Sunday, January 25, 2009
Hi folks. Writing this one from L.A. here in the hotel. I thought it would suck but the first thing I find on the TV now that I'm in the room after dinner (grilled Swordfish, steamed vegetables, rice pilaf) is Varsity Blues, and I'm immediately put in a good mood at the sight of Ali Larter. Maybe this will be a good trip after all. Plus, my room has a fridge. Holla.
WHO WAS AWESOME
1. Ralph Sampson III. A truly dominating performance from the big guy against the Hoosiers, finishing with 13 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 blocked shots. With Colton Iverson in early foul trouble, again, the big man responsibilities all fell to Ralph, and he responded in a big way, playing well enough that Iverson was pretty much kept on the bench the whole second half. Sampson isn’t necessarily polished, as his one move on the low block seems to be that awkward hook that continues to always go in, but he plays the position very well. He’s a very good passer, both from the low block and in the high post, and seems to have a very good head for the game. He is also an excellent defender, as evidenced by those six blocks. His jump shot needs a little work, but I’m confident it’s in there somewhere. He should maybe just put that in his back pocket for now, however, and work on it in the off season to add as an additional weapon in his arsenal for future seasons. I’m beginning to think that the all-american in two years projections are a little conservative. I’m thinking more like three all-american seasons with two National Player of the Years thrown in, if he sticks around for that long. And never forget, he was the first one to sign with the Gophers, and started this landslide of talent that's now coming in.
2. Craig Brackins. No, not the linebacker who once played for the Jaguars, the power forward extraordinaire for the Cyclones. What this dude is doing in the wasteland of Ames I’ll never know, because he’s a stud, and he had an incredible game on Saturday against Kansas and your boyfriend Cole Aldrich. Brackins put up 42 points in a losing effort, as the Cyclones lost the game 82-67 in Ames, but learned a lot about themselves in the process, and really, that’s makes them the real winner here. Lest you think this was a Stephen Curry kind of 42 points, Brackins needed just 19 shots, going 11-19 and 3-5 from three. He was also 17-21 from the line, since the Jayhawks realized they couldn’t stop him so they just started hacking, and he grabbed 14 boards as well. The 42 points are the most this season by a player in the Big 12 (surpassing Brackins 38 against Houston earlier) and were one shy of the all-time Big 12 scoring record of 44 held by Michael Beasley from last season. None of this should be a surprise, since Brackins was a stud in high school and was the #20 recruit in the country as a freshman last season. I have no idea why he’s in Ames, especially since he’s from New Hampshire. Maybe he got sick of going to Lake Winnapasaukee. I blame that god damned Bob Wiley.
3. Butler. After last season, things were supposed to change. Last year, the Bulldogs were ranked in the top 10, made the sweet 16, and became the first Horizon League team to win 30 games. Butler was losing four of their top five players going into this year, including Butler poster boy AJ Graves, and the talk was it was Cleveland State’s conference now, and the Bulldogs would probably end up somewhere towards the top, but definitely not the way it was the previous year. Well, not so much. While Cleveland State continues to flounder at 4-5 in the Horizon, the Bulldogs are kicking ass. They currently sit at 18-1, and 9-0 in the conference, and already beat Cleveland State at their place earlier this year. The two teams chasing Butler in the Horizon are UW-Green Bay and UW-Milwaukee, who just so happen to be the two teams Butler beat this week, UWGB by 11 and UWM by 30. It looks like Butler is back to annoy the crap out of you once again.
4. Washington. At the beginning of the season, I was counting on the Huskies to contend with Arizona State and UCLA for the Pac-10 crown. They started out really slowly, losing 3 of their first 5 games including a loss to Portland, and were making me look like a jackass. Well, something has clicked since then, culminating this week where the Huskies beat UCLA on Saturday, following up a Thursday victory over USC to bring them to 6-1 and on top of the conference standings, a game up on the Bruins. They are a very good offensive team, and are interesting because they are in the bottom four in the country in three point attempts per field goal attempt. They don’t need to rely on the three, because they have size in Jon Brockman, a freaking behemoth, and Matt Amaning, and really gifted slashing, driving type guards in Isaiah “No Relation” Thomas, Justin Dentmon, and Quincy Pondexter. With Ryan Applby gone, the Huskies aren’t a very good three point shooting team and so don’t bother. And right now, it’s looking like they don’t need to.
5. UCONN. A Home win over #20 Villanova followed up by a road win at #19 Notre Dame? Yeah, that’s a pretty good week. I’m telling you man, look out for this UCONN team, they are absolutely for real. They are 6-1 against ranked teams, and will have plenty of more tests in the ridiculous Big East. They have balanced scoring (five players in double figures), and are great on offense (5th in offensive efficiency) and defense (27th). With Hasheem Thabeet and Jeff Adrien, they have a dominant front court, and with Jerome Dyson and A.J. Price they have the kind of backcourt that makes a big difference in March. They have a deep bench as well, with Craig Austrie and Kemba Walker who can go for twenty at any time. If Stanley Robinson can recover fully from his “leave of absence” to deal with academics, and he’s well on his way, look out. Hell, I think I just talked myself into this team as my national champion.
1. Maryland. I don’t really know any way to not put this team here after losing to Duke by 41 on Saturday, the worst loss in the rivalries history. They managed to shoot just 28%, and were outrebounded 52-29. Luckily for me I got to watch the end of this game while at the gym, and thus got to see both Jin-Soo Kim, perhaps one of the worst players in NCAA history, and Steve Goins, a one-time Gopher recruit play for the Terrapins, a rare occurrence. I saw Kim get two of this three shot attempts blocked, and Goins kick the ball out of bounds. It was a delight. As a team, the Terrapins are just 2-3 in the ACC, and have been heading downhill fast after that unexpected win over Michigan State. Interestingly, Snacks’ guy Greivis Vasquez leads the Terps in points, rebounds, and assists, which I have to think doesn’t happen too often; although Ralph Sampson will probably end up doing it the next three years, if he sticks around that long.
2. Syracuse. For a normal team, losing to the #4 and #9 ranked teams in a week wouldn’t be so bad, but for a team with final four aspirations it kind of says something about your team when you get blown out by Pitt and can’t win at home against Louisville. They are both very, very good teams, but Syracuse wants to be on that same level and those two games pretty clearly tell you they aren’t, at least right now. The Orange’s big weakness right now is in their rebounding, they were killed by Pitt 37-24 on the boards and gave up 17 offensive rebounds to the Cardinals. Other than Onuaku, they don’t have any real size. Paul Harris plays bigger than his 6-4, but against bigger teams that height disadvantage hurts. Rick Jackson is 6-9 and can also help out, but he’s wildly inconsistent and disappears at times. It doesn’t help that Andy Rautins still sucks at shooting, going 1-6 from three in the Louisville game. I still think the Cuse have a shot at the final four, but they’re going to need Jackson to really step it up against teams with size.
3. Georgetown. Another Big East team, and a conference that good and that deep is always going to beat up on itself, but, like Syracuse, the Hoyas definitely took a step backwards this week. Georgetown lost earlier in the week at home to a good but unranked West Virginia team, and then followed that up by losing to Big East doormat Seton Hall on Sunday. That was the first win of the Big East season for Seton Hall, and was a pretty healthy upset for the Pirates, a game that Ken Pomeroy estimated the Pirates had only a 14% chance to win. They managed it despite a horrible shooting performance from their superstar, guard Jeremy Hazell, who is averaging 22.7 points per game but shot just 5-21 for the game, including 0-10 from three. The fact that the Hoyas lost despite limiting the Pirates best player has to be scary for G-Town fans. The Hoyas have a good chance to get healthy, with their next three games against Rutgers, St. Johns, and Rutgers again, but after that things get tough. I am not a big believer in this team.
4. Arkansas. It seems like every week the Razorbacks have found themselves in the Weekly Recap, sometimes on the good and sometimes on the bad. This time it's definitely bad, after losing to a bad Auburn team, and at home no less, by 22 to fall to 0-4 in the SEC. After beating both Texas and Oklahoma in the non-conference season, they looked like they might be the surprise team of the nation, but four losses in the SEC, all to ranked teams, leaves Arkansas looking like the crap everybody thought they were at the beginning of the season. One of the big issues has been the dropoff of Courtney Fortson, who looked like an absolute all-star earlier but has really struggled, averaging over 5 turnovers per game in the four SEC contests, including 8 against Florida and 6 against Auburn. I cannot imagine what it must be like to be an Arkansas fan. Wow, such a weird team.
5. Cal. Another team that nobody expected much out of who came out of the gate hard, the Golden Bears were on a roll, winning their first four games in the Pac 10 before dropping a game to Stanford. Then came this week, which didn't go so well, although with the two Oregon schools coming to Berkeley it should have been an easy week. Not so, as the Bears struggled and lost to a bad Oregon State team, and then barely pulled off the win against a winless in the conference Oregon Ducks team. The Bears had a win in hand, with a 12 point lead with just nine minutes remaining in the game, but then scored just three points after that as the Beavers came back to win 69-65. The Bears are still in good shape, and have a couple of awesome players in guards Jerome Randle and Patrick Christopher, but this is certainly not a good sign.