Below is a quick snippet of the five finalists. Use the links to go further in depth at the greatest basketball resource site around,

  • 1994-95 Boston CelticsStarting lineup: Eric Montross (center), Dino Radja (forward), Dominique Wilkins (forward), Dee Brown (guard), Sherman Douglas (guard)Team MVP: Radja (17.2 ppg, 8.7 rpg)Offense: 13th of 27Defense: 20th of 27
  • 1985-86 San Antonio Spurs
    Starting lineup: Artis Gilmore (center), Mike Mitchell (forward), Steve Johnson (forward), Alvin Robertson (guard), Wes Matthews (guard)
    Team MVP: Robertson (17.0 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 5.5 apg, 3.7 spg)
    Offense: 13th of 23
    Defense: 16th of 23
  • 1983-84 Washington Bullets
    Starting lineup: Jeff Ruland (center), Rick Mahorn (forward), Greg Ballard (forward), Ricky Sobers (guard), Frank Johnson (guard)
    Team MVP: Ruland (22.2 ppg, 12.3 rpg, 1.0 bpg)
    Offense: 20th of 23
    Defense: 8th of 23
  • 1987-88 San Antonio Spurs
    Starting lineup: Cadillac Anderson (center), Frank Brickowski (forward), Walter Berry (forward), Alvin Robertson (guard), Johnny Dawkins (guard
    Team MVP: Robertson (19.6 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 6.8 apg, 3.0 spg)
    Offense: 11th of 23
    Defense: 22nd of 23
  • 1985-86 Chicago Bulls
    Starting lineup: Sidney Green (center), Orlando Woolridge (forward), George Gervin (forward), Gene Banks (guard), Kyle Macy (guard)
    Team MVP: *Michael Jordan (22.7 ppg, 2.9 apg, 2.1 spg)
    Offense: 8th of 23
    Defense: 23rd of 23
    *Jordan started only 7 regular season games yet he was clearly the team’s best performer

Narrowing the field to two

The Celtics and Bullets each managed to win a game in the playoffs, so they’re off the hook. And the Bulls get the Jordan exception. They weren’t as bad as their record showed, especially once number 23 returned to the lineup. There’s no way I can put my stamp of approval on an article claiming Michael Jordan played for the worst team ever to make the playoffs. Strangely enough, that leaves just a pair of teams from San Antonio separated by two years.

So which was worse, the ’85-’86 Spurs or the ’87-’88 Spurs?

Both teams featured Alvin Robertson. Both teams were swept by the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round. But while the ’87-’88 team was slightly better offensively, they were much worse defensively. In fact, they were the second-worst defensive team in the league that season. Their porous defnese contributed to their average scoring margin of -4.6, nearly three points worse than the ’85-’86 squad’s -1.7 average scoring margin.

The final verdict

1987-88 San Antonio Spurs are hereby declared the worst playoff team in NBA history. But don’t fret, Spurs fans because 20 years later, your franchise may be on the verge of becoming a five-title dynasty.

Losing Teams in the Postseason

Heading into action on Tuesday, March 6, three teams in the East currently are in playoff position despite posting losing records. While having three teams with sub-.500 winning percentages would not set an NBA record, it hasn’t happened in 20 years. A record six teams with losing records made the playoffs in 1986. Below is a list of every team to qualify for the postseason with a losing record since the NBA adopted its current playoff format, which consists of 16 teams, eight per conference.

Orlando Magic, 40-42, swept 4-0 in first round

Milwaukee Bucks, 40-42, lost 4-1 in first round

New York Knicks, 39-43, swept 4-0 in first round
Boston Celtics, 36-46, swept 4-0 in first round

Minnesota Timberwolves, 40-42, swept 3-0
Los Angeles Clippers, 36-46, swept 3-0

Sacramento Kings, 39-43, lost 3-1 in first round

Boston Celtics, 35-47, lost 3-1 in first round

Los Angeles Lakers, 39-43, lost 3-2 in first round

Indiana Pacers, 40-42, swept 3-0 in first round
Miami Heat, 38-44, swept 3-0 in first round

New York Knicks, 39-43, swept 3-0 in first round

Portland Trail Blazers, 39-43, swept 3-0 in first round

Washington Bullets, 38-44, lost 3-2 in first round
NewYork Knicks, 38-44, lost 3-1 in first round
San Antonio Spurs, 31-51, swept 3-0 in first round

Chicago Bulls, 40-42, swept 3-0 in first round
Seattle Supersonics, 39-43, swept 4-0 in Western Conference Finals
Denver Nuggets, 37-45, swept 3-0 in first round

Portland Trail Blazers, 40-42, lost 3-1 in first round
Washington Bullets, 39-43, lost 3-2 in first round
New Jersey Nets, 39-43, swept 3-0 in first round
Sacramento Kings, 37-45, swept 3-0 in first round
San Antonio Spurs, 35-47, swept 3-0 in first round
Chicago Bulls, 30-52, swept 3-0 in first round

Washington Bullets, 40-42, lost 3-1 in first round
Chicago Bulls, 38-44, lost 3-1 in first round
Cleveland Cavaliers, 36-46, lost 3-1 in first round
Phoenix Suns, 36-46, swept 3-0 in first round

Atlanta Hawks, 40-42, lost 3-2 in first round
Kansas City Kings, 38-44, swept 3-0 in first round
Denver Nuggets, 38-44, lost 3-2 in first round
Washington Bullets, 35-47, lost 3-1 in first round

  © Blogger template 'Isolation' by 2008

Back to TOP