Friday, March 30, 2012

Kentucky is Goin' Down and Here's Why

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Kentucky has suffered the Kiss of Death.

Before this weekend ever tips off, and to no fault of their own, the Wildcats have fallen victim to one of the great sports media tragedies of our time. Of course, this is all based on my very own theorizing, which began back in 2005, leading up to and surrounding the USC-Texas National Championship Game.

Here goes...

THEORY: The moment a team's legacy is discussed PRIOR to reaching the pinnacle of their sport's season, they are doomed. The act of retrospectively debating a team's place in history, before they accomplish the ultimate task at hand, does just enough to anger the sports gods.

Or here are two more reasonable explanations for all you logical suckers out there:

1. The active parties are listening, ESPECIALLY college kids (However, Sidney Dean wants to know if they're "listening" or if they're "hearing" it). You have to actively attempt to block out 24 hours of sports coverage, Twitter mentions, interview requests, family/friend banter, etc all telling you that you're the greatest. This is what leads to upsets in more than 50% of BCS Championship Games.

2. The opponent. They're listening too. Imagine preparing for the biggest game of your life, only nobody is talking about the game, they're discussing how your opponent compares against the greatest teams of all time. Think you'd be a little fired up? Now, I realize that a good majority of people/athletes would grow intimidated by this, but that's why it (usually) comes to fruition in Championship games, where they're facing equally determined, talented, and insecure players/teams.

The notion that has been spreading faster than #KUBoobs this week, is whether or not Kentucky could beat one of the inferior NBA teams. First off, that's ridiculous. Second off, this qualifies the 2012 Kentucky Wildcats for my theory. And then some.

So where did this theory gain traction? Well, I've already told that you that it originated in 2005 with the USC Trojans football team. I was disgusted by ESPN's series of mock games pairing the 2005 USC team against the best College Football teams of all time (yes, Lee Corso picking 2005 USC over 1995 Nebraska still burns in my memory today). Of course, USC went on to lose to Texas, thus making ESPN's coverage nothing but a pointless exhibition.

Need more examples? Take a look around this past year. The 2011 Miami Heat - could they beat the MJ-led Bulls? What about the Shaq & Kobe Lakers? What about the Dirkness led Mavericks? Nein. LSU put together one of the greatest College Football regular season of all time - an all time great team right? Nope, they still haven't crossed midfield in that discussion either. The 2011 Patriots - not an all-time team, but an all-time QB right? Tom Brady could lay claim to best QB of all time if the Patriots win. Nope.

The theory works best when it comes to College Football, mostly because there is such a long layoff between the end of the regular season and the bowl games, thus making it harder to block out the noise. It also tends to show itself in college more than the pros. Here are some CFB teams who have fallen victim:

  • 2009 Florida - lost to Alabama in the SEC Championship
  • 2006 Ohio State - lost to Florida in the BCS Championship
  • 2003 Oklahoma - lost to Kansas State in the Big 12 Championship
  • 2002 Miami - lost to Ohio State in the National Championship

Other examples across the sports landscape:

  • 2004 Lakers - lost to the Pistons in NBA Finals
  • 2007 Patriots - lost to the Giants in the Super Bowl
  • 2001 Rams - lost to the Patriots in the Super Bowl
  • 2006 UConn - lost to George Mason in the Elite 8
These teams have all been hit upside the head by the curse: Teams whose legacies have superseded the task at hand. This is my theory, and I'm sticking to it. You may not agree with it yet, but when Kentucky goes down this weekend, remember what you read.

To protect the sanctitude of said theory, I can no longer consider Kentucky to be the favourite (sorry, I've been in Canada recently) to win the National Championship. So who is? Unfortunately...

The Ohio State.

Go Jayhawks,
His Dirkness

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Elijah Johnson's ONIONS

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Move over Mario Chalmers, there's a new #15 in town.

Rest easy. Now that my catchy introduction has sucked you in, I assure you that Elijah Johnson isn't in the same stratosphere of "The Best Basketball Player in the World." Hell, he doesn't even have a seat at the dinner table with Chalmers alongside Tommie Frazier, Tim Salmon, and Ron World Peace.

Yet.

But that hasn't deterred me from noticing the volleyball-sized Grapefruits dangling between Johnson's legs this past week and a half. My Lawrence sources (very reliable) tell me that EJ's short size has gone from Large to Holy shit, I can't believe he took that deep of a three against Purdue with the game on the line for a basketball-obsessed university when he's the fourth best player on the team XXL.

Rewind.

February 4th, 2012. Mizzou Arena. Kansas and Missouri. KU blows an 8 point lead with just over 2 minutes left to play. KU down 3 with 10 seconds left. Everybody knows what play is coming. We'd seen it before in the 2007 Big 12 Championship Game. We'd seen it before in the National Championship Game. This play has an undisputed track record. But who gets to take the shot?

Elijah Johnson does. Well, sorta. The play unfolds perfectly (can be seen here, starting at 0:34). Tyshawn dribbles down the right side, hands off to EJ, who comes off the Travis Releford screen for a wide open look at the top of the key. And then? He doesn't shoot. Well, he eventually does, but not when he's supposed to. He misses terribly. In Miami, Chalmers gets stoned on a beach out of disgust.

This is so much worse than pulling the trigger and missing. I can't begin to describe how disappointing it was to see EJ afraid of the moment like that. He went Lebron in the 4th quarter of an NBA Finals game on us. He pulled a Jay Cutler in the NFC Championship Game. I didn't want the ball near EJ's hands with the game on the line ever again.

Fast Forward.

Elijah Johnson hits the biggest shot in three straight NCAA Tournament games, sending the Kansas Jayhawks to the 2012 Final Four.

vs. Purdue - Johnson essentially carries the team on his back on a night where both T-Rob and Tyshawn play horrifically. EJ scores 13 second half points, hits a three to give KU its first lead of the game with 3 minutes left (SHOT #1), throws a mystifying alley-oop pass to his guard-mate, captures a steal and finishes on the other end to give the Jayhawks a lead they never relinquished.

vs. NC State - KU controls the game until they go ice cold in the final 4 minutes. NC State closes to within 1 point to the shock of my at-home audience. Following a missed Tyshawn FT that goes out of bounds off NC State, EJ makes a backdoor cut right to the basket, receives the ball and finishes (SHOT #2) securing KU's spot in the Elite 8.

vs. North Carolina - A heavyweight battle. A back n' forth slugfest that sees little separation until EJ bangs home a three from the wing (SHOT #3), putting KU up 71-67 with just over 3 minutes to play. The Jayhawks score the next 9 points to send themselves to the Final Four.

How and when did this transformation happen? Johnson was widely criticized throughout the season for never realizing his potential, shooting 33% from downtown, and shooting blanks inside Mizzou Arena. To his benefit, and for the better or worse of anybody involved in College Basketball, you're judged for what you do in the NCAA Tournament. Especially at a program like Kansas.

Well, Elijah, you got two more games to make your case over The Lawrence Legend, and fellow #15 brother, Mario Chalmers. Who knows, maybe one day you'll be the one asking a lucky KU coed "Who's The Best Basketball Player in the World?"

His Dirkness

Monday, March 19, 2012

KU Wins: On A Night Where...

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The Kansas Jayhawks had every excuse they needed to lay down, go home, and accept their third upset in as many years last night in the NCAA Tournament.

On a night where similarities to the Northern Iowa and VCU games were impossible to ignore. KU comes out timid? Check. Opposing team builds an early lead by scorching the nets from downtown? Check. KU spends the rest of the game trying to erase that early double digit deficit? Check. KU begins to unravel, doing none of the things that brought the team to this point in the first place? Check. Late game, late in the shot clock, somewhat flukish, but very daggerrific three pointer? Che....wait, he missed it? Now, I'm not talking about the miss in the final seconds (as good a look as you can ask for in 2.5 seconds) or even Hummel's miss with Purdue trailing by 1. I'm talking about DJ Byrd's miss on his off-balanced, fadeaway 3 with just over a minute left to play (directly preceding the Elijah to Tyshawn alley-oop). That would've been the dagger. That's the shot both UNI and VCU were able to hit.

On a night where Thomas Robinson played his worst game of the season. I mean, he was lucky to draw iron on most of his shots (not to mention taking 12 seconds to make it down the floor at times). Sure, the Boilermakers were packing the paint all night (triple teaming T-Robb at times), but I haven't seen The Slobb miss that many point blank shots all season (to be fair, I don't jump all in on KU until after football season, so my perspective is a bit skewed).

On a night where neither of KU's best players came to play. Tyshawn Taylor forced a few up and missed a few we're used to seeing him make. However, to his credit, he never lost his composure (which, undoubtedly, would have spelled the end for KU).

On a night where Conner Teahan, both deservedly and inexplicably, became the team's #1 offensive weapon for a key 10 minute stretch in the second half. This was in reaction to Robinson and Taylor's struggles. Teahan stroked a few in the first half, but was unable to answer the bell in the second half. On to the next one...

On a night where the team's most underachieving player, Elijah Johnson, seized the moment, and rewrote the story on his own KU career in a 3 minute stretch. I can't believe he took that shot. I can't believe he didn't drop his arms down and do Sam Cassell's cajones dance after he hit it. That was THE ultimate "Nooooooooooo, YESSSSSSSSSSS" shot. Make no mistake about it, this was Elijah's win. He hit the shot. He threw the oop. He made the steal. And he threw it down for the lead that KU never relinquished. 

On a night where Jeff Withey put on his flashback face (located somewhere between his bad call face and his "I dominate you" face) and rehashed his Missouri miseries. "Jeff didn't go after the ball," Self said after the game, which basically means, "Withey didn't bring it." That also means, that with this team's season on the line, Self didn't want Withey in the game. It'll be interesting to see if Withey can regain his confidence, or if he can't, to see if KU will be able to alter their style on such short notice.

On a night where KU entrusted Kevin Young to slow down the opposition's best (and only) offensive weapon, Robbie Hummel. 

On a night where Naadir Tharpe shot three 3-pointers. My biggest gripe with Self right now is that he insists on playing Tharpe in this NCAA Tournament, while refusing to play him the majority of the season. I can't make any sense of this fact.

On a night where Bill Self broke out his favorite NCAA Tournament gimmick, the Triangle and 2 defense, which stifled the limited Purdue offense throughout the second half. I LOVE how Bill Self never, ever uses this in the regular season, but isn't afraid to bust it out in the Tournament (most notably, against Davidson in the Elite 8 of 2008).

On a night where KU got lucky. Why? Because Purdue just isn't any good (two horrible offensive possessions down the stretch was your surest sign). You're not supposed to win an NCAA Tournament game when your two best players play that poorly (combining to shoot 6-23). KU shot under 34% for the game as a team. On the other side, Purdue's best player shot 9-13. They shot 8-18 from deep.

So, how did KU win?

Because on this night, KU showed legitimate toughness, grit and determination. Maybe this KU team is different after all. Maybe they have the heart to navigate this cruel Tournament. Maybe this is the ugly win that, seemingly, every National Champion has on the path to the title. Or maybe last night was just last night.

A night where somehow, someway KU survived and advanced.

His Dirkness

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

NCAA Tournament Thoughts (Looking at KU, Mizzou & K-State)

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What up with it Ekpe Udoh....

*The biggest news of today is Syracuse's best big man, Fab Melo, getting shabazz'd for the entirety of the NCAA Tournament. The Orange were already the least renowned of the 1 seeds. Beyond that, is anybody else shocked, SHOCKED, to see a dude named "Fab" get suspended? I thought it was a joke when I first saw this guy's name, especially at Syrcause, given their history with "Melo." He sounds like he should be Carmelo Anthony's wrestling manager (in the mold of Slick).

*Filled out my second bracket yesterday (by hand) while listening to Billy Bragg & Wilco's Mermaid Avenue (fantastic CD). It was for my Mom's work so I went very anti-Big 12 (a key for any local pool) and very upset heavy in the first round (because they have a weird rule about upsets getting you extra points). Ended up looking like this...

Final Four: 1 Kentucky, 3 Marquette, 2 Ohio St, 1 North Carolina
National Championship: 2 Ohio St over 1 Kentucky
KU/MU/K-State: MU lose to Marquette, KU lose to St. Mary's, KSU lose to S. Miss
Surprises: 13 New Mexico St (Sweet 16), UNLV (Elite 8), NC State (Elite 8)

*Ranking the National Championship Likelihoods:
1. North Carolina
2. Kentucky
3. Ohio St.
4. Michigan St.
5. Missouri
6. Kansas
7. Florida St.
8. Duke
9. Syracuse
10. Butler

*This leads me to an interesting hypothetical for KU fans - If I were to offer you right now a trip to the National Championship Game that ended in defeat to the Missouri Tigers, would you accept? Think about that. Would love to hear your answer via Facebook, Twitter, Xanga, or you can tell me in person while I stare at my phone or the TV.

*I read a story from the Detroit newspaper talking about the Titans' reaction to drawing the Kansas Jayhawks. One of their players brought up the fact that KU lost to Bucknell a few years ago. This made me think that the whole mid-major thing has begun to snowball for the Jayhawks. Players from mid-majors have an increased amount of confidence when playing against KU because of their history. While they may be afraid of the likes of Michigan St or North Carolina, they step on the court with KU thinking/knowing they have a chance to win.

*P.S. KU plays late on Friday night, the same time slot as when they lost to Bucknell and Bradley.

*Not afraid of Detroit yet? How about the fact they have a father/son combo as coach/star player? While I'm not sure why Titans star Ray McCallum has received so much hype (his stats are just ok - 16 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 4 apg), I hate the fact that I can compare him and his father to Cinderella OG's Bryce & Homer Drew of Valparaiso.

*All that being said, in the same article from the Detroit newspaper, the coach and some players were complaining about being shipped "far away" to Omaha. If that's one of their biggest takeaways then I ain't scurred. Prediction: KU by 24.

*Speaking of potentially fun matchups, North Carolina's Harrison Barnes and Creighton's Doug McDermott (each team's best player) were high school teammates in Iowa. Enough people are talking about this, that Alabama over Creighton looks more appealing by the day. And for the record, I don't think Creighton would have a shot against North Carolina.

*Missourahhhhhh - I watched the hardcore brackets show on TruTV and couldn't believe how much bitching there was about Missouri getting the 8th overall seed. Who cares? And shouldn't the other teams be upset about Missouri drawing the weakest 1 seed? The analysts could not get over this.

*Florida is the type of team (West Virginia and Michigan St also come to mind) that consistently overachieves in the NCAA Tournament. Not to mention, a lot of talent there. That is a rough, rough draw for Mizzou in the 2nd round. Would much rather see St. Mary's (or the unlikelier Purdue) then Florida, even given KU's history against mid-majors.

*Beyond that, Missouri plays a very similar style as 3-seeded Marquette, with 4 guards and 1 big man. I think this hurts them, because the biggest thing going for them is the uniqueness of their style. KU already played 3-seeded Georgetown this year, and for whatever reason, they don't scare me at all (evidenced by picking NC State to advance to the Sweet 16 in both my brackets so far). That's as far as I'll go for now, as any Elite 8 matchup would deserve more of my attention.

*K-State - Suddenly, a very intriguing matchup in Round 2 (suck on that, Bracketologists!) with Syracuse. Without Fabulous Melo, K-State has a bonafide advantage down low (looking at you, Enrique Inglesias Robertz). Defensive rebounding was already a weakness for 'Cuse, now it's a Jeremy Lin sized chink in the armor. Veddy intawesting.

*Before we get to that, K-State has to take on Larry Eustachy and the Big 12's hottest coeds Southern Miss Golden Eagles. I know nothing about their team, but word on the street is they been slacking lately (a quick gander at their schedule confirms). I offer nothing else but my rooting interests to KSU so I can look forward to Syracuse v. Kansas State.

*One last note, this is K-State's chance for revenge on Syracuse after that terrible, horrible, no good, very bad celebration flag on them in whatever year's Pinstripe Bowl. Historintrigue.

Thoughts on the other 65 teams coming tomorrow,
I need a drink,
His Dirkness

Monday, March 12, 2012

2012 NCAA Tournament Thoughts (Monday)

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The Selection Sunday holiday has come and gone, but fear not, because Erection Monday is here!

Damnit, can't a guy masterbracket in this house?!?

With the Chiefs seemingly well out of the Peyton Manning quest, it feels completely appropriate to dive deep into the heart of Bracketville, NJ (for whatever reason, I picture this imaginary bracketeered town in New Jersey, somewhere near Hoboken) all week long.

Ahh, there is nothing finer than settling in with a freshly printed bracket, debating all the possibilities in your head, really trying to determine the flow of the Tournament. That's what it's all about right there. I really try to harness that beautiful bracket's chi in that time frame (ranging anywhere from 5 minutes to multiple lifetimes). What's going to define this year's bracket? First round upsets? Sweet 16 showdowns? Mid major surprises? First seed early exits? This is why, as Joey Tribbiani once got inside his map, I feel it's necessary to get inside the bracket.

So, the plan, as of now, is to write on this matter daily, keeping a diary of my unfiltered NCAA Tournament thoughts, so that the (approximately) 34 1/2 hours I spend staring deep into my bracket's eyes this week don't go to waste.

Without making you wait any Longar Longar, let get it...

*I filled out my first bracket last night. This was the celebration that followed...



Final Four: 2 Duke, 5 Vanderbilt, 1 Michigan St, 1 North Carolina
Championship: 1 North Carolina over 2 Duke (I know, right?)
Surprises: 13 New Mexico St, 13 Ohio, 12 Long Beach St (Sweet 16), 11 NC State (Sweet 16), 10 West Virginia (Sweet 16), 7 Florida (Elite 8)

*It should be noted, that the previous bracket was filled out online, which tends to play out different than a bracket scribed by hand. You better believe I'll be tracking which method is superior.

*One of my favorite aspects of this week is determining different bracket strategies. This year, my plan is to fill out 5 brackets, one for each day of the week. I'll listen to a different genre of music for each bracket (last night's was to Nirvana). Each of the 5 will also have their own loosely applied theme (last night's was done before I saw/read anybody else's bracket).

*I just happened to look at ESPN, and good god, if you pick all four #1 seeds to advance to the Final Four (looking at you, Bilas) then you are officially lamer than Jim Halpert (who recently shocked Joe Buck in the Lame National Championship Game).

*The bracket strategy I'm most excited for this year is a brand new one for me, and is heavily influenced by VCU's run last season. It's entirely based on what is said during the CBS Selection Show. Here's my theory: The brackets are exclusively revealed on this hour long show, which means EVERYBODY watches, including the players, coaches, etc. I believe a team's psyche is majorly affected by anything Seth Davis, Greg Anthony and company say. VCU got railed on last year. Everybody said they had no business even being in the Tournament and they responded by playing like they had something to prove. So, this future bracket is to be filled out in complete reaction to everything said on that specific show. They loved 2 Missouri? Boom, going out early. 8 Memphis over 1 Michigan State huh? Not a chance. Davis puts his balls on the table and takes 14 South Dakota State over 3 Baylor - Not in this bracket. I vigorously took notes during this hour, and have high hopes for what might come of this anti-media bracket.

*All that being said, too many people are pointing at Iona to be this year's VCU, which means it ain't happening (still probably pick them to win a game in that specific bracket to stick with the theme).

*Speaking of Iona, anybody else shocked to see a play-in game on the 14 seed line? That hardly seems fair to Marquette. Word on the street is this is because of BYU's weird ass Chick-Fil-A closed on Sunday policy. The teams emerging from the "first four" are extra dangerous because they've gotten rid of any jitters they may have had and they've already tasted victory (see: VCU last year).

*Every March, I find a player or two that I feel the same way towards that I did Kelly Kapowski in 7th grade. Two years ago it was Omar Sanham of St. Mary's. Last year it was Kenneth Faried of Morehead St. This year's leading candidate is Yancy Gates of Cincinnati (is it that obvious I like 6'8 black dudes? Blackpeoplemeet.com here I come!).

*Best I can tell, this year's trendy upset pick is 13 Montana over 4 Wisconsin, closely followed by 12 Long Beach St. over 5 New Mexico. In other words, don't be that guy trying to impress everybody with these "upsets."

*North Carolina drew the easiest of the brackets (and that includes Kansas). Michigan and Georgetown don't scare me in the slightest. It's hard for me to see any team other than KU or North Carolina making it out of the Midwest. Ranking the regions: 1. East 2. South 3. West 4. Midwest

More on KU, Mizzou, and other teams you might care about tomorrow,
His Dirkness
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