If you've been watching basketball on ESPN this week, you would have noticed them pimping the hell out of their NCAA Basketball Encyclopedia, and probably become a bit annoyed by it. I got annoyed by it, but I have to tell you that I have this book and it is totally awesome. There is more information in there than any person could possibly need, and I mean that in a good way. Like, did you know Delino DeShields was a top basketball prospect coming out of high school? It's full of all that kind of stuff and more. It's not like a baseball encyclopedia, like where you could say "I wonder what Kenny Lofton's stats were when he played for Arizona" and then look him up, but it's got tons of other info. It lists every D-I team, their best players, best teams, best coaches, some cool little fun facts and other information, as well as their record every single year and their leading scorer, rebounder, and assister for each season. Plus a bunch more cool stuff. I highly, highly recommend it.
WHO WAS AWESOME
1. Zack Greinke. This was refreshing. The BBWAA actually didn't screw this up and voted Greinke the American League Cy Young award, which is at it should have been. In case you forgot, Greinke went 16-8 with a 2.16 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP this year, leading the league in both of those last two metrics, and if you watched him at all he seemed even better than that. I figured the voters would screw this one up, since they love giving awards to players on good teams (The royals were awful), they love evaluating players based on wins (six pitchers had more wins than Greinke), and they love Yankees (Sabathia looked like a perfect candidate for the idiot voters). But, for once, they made the right call. Also a congrats to Tim Lincecum for winning the NL award for the second year in a row. Who would have known Mitch Kramer would have grown up to be such a success.
2. Syracuse. It seems my prediction of "Syracuse will suck this year" might be way, way off, while the cretins who vote in the polls and had them 24th were closer to the truth (also still underrating them). After the two gimme wins last week, they headed to Madison Square Garden for the final four of the Coaches vs. Cancer classic, and walked out with the title. They did it in impressive fashion, as well, beating #12 Cal in the semis 95-73 and #4 North Carolina 87-71 in the championship. Their defense is still top notch, Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche have filled in for Jonny Flynn nicely, Andy Rautins is actually making shots, Wes Johnson is as good as advertised, and Arinze Onuaku has stepped his game up. Very nice week for the Orange. I still kind of think this might be a house of cards a bit, and also that Cal and UNC were majorly overrated, but Syracuse has already proved me wrong, and it wouldn't shock if they continue to do so.
3. John Wall. Well, I think we can go ahead and say "believe the hype." Wall was the top recruit this season, was picked by someone I read as the National Player of the Year, and so far neither of those seem too ridiculous. In his three games this year, Wall has averaged 20.3 points, 4.0 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 2.7 steals, and 1.0 blocks per game, all while shooting 56% from the floor. His turnovers are about the only thing remotely concerning (averaging four per game), but he only had two in Saturday's win (to 11 assists) and for a freshman this early in the season it's not a surprise they are a little high. Kentucky still hasn't really played anybody, and won't until December, but for now Wall looks very good, and Calipari is certainly squeezing as much out of him as he can in what his likely his only college season - he's played 38, 37, and 35 minutes in the three games.
4. Minnesota Vikings. Are you like me and life as a Minnesota fan, and specifically a Viking fan, has conditioned you to expect the worst at all times? I mean the Vikes are absolutely rolling, now at 9-1 and just destroying teams, such as the poor, hapless Seahawks who they rolled to such a degree that T-Jax actually played almost an entire half. Everything is perfect. Brett Favre has played nearly flawlessly this season. Adrian Peterson has gone from "possibly the best back in football" to "the best back in football." Percy Harvin is heading towards a possible rookie-of-the-year award. Sidney Rice has realized his untapped potential and vaulted into maybe a top 10 receiver in the NFL (Don't believe me? He's 17th in catches and 3rd in receiving yards in the NFL). And the defense, although showing a few weaknesses at times, is still an elite unit with a front four that is basically destroying everybody - And all this without Antoine Winfield. And yet, instead of relaxing, I'm just waiting for the other shoe to drop and someting to go horribly, horribly wrong. Will it be a Favre injury? An injury to some one else? Or will it be smooth sailing until an epic choke job in the playoffs? I don't know, but you know damn well it's going to be something.
5. Rodney Williams. I think it's finally time to recognize that this kid might not just beat beating up on poor teams, he might legitimately be a Big Ten Freshman of the Year candidate. It seemed the consensus on the Gopher freshmen coming into the season was Royce = FOY candidate, Cobbs = immediate backup, might steal the starting spot, and Rodney = project, possible redshirt. Well, after putting up games of 14, 14, and 17 points, all on better than 58% shooting, and adding an average of three boards and two steals per, he's suddenly looking far beyond a redshirt. Besides his stellar defense and insane athleticism, which were given, he's answered questions about his offense by showing a nice outside touch (3-8 from three) and a good offensive IQ. I'm starting to wish I took him in my fantasy college hoops league. Although I did get Damian Johnson, who is just ridiculous in every way.
To give you some example, in the scoring system our league uses (pts, rebs = +1, asts = +2, stl, blks = +3, TO = -2), he has put up 46, 40, and 42 points. Last year's returning leader was Luke Harangody (also on my team), and he averaged 42 per game. I realize DJ probably won't be able to continue to put up those kind of numbers, especially the blocks and steals, once competition improves, but in any case, he is just so, so valuable, and I'm talking real life - not fantasy. I don't care who ends up leading the Gophers in which statistical categories, Johnson is hands down this team's MVP. Except maybe Ralph.
1. Penn State. Ouch. It looks like Iowa and Indiana won't be battling for 11th place by themselves, the post-Geary Claxton era is looking ugly. The Nittany Lions were basically Talor Battle and that's it, and needed somebody to step up and help out this year. That hasn't happened, and Penn State basically embarrassed themselves at the Charleston Classic this weekend, finishing in 7th place (out of 8). It was a pretty low-level tournament, and was set up for a South Carolina/Miami final, with Penn State and South Florida as potential sleepers and then four cupcakey-type teams. Well, the final happened, but Penn State never got their sleeper campaign going, dropping their opener to UNC-Wilmington. Ok, fine. At least they should be able to rip through the consolation bracket and salvage some pride, right? Wrong again. They lost their first consolation game to Tulane, setting up an epic seventh place game against Davidson, which they mercifully won. Gopher fans have been there - remember the Old Spice Classic? - so we feel your pain, Penn State.
2. Pac 10 Hoops. The Pac was already said to be down this year, but things might be worse than originally thought, especially after watching one of their two "top flight" teams get swept by Ohio State and Syracuse in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic, and do so without much of a fight (although to be completely fair, the Bears were missing a couple of players). There are a ton of other black marks as well; Arizona State needed a miracle finish to beat a terrible TCU team, Stanford lost to Oral Roberts, UCLA lost to Bryce Webster and CS - Fullerton, USC was knocked off by a god awful Loyola Marymount team, Oregon lost to Portland, and Oregon State (the conference's big sleeper) lost to Texas Tech to drop to 1-2 and then lost on Saturday to Sacramento State - one of the worst teams in the country - and that all happened just this week. I honestly can't remember ever seeing a major conference struggle this mightily this early. At least the Washington schools are still undefeated, although neither has really played anyone yet. The real winner in this is Arizona, who was heading for a down year and whose 24 straight years with an NCAA Tournament bid record was in jeopardy. With a decent team, in what suddenly looks like a super weak conference, we could be looking at 25.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers. Funny thing about the NFL this year, there are a handful of teams that are so gad awful they never win and never even threaten to win: Oakland, St. Louis, Detroit, Cleveland, and Kansas City. Except - whoops - Kansas City beat the Steelers on Sunday, 27-24 in overtime - and did so without Dwayne Bowe, who is suspending for cheating. I have no idea how it happened. Roethlisberger threw for 398 yards, but threw two picks and the Steelers turned the ball over three times, and then allowed Matt Cassell to have a nearly perfect second half and overtime, leading to four scoring drives including the game-winning field goal. I don't even know what else to say. This is like when Forrest Gump won the Oscar over Pulp Fiction. Oakland also beat Cincinnati, and in even more embarrassing fashion, but I still feel like the Pitt loss was more stunning even though the Bengals have a better record than the Steelers. I guess I've learned that you can never trust the Bengals completely. Kind of like a wife or girlfriend. Or any female, really.
4. Gopher football. Did you ever think you'd pine for the days of Glen Mason? I certainly didn't, and yet, that's what I found myself thinking on Sunday watching Maroney run for the Patriots. I found myself harkening back to the days of Barbaroney (and G-Russ) and thinking, at least when Mason was here the Gophers had some talented players. At least they were exciting and fun to watch. And then I stopped myself, and realized what I was saying. I wish Glen Mason was still here. I WISH. GLEN MASON. WAS STILL HERE. And I have a feeling if you're reading this and haven't thought that, you're thinking it right now. Isn't that the most damning evidence that the Brewster era has been a failure?
5. NCAA Fascists. FREE RENARDO SIDNEY!! FREE RENARDO SIDNEY!!! FREE RENARDO SIDNEY!! Who's with me? FREE RENARDO SIDNEY!! FREE RENARDO SIDNEY!! FREE RENARDO SIDNEY!! FREE RENARDO... (also now featured on the front page of the espn college basketball section).
I am crazy fired up for college basketball this year, and this is one of the best times of the season with all the holiday tournaments going on. We already had the Coaches vs. Classic and Puerto Rico Tip-Off winners, but there's plenty more going on, and I'm most interested in the Maui Classic (other than the 76 Classic, of course). I've been pimping Cincinnati as a final four sleeper this year, and this will be their first chance to show if I'm at least near the right track or not. They start off with a good Vanderbilt team today on ESPN2 at 4:30 - check them out.
One other quick note from the weekend - the Gophers opponent in the Big10/ACC Challenge, Miami, won the Charleston Classic this weekend by beating Tulane, UNC-Wilmington, and South Carolina. That's not really all that impressive, since the first two are weak teams (although Wilmington beat Penn State) and South Carolina's second best player went down with a knee injury seven minutes into the game and never returned, but still, it boosts Miami's profile and therefore the Gophers' if they manage a win on the 2nd - which I certainly think they can.