2012 NCAA Basketball Preview

Well, that was painful for me. It wasn’t just that UConn won the National Title last night, but they won without having to face any real challenges. They beat 2, 4, 5, 6, 8, and 14 seeds to win the championship. They scored 56 and 53 points in their two final four games. Butler somehow managed to shoot 18% against them in the final last night.

Obviously, UConn was a good team. And they played some really good defense. But the real reason they won the National Championship was that college basketball sucked this year. It sucked really bad. Hopefully, the threat of an NBA lockout will result in a number of underclassmen returning for another year. It also looks like the incoming freshmen class will be much better next year. Here’s a look at what the top 10 should look like next year (making assumptions about certain players leaving for the NBA).

 

1. North Carolina– Harrison Barnes is the real wildcard here. If he stays, this is probably the number one team in the country next year. With such a weak draft class next year, it might be in Barnes’ best interest to come out and be a top five pick. Even without him, UNC should return Tyler Zeller, John Henson, Kendall Marshall, and Reggie Bullock. James McAdoo and PJ Hairston are both top 20 recruits.

2. Kentucky– Calipari has three of the top five recruits in the country coming in. That class includes Michael Gilchrist, Anthony Davis, and Marquis Teague. Plus, they return Deandre Liggins, Doron Lamb, and Darius Miller. Terrence Jones and Brandon Knight are probably one and done, not because they’re good enough, but because that’s what kids who play for Calipari do. Also, Josh Harrellson was key for them down the stretch this year, so they’ll need to find someone who can rebound the ball.

3. Duke– Kyrie Irving, Nolan Smith, and Kyle Singler are all gone. That’s their three best players from this year’s team. Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins will need to step up. But they’re also bringing in Austin Rivers, Quinn Cook, Michael Gbinije, and another Plumlee brother. That’s three Plumlee brothers, which should make Duke the douchiest team in the country.

4. Ohio State– Jared Sullinger says he is coming back, so this ranking is entirely based on that. Aaron Craft and Will Buford will also be back. Plus Thad Matta is bringing in another loaded recruiting class. The class doesn’t have any top 10 guys, but it does include four players in the top 60, including legit center prospect Amir Williams.

5. Texas– I’m going to rank Texas highly, but don’t expect much out of them in the tournament as long as Rick Barnes is still their coach. He will probably remain horrible at all aspects of his job except recruiting. Luckily for Texas fans, he is a very good recruiter and is bringing in Myck Kabongo, Sheldon McClellan, Jonathon Holmes and Julien Lewis. If Tristan Thompson or Jordan Hamilton leave for the NBA, they should probably be about ten spots lower.

6. Arizona- Derrick Williams is possibly the number one pick in the draft after his NCAA performance, but this team has a lot of talent returning, a lot of talent coming in, and a really good coach. Momo Jones made a name for himself in the tournament, and he will be joined by Josiah Turner, Angelo Chol, Nick Johnson and Sidiki Johnson.

7. Louisville- Louisville overachieved this year and is only losing one senior, Preston Knowles, off this year’s team. They’re also bringing in a loaded recruiting class (Wayne Blackshear, Zach Price and Chane Behanan), and you’re probably noticing this is a trend for top ten teams next year. Blame it on Lebron, Wade, and Bosh, but it seems like all the best recruits are teaming up on only a few teams.

8. Syracuse- ‘Cuse only loses one player off this year’s team, PF Rick Jackson, who I never thought was that good to begin with, plus they’ve got three good incoming recruits, including the awesomely named Rakeem Christmas. I’m sure you’ll hear Dick Vitale say “Christmas came early to Syracuse!!!!!!” at least once by next November.

9. Memphis- Memphis brought in a lot of highly touted recruits this year and were considered a top ten team heading into this season. They didn’t really put it together until the end of the season when the won the C-USA tournament, but they looked really good when they did finally put it together. All those players should return. Plus, they add another top ten recruit in Adonis Thomas.

10. UConn- Hopefully, the one positive from last night’s national championship will be that Jim Calhoun will retire. If he does return, he’s facing a three game suspension next year for cheating. And word is that former recruit Nate Miles is interested in talking to the NCAA about Calhoun’s knowledge of the improper benefits that Miles received. Calhoun should enjoy this title because his name is about to get dragged through the mud for the next few years. Oh, and Kemba is definitely going to the NBA (UConn celebrated him on Senior Day this year even though he was only a junior).

 

A note on Michigan– I got really excited the last time Michigan made it to the tournament, won a game, and then returned almost every player from that team. They were considered a top 25 team the next year, and then finished under .500 and missed the postseason entirely. They’ll be ranked in the top 25 again next year if Darius Morris comes back, but they’ll need to compete hard game in and game out like they did this year. They’re still too small and they don’t have the talent of the other teams listed here, but Beilein can coach and a deep tournament run next year wouldn’t be surprising.


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Hello Mediocrity’s Cursory Look at the 2011 MLB Season

AL EAST

1. Red Sox– Last year the Red Sox finished 3rd place in the AL East at 89-73. They managed to do this despite Dustin Pedroia only playing 75 games, Kevin Youkilis playing 102, and Jacoby Ellsbury missing almost the entire season. Also, Josh Beckett and John Lackey were fucking terrible. In the offseason, the Red Sox added Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, plus they should have a healthy Pedroia, Youkilis, and Ellsbury. If Beckett can keep his ERA under 5.00 this year, and Lackey can cut down on his atrociousness then the Red Sox should be able to win an AL East that got much easier in the off-season.

2. Yankees– The Yankees didn’t improve themselves very much in the off-season (thank you, Cliff Lee!) and as a result there are a few question marks about this team going into 2011. Ivan Nova, Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon, Mark Prior, and Sergio Mitre Kevin Millwood are battling for two spots in the Yankees’ rotation. That’s assuming that A.J. Burnett is able to bounce back from a terrible season and claim the third spot in the rotation. The Yankees’ two best off-season additions were Rafael Soriano and Russell Martin. Yikes.

3. Rays– Tampa Bay’s run is probably over. They lost Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, Matt Garza, and Jason Bartlett in the off-season. Their big additions were Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez, but unfortunately it is 2011, not 1999. The Rays should still be competitive thanks to a rotation that includes David Price, Jason Shields, Wade Davis, and rookie of the year candidate Jeremy Hellickson. That rotation is probably better than CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes, and a bunch of rejects.

4. Orioles– Buck Showalter managed the last 55 games of last season and went 32-23 last year. There are also a few nice pieces on the field with a mix of young prospects like Matt Wieters and Adam Jones, and veterans Derrek Lee, Brian Roberts, Mark Reynolds, and Vlad Guerrero. Their pitching still sucks with the exception of Brian Matusz, but they should be improved enough this year to climb out of last place.

5. Blue Jays– There isn’t much to love here.  Most casual fans would be hard pressed to name more than three players on this team. Jose Bautista hit 50+ HRs last year, and I would be shocked if he hit half as many this year. On the plus side, Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos was able to get Angels GM Tony Reagins drunk and trade him Vernon Wells’ awful contract.

AL CENTRAL [EN: HM Writer and Michigan native Jeff Walls previews the AL Central for us.]

Everyone makes fun of me for having sketchy, contradictory allegiances to two different teams in the same division.  I was raised a White Sox fan but like the Tigers more.  Since the AL Central is usually a dead heat between the Twins, Sox, and Tigers until September or so, this reflects poorly on my seriousness as a baseball fan, but at the end of the day the joke is on everyone else because it’s a really fun division to follow.  So HAH.

1. Detroit Tigers– The Tigers have a lot going for them this season, and with the Twins on the (temporary) wane I think they could take the division.  There are a few key variables at play but none more important than the Cabrera Teetering on the Brink of the Sweet, Sweet Boozy Abyss Index (CTSSBAI) which is currently at +2.  Their pitching situation is a little top heavy but could be a lot worse.  New additions Brad Penny and Joaquin Benoit will help fill out a rotation anchored by Verlander and Max Scherzer.  On offense they’ve added Victor Martinez and Jhonny Peralta.  Peralta is sort of a question mark but the change of scenery for him might be good, and Brandon Inge has great athleticism and range that’ll help pick up any slack he leaves at SS.  Austin Jackson had a great season last year and they can make a real run for the division even with Guillen and Zumaya perma-injured.  Magglio Ordonez is pretty ancient at this point but I don’t think he’s crossed over into liability territory.

2. Minnesota Twins– The Twins will probably be the consensus favorite for the division, and they have the star power to justify it.  Their problem is injuries.  Joe Mauer is coming back from knee surgery and might not have the durability to do what they need him to do (i.e. play baseball good) all year. Then again, he has proved himself to be exceptional pretty much no matter what for the last couple years. Morneau has lingering concussion issues that could very easily turn into a slow start or patchy play season long.  Joe Nathan, the Twins closer, is coming back from Tommy John surgery and is basically a question mark.  In an alternate dimension or in the world of baseball that exists in his head while he is staring at the ceiling before falling asleep, Francisco Liriano is one of the best pitchers around but unfortunately for him that dimension is decades away from accidental discovery by scientists (we’re calling it here on HM first) and he just doesn’t have the magic right now.  Maybe he’ll get it back this season.  Maybe if he does he’ll make a “The Room”-esque movie called “How Francisco Got His Groove Back”, complete with poor lighting and terrible dialogue.  I for one hope this happens, but only to a limited extent because I want the Tigers to win the division.

3. Chicago White Sox– Ah, to be raised a fan of and live in the city containing one of the most detestable lineups I’ve ever seen in pro sports, made all the more so by their beady-eyed troglodyte manager.  First thing I’ll say about the White Sox is that if you’ve ever spent a night in Wrigleyville you know full well that this team could be called the Ty Cobb Racist All Stars and it would still be more legit to be a fan of them than to cast your lot with that seething frat-boy nightmare horde known as Cubs fans.  But just barely.  Anyway, the Sox are veterans which works for and against them.  They’ll have staying power late in the season but they’re very susceptible to injury problems and they just don’t have the offense to go at it with the Twins and Tigers.  The one shining diamond in this asbestos mine is Alexei Ramirez, who has insane power for being a stick figure drawing come to life.  He’s not a complete enough player to make a difference, though.

4. Cleveland Indians– Both the city of Cleveland and this team still exist.  Neither one is particularly worth caring about or discussing, although I went to Cleveland for the first time this past summer and it wasn’t bad.  Orlando Cabrera is good, of course, and Travis Hafner is alright but if I were an Indians fan I’d be worried that he’d figure out that he could make better money pretending to be Vin Diesel in Bollywood movies.  I imagine they’ll restructure a bit once Sizemore’s contract is up but for right now, I wouldn’t expect too much.

5. Kansas City Royals– The Royals are a lot like the sandy sea floor.  They get stirred up and float around a little while at first but give it some time and they’ll inevitably settle straight back to the bottom.  Without fail some baseball insider goes for some “told-you-so” cred by saying the Royals will be good in the coming season but it never really happens.  Someday, Royals fan(s?).

AL WEST

1. A’s– There’s a new big 3 in Oakland, and you’ve probably never heard of any of them unless you play fantasy baseball. Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill, and Brett Anderson are good enough to carry the A’s to a division crown. Hell, their fourth pitcher, Dallas Braden, threw a Perfect Game last year. They definitely won’t run away with the division with Coco Crisp and Hideki Matsui in their lineup, but the pitching might be enough in this division.

2. Rangers– Texas lost out on the Cliff Lee Sweepstakes and had to settle for Adrian “I only hit above .300 in contract years” Beltre and Brandon Webb (yeah, remember him?). The lineup is dangerous once again, but are C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis enough to pitch this team to the postseason? I don’t think so. Expect a lot of high scoring games and a worn out bullpen by year’s end.

3. Angels– The Angels struck out on every free agent they tried to sign, and for some reason thought it would be okay to trade for Vernon Wells and the remaining $86 million on his contract. But hey, if Scott Kazmir can keep his ERA under 6.00 this year, they might not finish last.

4. Mariners– This could be the year the Mariners climb out of last place. Felix Hernandez won a fucking Cy Young award last year even though his team made him go 13-12. Erik Bedard is apparently healthy, and prospect Michael Pineda is penciled in as the number five guy in their rotation. Ichiro is going to have 200 hits again (2244 in his 10 year MLB career, that’s insane), and big things are expected out of prospect Justin Smoak. And lastly, Milton Bradley…yeah, that’s why their in last place still.

NL EAST

1. Phillies– Barring a horrible string of injuries, this division is already over. The Phillies signed Cliff Lee in the off-season, and their starting rotation now consists of Lee, Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, Roy Oswalt, and Joe Blanton. Four of those guys are exceptional, and even Blanton might crack the three spot in the Yankees rotation. The line-up has aged a little with Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, and Chase Utley showing some a lot of wear and tear, but that rotation is too good for them not to win this division.

2. Braves– Atlanta is actually pretty good. If they were in another division they would probably be the favorite. Their lineup is really good, except for the lack of a slugger, but Jason Heyward might grow into that role. Plus, they added Dan Uggla who has a lot of pop for a 2nd basemen. They have an above average rotation with the up and coming Tommy Hanson to go along with veterans Derek Lowe and Tim Hudson. Also, Bobby Cox retired, so I guess someone else is their manager for the first time in like 20 years.

3. Marlins- Hanley Ramirez and Mike Stanton should power this team. Stanton led all rookies in HRs last year even though he wasn’t called up until June. Ramirez is a threat to hit 30 HRs and steal 30 bases every year. If Javier Vazquez can morph back into the good Javier Vazquez, and he should now that he is back in the NL East, this team should compete for a playoff spot late into the season.

4. Nationals– The Nationals are probably one more year away. They spent last season babying phenom Stephen Strasburg every single start and Strasburg still blew out his elbow. He had Tommy John surgery and he’ll miss this entire season, but should be fully healthy by the start of next season. 18 year old Bryce Harper, the #1 pick last year, is being called the best hitting prospect since A-Rod, but he is probably another year away. Even if their best young talent is a year away, they still have Ryan Zimmerman and newly signed free agent Jayson Werth to carry them this season. They should at least be competitive and there is lots of hope for the future.

5. Mets– [EN: HM reader Mike Z previewed the Mets for us, and based on his preview we slotted them in last place in the NL East.] When you get a nose job, you get your chin done too, otherwise you are still ugly and no one wants to look at you. Cutting Castillo, and platooning at 2nd base, will add a bat in field that begs for gap hitters who don’t run in to walls and get concussions, but all of the options are so clunky with their gloves people will long for the day of dropped pop-ups against the Yankees. Also, our staff ace is a knuckle baller coming off a career season after spending a month in the woods by himself. So we have that going for us too. There is a reason no one wants to buy the mets. I hate the Mets this year.

P.S. Please don’t suck so much this year Jason Bay.

NL CENTRAL

1. Brewers– Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum, and Yovani Gallardo. Plus, one of, if not the best 3-4 combination in baseball in Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder. Add in Rickie Weeks, Casey McGehee, and Corey Hart and subtract Trevor Hoffman and you’ve got a really good team. On the other hand, they’re the Milwaukee Brewers.

2. Cardinals- 31-year-old Albert Pujols is demanding a 10-year 300 million dollar contract. The market for Pujols is surprisingly small since the Red Sox and Yankees have first basemen, the Dodgers and Mets have financial problems, the Angels just wasted 86 million on Vernon Wells. The Cardinals would seem to have the advantage, but this should hang over their heads all season. Still, the Cards were probably the favorite until they lost Adam Wainwright. Chris Carpenter is still really good, and Jaime Garcia had a nice rookie season, but when your next best pitcher is Jake Westbrook, you can’t be better than second place in my preview.

3. Cubs– [EN: We asked HM reader Kalamazoo Dan to give us his take on the Cubs.] At the end of 2010 the Chicago Cubs appointed interim manager Mike Quade as terim manager after he somehow guided the team to a 24-13 finish. This was after Lou Piniella jumped ship to care for his ailing mother.  Lou is 66, he doesn’t have a mother, nice try Lou.  Quade seems to be the sacrificial lamb in the sophomore season for the new Cubs owners as they try not to invest another dollar into their team until the heinous Alfonso Soriano contract comes off the books.  In 2014.  Fuck that hurts.  The front office seems to be hoping for career years out of Aramis Ramierz, Ryan Dempster and Soriano, 2-3 years after they each produced their final career years, and also that Carlos Zambrano can remain not-crazy long enough in 2011 to repeat some of his 2nd half success going 7-0 with a 1.07 era after his triumphant return from the bullpen (and anger management).  But what seemed to be a clear rebuilding year took a slightly confusing turn after their tyrant GM Jim Hendry made very sane and un-Cubs like moves to obtain SP Matt Garza and Ifs Carlos Pena and Blake Dewitt.  Somehow Kerry Wood is back on the team as well which is just getting crazy, and the super-young, super-stud SS Starlin Castro should make a big jump after a stellar 2010 for the team.  All in all the Cubs might have found themselves the perfect combination of aging veterans, youthful talent and and gritty vagabonds (as well as a $145 million payroll and the highest ticket prices in the NL) to make a serious run at god damn .500, and let’s say 3rd, in the cluster fuck that is the NL Central.  But hey at least they’re not the Mets.

4. Reds– Joey Votto won the MVP last year, hitting in the middle of this really good lineup. Jay Bruce has been good his first few years in the league and this might be the year that he finally breaks out. Their pitching staff looks solid with young names like Homer Bailey, Travis Wood, and Mike Leake. On the other hand, young pitchers and Dusty Baker. In his first year as Reds manager, Dusty completely overworked Edinson Volquez, resulting in his Tommy John surgery, but Volquez returned at the end of last year and should be completely healthy this year. This team might have one more year left to make a run before Dusty completely destroys them.

5. Pirates– I’ve heard a few people say that this might be the year the Pirates turn things around. It looks like they’ve got a few pieces in place with Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez. They probably need to add a few more pitchers to make an actual run. James McDonald is the only pitcher in their rotation I could actually name off the top of my head. After a little research, I discovered, their staff ace, Paul Maholm, went 9-15 last year with a 5.10 ERA. There’s a reason this team only won 57 games last year. Turning things around for this mess of a franchise might mean winning 70 games and not finishing with the worst record in baseball.

6. Astros- The Astros are in full on rebuilding mode. Their biggest free agent addition was probably Bill Hall as they’re hoping to build mostly from within. 1B Brett Wallace and 3B Chris Johnson are two of the young pieces that need to step up.  Also, former Astro and notorious douchebag Roger Clemens has a son in the Astros organization named Koby Clemens who might get called up at some point. That should be the most exciting moment of the season.


NL WEST

1. Rockies– Troy Tulowitzki hit 15 HRs and had 40 RBI last September, and he still wasn’t the best player on his team. Carlos Gonzalez seemingly came out of nowhere and hit .336 with 34 HR, 117 RBI, and 26 SB on the season to finish number three in the NL MVP voting. If his team had made the playoffs he probably would have won the award. Ubaldo Jimenez was almost unhittable in the first half of last season, and even with an average second half he finished the year with a 2.88 ERA and a 19-8 record. If Tulowitzki and Jimenez can put together full seasons then this team should win this division.

2. Giants- The Giants won the World Series last year behind the strength of their starting rotation. Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez, and Madison Bumgarner are all really good, but somehow 5th starter Barry Zito makes more money than all of them combined. Their lineup consists of Buster Posey, old man Aubrey Huff, no longer fat Pablo Sandoval, and not much else worth mentioning. It’s tough to imagine Cody Ross carrying this team all year the way he did in the playoffs. Also, Brian Wilson is Kenny Powers.

3. Dodgers– I don’t know what to make of the Dodgers. They have a good rotation with Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Ted Lilly, and Hiroki Kuroda. And they have some talented position players in Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier. But they didn’t do very much in the off-season and part of that has to be blamed on the ongoing battle between Frank and Jamie McCourt. Until that mess is resolved, this team will probably be a few pieces short of contending.

4. Diamondbacks- Arizona finished last place last year, and they didn’t add any big names, but they are still a pretty young team. Stephen Drew, Justin Upton, Chris Young, and Miguel Montero are still rounding into form. The pitching isn’t great, but Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson have shown promise. Armando Galarraga, the Tiger pitcher who was robbed of a perfect game, is competing for a spot in the rotation as well. This team isn’t great, but there is enough young talent here to pick them ahead of the Padres.

5. Padres- The Padres led this division for most of last year and then fell apart down the stretch. Then they traded Adrian Gonzalez to the Red Sox. They added a bunch of average players like Brad Hawpe, Ryan Ludwick, Jason Bartlett, Orlando Hudson, Cameron Maybin, Jorge Cantu and Aaron Harang. Maybe last place is a little harsh, but they overachieved last year, lost their best player, and added a bunch of mediocre players with just enough name recognition to sell tickets. Fourth place wouldn’t be surprising, but last seems more likely.

OTHER PREDICTIONS

AL MVP: Adrian Gonzelez, Bos
AL CY YOUNG:
Brett Anderson, Oak
AL ROY:
Michael Pineda, Sea

NL MVP: Prince Fielder, Mil
NL CY YOUNG:
_________, Phi
NL ROY:
Freddie Freeman, Atl

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Why I Hate UConn and Why I’m Rooting for John Calipari

 

Everyone who has known me for more than about 10 minutes knows how much I hate UConn. In a sport with some of the most obnoxious douchebags in all of sports, Calhoun might be number one.

My initial hate came from when I was younger, growing up as a UMass fan. UConn had been the dominant team in New England, but then John Calipari came in and took over at UMass in 1988. UConn played UMass for one season when Calipari first got there, but after Calipari claimed that his program was the kind of New England, Calhoun chose not to schedule any more games against UMass.

Calhoun’s first responded to this challenge by saying, “John came in from Moon Township (Pa.) and said their program was king of New England and he didn’t know what ‘chowda’ was with an A. You’ve got to know what clam chowda is before you start saying that, especially to a guy from South Boston, it’s very tough to hear a guy say that.” It seemed absurd that that one quote could have been the reason for Calhoun to stop scheduling UMass, but when pressed further on his reason for ending the rivalry he said, “I ended the series because of John Calipari. I had my own personal reasons.” As far as anyone could tell, there had never been any incidents before that, with the exception of that one quote by Calipari.

People don’t remember this about John Calipari anymore, but he didn’t use to be a guy with NBA talent all over the court. He actually knew how to coach his players at one point in time. His first Sweet 16 team with UMass featured a 6’3” power forward and a 6’7” center. ESPN writer, Pat Forde, described that 1992 UMass team as such:

His 1992 Massachusetts team remains one of the most overachieving units The Minutes has ever seen, featuring a shooting guard with range so limited he made one 3-pointer all season (Jim McCoy), a 6-foot-3 power forward (Will Herndon), and a left-handed center who stood all of 6-7 (Harper Williams). Somehow, that collection of marginal talent went 30-5 and advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16.

But in spite of their lack of talent, Calipari had them believing they could beat anyone. When UConn refused to play them, Calipari had a T-shirt made that read on the front: “UMass Refused to Lose.” On the back there was an outline of the state of Connecticut, along with these words: UScared. What’s Your Excuse For Not Playing This Year?”

Then in 1993, Calipari did the unthinkable. He went to Connecticut and recruited a player who Jim Calhoun desperately wanted. His name was Marcus Camby and he grew up in Hartford, CT.  Calhoun was reportedly furious that the best player to ever come out of the state wasn’t going to attend UConn, but instead go to play for Calipari. UMass was the team in New England during the early 1990’s and UConn had to play second fiddle.

Calhoun refused to play UMass until the day Calipari left. When that happened the rivalry was back on, if you could even call it that anymore. UMass was not the same program anymore, and Calhoun beat on them for years afterward, routinely running up the score. Finally, in 2004, UMass won for the first time since the rivalry was renewed. What was Calhoun’s response? He said he didn’t want to play UMass anymore because they weren’t enough of a “marquee” team. That must be why UConn started scheduling UMass-Lowell instead.

But a lot of people don’t understand why I would hate Calhoun and UConn just because they wouldn’t play UMass. Well obviously, there’s more. Other than being utterly scared to compete, Calhoun is an asshole running a dirty program.

Perhaps his most well known outburst came when someone had the gall to ask him a question about his salary in during a postgame press conference. At the time the question was asked, the state of Connecticut faced a 1 billion dollar deficit and Calhoun was the highest paid state employee. The reporter, a political activist, asked him if he thought about giving any of the salary back, and then Calhoun went on this tirade:

UConn fans are quick to defend Calhoun for his tirade because of the untimeliness of the question, but someone who wasn’t Jim Calhoun could have found a better way to dismiss it without coming off as a pompous asshole. And oh by the way, Connecticut Governor Jodi Rell called it an “embarrassing display.”

But don’t worry, there are more reasons to hate.  UConn men’s program graduated just 31 percent of players who entered school in 2003-04 within six years. NCAA graduation rates aren’t entirely fair because players who leave school early to go to the NBA count against the school’s graduation rate. Of course this hasn’t stopped North Carolina from graduating 88% of its players. Honestly, a school’s graduation rate isn’t even something I care too much about, but UConn’s has sucked for a long time, and it doesn’t look like Calhoun cares much about changing that.

Want another reason? How about the players arrested under Calhoun? A.J. Price, Marcus Williams, Jerome Dyson, Doug Wiggins, Nate Miles. Again, by itself, this wouldn’t mean very much. I’m sure a bunch of schools have players arrested. But when you put it all together you’ve got a pompous asshole coach who refuses to play the best competition out of fear that it will influence local recruits, doesn’t graduate his players, and has had multiple players arrested. And oh yeah, one more thing: he cheats.

UConn coaches, including Calhoun, made over 2000 phone calls to a former student-manager-turned-agent who helped recruit Nate Miles to come to UConn. First Calhoun claimed that the allegations were ridiculous and how dare anyone badmouth him. Then UConn spent millions of dollars investigating the matter and found only minor violations. The NCAA did its own investigation and suspended Calhoun for three games next year. Of course in Calhoun’s twisted head he wasn’t cheating. As Calhoun put it, “We may have broken rules…but we did not cheat.

So when UConn takes on Kentucky this weekend I’ll be rooting against them like I always do. But this time I’ll be rooting for John Calipari and Kentucky. And you’d be right to come right back at me and tell me what an asshole John Calipari is. I’m not denying it, hell he screwed over the UMass program I used to love. And I’m not denying that the way he has been able to recruit at Memphis and Kentucky is just as shady as anything Jim Calhoun has done. But at least Calipari had the stones to play Calhoun, and for that reason I’ll always root for John Calipari in this match-up.

 

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National Dunk on Duke Day

Yesterday was National Dunk on Duke Day. Enjoy.

 

 

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Ray Vinopal, I Never Even Learned How to Pronounce Your Last Name

 

Ray Vinopal, the first 2 star recruit in the history of Michigan football to start as a true freshman*, is transferring from Michigan. Ray is reportedly transferring because of “family issues,” and it’s probably nothing more than that.  Early reports have him going to Pitt, which is about an hour away from Youngstown, OH, where he is from.

When Ray first got offered there was hope that he was an under the radar gem who would redshirt his freshman year, possibly play some special teams the next couple years, then see sometime in the defensive backfield when he was an upperclassmen. Instead, Ray saw the field in our first game, and entered the starting lineup half way through the season against Penn State in one of the most disastrous defensive performances in the history of man. Ray’s short stumpy legs were probably going to prevent him from ever developing into a great player, but he played hard and even recorded an interception last year.*

I’ll miss Ray Vinopal, but hopefully the team won’t.

 

*I have no idea if that is true, but it probably should be.

** In my head, I thought we only had like four total interceptions on the season, but apparently we had twelve last year. Really, can that possibly be true?

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Sweet Sixteen Preview

[Editor’s Note: Jeff has taken the time to break down a few of the Sweet Sixteen match-ups. I’ll break down the Southeast and Southwest.]

If you stuck with my picks for the East and West in the first round* of the tourney this year then your bracket should be more or less intact heading into the Sweet 16.  The main bracket buster so far is Marquette in the East.  Sorry.  I thought Xavier was better than that.  Also, I was wrong about Washington, Missouri, and Georgia but they’re out of the picture now anyway.  I busted out my Ouija board for this next round though so these are guaranteed correct:

*actually the second round but that’s just confusing

EAST
1. OHIO STATE VS. 4. KENTUCKY

For a second there I thought I should’ve gone with the ol’ Princeton white boy pick ‘n’ roll in my first round picks but Kentucky snuck out of their game against the Tigers with a two point win.  They put away West Virginia in the second round with relative ease so now they’re meeting up with Ohio State in Brick City. Ohio State came out strong against Texas San Antonio and even stronger against George Mason, putting up nearly 100 which is fairly rare in the tourney.  The Buckeyes still look like frontrunners but have a way harder path to the championship than, say, those charlatans known as the Kansas Jayhawks.  This game won’t be easy and they might have to tangle with North Carolina too.  Either way, I’m sticking with them for another round or two at least. Winner: Ohio State

11. MARQUETTE VS. 2. UNC

I thought Syracuse was good but apparently the Big East was mostly a sham conference this year. The Golden Eagles of Marquette slid past them so now they’re pitted against North Carolina.  The Tar Heels haven’t looked super great this tournament so this might be a contest, but really all UNC has to do is tighten up on defense and they should be able to weather the storm.  Marquette has had a good run but I think (and hope, for the sake of my own bracket) that it ends here. [Wouldn’t it be great if the worst team from the Big East went the furthest? I think Marquette might win this game.] Winner: North Carolina

WEST

1. DUKE vs. 5. ARIZONA

Picking this game makes me nauseous because I wanted Michigan to beat Duke so god damn bad last round and they almost did.  But noooo.  Fuck Duke. But they’ll still probably win.  Ugh. [Yeah, fuck Duke.] Winner: Duke

3. UCONN vs. 2. SDSU

Probably the most interesting matchup of the Sweet 16 for the East or West regions, this is also a total toss-up.  For reasons not entirely clear to me UConn is in the West, and this game is played in Anaheim, about an hour away from SDSU.  So, that means it’s basically an away game.  Here’s a stat to mull over: since 1990, UConn is 0-7 in games played in the opponent’s home state. UConn’s Kemba Walker is still the best player on the floor in this game but SDSU is going to be a handful. Move aside, Huskies. [Kemba Walker is the entire UConn team. In games UConn lost this year Kemba put up the following FG numbers: 10-27, 8-23, 7-23, 3-14, 4-16, 3-10, 10-27, 8-23, 11-22. Those shooting numbers are horrific (except for the 11-22). If SDSU can shut down Kemba, then UConn is done.Winner: SDSU

SOUTHWEST

1. KANSAS vs. 12. RICHMOND

This match-up sets up well for Kansas as Richmond struggles to rebound the basketball and Kansas dominates the glass. But I’ve been very impressed with Richmond so far. Don’t let their shitty seed fool you, Richmond is much better than a 12 seed. They’re an exceptional three point shooting team (40% as a team with their top four scorers all shooting over 41%) and if they can get hot they can win this game. Everyone is acting like Kansas has a cakewalk to the Final Four and I’m not so sure about that. Winner: Kansas, in a very close game

10. FLORIDA STATE vs. 11. VCU

VCU has validated their tournament inclusion by crushing three major conference teams (USC, Georgetown, and Purdue). Their offense has been utterly unstoppable through three games, but now they’re going up against the best defense of the last decade. Florida State is brutal to watch, but they held Texas A&M to 31% shooting and Notre Dame to 30% (23% from three for one of the best three point shooting teams in the country). Despite their defense, Florida State usually struggles to score the ball and two straight strong offensive games seems unlikely. I’ll go with VCU. Winner: VCU

SOUTHEAST

4. WISCONSIN vs. 8. BUTLER

Wisconsin continues to be the most underrated team in the country. One of the most popular upset picks in the first round was Belmont over Wisconsin, but Wisconsin dominated that game. Then they knocked off Kansas State despite their best player, Jordan Taylor, shooting 2-16. Now everyone is picking Butler to win this game. Sure, Butler is a tough tested team, and this should be a great game, but I think Wisconsin has too many big white guys that can shoot threes, plus they never turn the ball over. Winner: Wisconsin

2. FLORIDA vs. 3. JIMMER

Jimmer has been great in the tournament thus far, beating Wofford and Gonzaga. No one gave Jimmer a chance going into this tournament for some reason, but they forget that his team is all Jimmer. Last year these two teams met in the first round and Jimmer won in two overtimes. Florida played well in the first couple games and were tested by UCLA, but Jimmer presents a whole new challenge. Winner: Jimmer

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Heart and Pride

When John Beilein came to Michigan, his first real recruiting class consisted of two scrappy white guys from Indiana and another big white guy who could barely run the floor. At least the Indiana kids were advertised as great shooters. After their first season, the Indiana kids, Zack Novak and Stu Douglass, each finished the year shooting around 37% from the field and under 70% from the line. Their seven foot center, Ben Cronin, had hip surgery and could barely walk the floor, let alone run it.

Michigan made the tournament that year, largely because of the efforts of two Tommy Amaker recruits, DeShawn Sims and Manny Harris. There was excitement around the program because Beilein had taken Michigan to the tournament for the first time in twelve years, but there was also skepticism surrounding his ability to recruit the type of players who could be effective in the Big Ten.

The following year, with sky high expectations, Michigan was horrible. They finished 15-17 overall, 7-11 in the Big Ten, despite returning most of a team that had reached the second round of the NCAA tournament the year before. DeShawn Sims was graduating, and Manny Harris decided to end his tumultuous relationship with John Beilein by declaring for the NBA Draft. Some people began to (recklessly) throw around the word “hotseat” and John Beilein’s name in the same sentence. It was safe to say that there were little expectations for the 2010-2011 Michigan basketball team.

When this season began it took me a few games just to learn the names and numbers of all the new players. Michigan was giving significant minutes to two redshirt freshmen and four true freshmen. There were no seniors on the team, and only two juniors (Novak and Douglass). The ceiling for this team was the NIT, and even reaching that ceiling seemed unlikely.

But then the season started. Michigan was competitive in an early season tournament against Syracuse, losing by only three. They surprised again the next week with a win on the road against Clemson. And followed it up with six more non-conference wins, including fairly impressive games against Harvard and Oakland. But real talk, it was tough to drum up any real excitement over the fact that we had just beat Harvard and Oakland.

I don’t think anyone started to understand what this team was all about until the Big Ten season started. In their first game against Purdue they came back from down 19-3 to take a 26-25 lead. Their next game, a random non-conference match-up against Kansas, they came back from down 15 to force overtime. They started the Big Ten season 1-6, tied for last place in the conference, before rallying to finish 9-9, in a tie for fourth. They played Ohio State three times, losing by single digits each time, once coming back from 17 down in the final minutes to cut the lead to four. They won a tournament clinching game against Illinois after being down 12 with eight minutes to go.

When you look at the Michigan roster, there isn’t much there, except for a couple of borderline top 100 recruits, and a collection of other guys that didn’t even receive offers from MAC schools. If you haven’t watched them play you understand why people like Charles Barkley say things like “Michigan has no chance versus Duke.” Or if you prefer, Seth Davis and Doug Gottlieb. But if you have, you know there’s more than meets the eye.

Michigan scrapped and clawed their way back against a Duke team that won the fucking national title last year and some have pegged as the favorite to repeat. Down 15 with ten minutes to go, Darius Morris kept weaving his way into the lane, and Duke’s offense resorted to contested jumpers against Michigan’s 1-3-1 zone. If Morris could have just taken a little something extra off that last jumper we could have taken the game to overtime, or if he could have whirled around and kicked it out to Zack Novak up top, Michigan could be in the Sweet Sixteen.

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I read a comment on a Michigan State message board a couple weeks ago that said something along the lines of “Michigan just finished 19-12, 9-9, and their fans are ecstatic because this was one of their best seasons in years, and Michigan State just finished 18-13, 9-9, and we’re disappointed because this is our worst seasons.” I read it and thought it was a great point in showing the stark contrast in our programs.

But I realized something in the wake of our loss to Duke. This team was an absolute joy to watch. The way they competed against teams with overwhelming physical advantages made me proud of them in a way that I haven’t felt much, if ever, when thinking about a sports team. This is the real contrast between Michigan and Michigan State this year. Michigan fans said things like this about our team as our season ended: A friend kept saying he just wanted to keep seeing them play basketball, and that’s about right, and when’s the last time you could say that about Michigan anything? Whereas Michigan State fans said things like this in the final minutes of their season: You just embarrassed a proud program and a great coach. Sorry we stole your bid, Colorado

Looking ahead to next year, things are brighter than they’ve been in a long time. Michigan returns every single player off this year’s team, and the only worry is whether there will be enough minutes with two more solid recruits coming in. I wondered a few months ago whether Michigan would ever start shooting the ball the way John Beilein’s teams typically do: well, apparently we currently have four of the top thirteen three point shooters in the history of Michigan basketball on our team. Guess that answers that question. With almost every other team in the Big Ten losing significant contributors, Michigan should be among the favorites to win the Big Ten. When’s the last time we said that in basketball?

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