What Am I Watching?

          When you hear “Tournament Time” one sport obviously comes to mind and that is college basketball. More specifically you think of the month of March and the excitement that it brings as teams fight for a chance at the Final Four and a national championship; and It’s widely considered the best time for college basketball. What if I told you that March isn’t the best month for basketball, what if I were to say the best time could be narrowed down to a week. A week shares the spotlight with the one holiday where everyone throws dietary caution to the wind. That’s right, I’m talking about Thanksgiving, and I’m talking about all the tournaments that will overload our screens as college basketball takes a moment to officially let everyone know it has begun. Now I am not saying that there is more at stake or more emotion in these holiday tournaments because there isn’t. The Tournament in March is in another stratosphere in that regard. The point being made is that from a shear quantitative standpoint there is more basketball and you can see your team play more guaranteed games in these weeks of November than in the National Tournament.
Being that there are quite a few tournaments that are both happening and will happen in the next week its best we focus on the ones that will not only be the most entertaining but also the ones that are going to be on mainstream television. The big ones as usual are the Battle for Atlantis, The NIT season tip off and the Maui Invitational. Now I could go into a long drawn out explanation of why these tournaments are the ones that will give us the college basketball fix we have been looking for. I could even go on about what each team is bringing to the table and how they stack up against one another, but I won’t. These tournaments are a lot like movies, and given they are a lot like movies its only right that be the way I let you know what’s what with college basketball’s Feast Week


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This tournament will feature the Florida Gators, Wisconsin Badgers, Butler Bulldogs, Virginia, the Sooners, Stanford, the Dayton Flyers and Middle Tennessee. If you’re watching this tournament you’ve pretty much decided you want 80’s action…you want Die Hard. Lets meet the cast.

Virginia/John McClane: The tough guy who doesn’t mind a fight, and while he usually wins, its never pretty.
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Oklahoma/Hans Gruber: The one with the plan to walk out of the building with a bag of money in hand and a heap of bodies behind them. He’s on a mission and has something to prove.
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Butler/Karl: Just angry at the world since they lost their brother (Brad) they are on a warpath to have their vengeance, it will end in their demise.
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Wisconsin/Sgt Powell: There was a time when they were on the biggest stage, then they froze, and they’ve never been right since…
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Florida/Mr. Takagi: They have some clout but to those out east of their hometown that doesn’t mean much these days. Also we have questions about the fact that you have something a bad guy would want stashed away in a vault instead of a proper bank.
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Stanford/Harry Ellis: He’s that one guy in the office that everyone rolls their eyes at when they walk by. He’s pretty confident he is the smartest man in the room but what he lacks in book smarts he also lacks in street smarts.
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Middle Tenn/Special Agent Johnson: You probably don’t even remember these guys were in this movie. Need I say more?
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Dayton/Special Agent Johnson: Seriously, do I?
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Its a smaller tournament but it makes up for that with the teams it’s got headlining. This tournament has Kansas, Louisville, Marquette and Tennessee all lined up to go head to head. If you are a suspense/crime thriller type of person then this is the one for you and that is because you’ll be watching The Usual Suspects.

Louisville/Kobayashi: They have a suit on but they are giving off signals that there might be a secret word that has them revert back to some cut throat lifestyle they are trying to leave behind.
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Marquette/Fred Fenster: Their only purpose is to be killed to demonstrate Söze’s power, this character has no meaningful impact on the story.
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Tennessee/Dean Keaton: He has a checkered past, a history of living on the wrong side of the law, but they are a changed person (sort of) and they are the real threat to Mr. Söze.
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Kansas/Verbal Kint: The unassuming crippled that everyone for some reason decided to look past…we all know how that ended.
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Maui InvitationalImage result for maui invitational

this tournament is nothing short of loaded with talent with Arizona, Auburn, Duke, Gonzaga, Illinois, Iowa State, San Diego State and Xavier. This tournament will be an instant classic for the season, an instant classic just like Adam McKay’s Step Brothers. That’s right the Maui Invitational is Step Brothers on the parquet floor.

Auburn/Brennan: There has been some overshadowing by some of the kids in his neighborhood but he’s looking for a chance to show that being old has its advantages. You can just manhandle the little kids across the street who won’t be there next year anyway.
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Gonzaga/Dale: He’s at the point in his life where we are starting to wonder if they are ever going to actually do anything or will they just make a fuss for the first few months then sit at home and watch Cops all day after the first sign of trouble.
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Duke/Derek Huff: The youngest and most successful of the siblings, they have no problem name dropping and bringing up the size of the Bonito they caught on their yacht. They know you wanna punch them and they’re cocky enough they’ll dare you to do it.
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Arizona/Alice: She hates her life, but is OBSESSED with Dale. Nobody ever seems to pay any attention to her and it does its toll on her self esteem. Maybe it’s because of where she’s at or maybe it’s because when she’s given the mic she’s flat and throws off the quartet. Either way there is a lot of constant confusion and crying.
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Xavier/Randy: Dude’s crazy, simple as that, we’ve seen him do things to the competition that would make even the most cut throat of businessmen blush (can’t try a man in international waters).
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Illinois/Robert Doback: There was a time when they headed a house of learned doctors but here lately all they can muster up is lofty goals that are as outlandish as their dream to be a T-rex. It shows on their face, by this time of the year they are ready to remind you it could be worse…you could be them.
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Iowa State/Chris Gardocki: This kid’s got nothing to lose, he’s just out here to crack some skulls, start a playground riot and possibly make you eat some white dog poop.
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San Diego State/Pam: Still to this day Dale and Brennan don’t know how to say her name. Pam’s not getting much respect if you ask me, but she takes it like a champ.
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No matter which tournament you decide to spend your time with you can’t go wrong. There is plenty of good basketball to go around and now you know exactly what to expect from the teams going into the holiday. You know what movies you like and now you know where to start when things tip off next week.

 

Do They Bleed?….They Will

The NCAA equivalent of opening day for the basketball season has come and gone and while most of the ranked teams spent their first game beating up on schools who’s Dean also doubles as the “swipes guy” in the cafeteria, the Champions Classic gave us some games we could actually enjoy watching. Kansas and Michigan State was a great game that wasn’t as close as the score would have you believe, and while Bill Self and the boys showcased a very solid and deep team that proved why they were the preseason number one ranked team, they were not the talk of the town. No, everyone is currently in awe of the snuff film that was aired on a Disney network disguised as Duke vs Kentucky. Beating the Wildcats by 30+ points and being in control of the game from start to finish has just about everyone wondering if this is the greatest college team ever assembled. To those people I say “easy there Pete Davidson” there’s such a thing as jumping the gun and a lot of people have up and done it without the season being underway for a full 24 hours. The game between Duke and Kentucky showed a lot about both the Wildcats and the Blue Devils but what most people missed is how last night’s blowout of the second best team in the state of Kentucky actually laid out the blueprint to bring down the proverbial Goliath of Durham North Carolina.

          Let’s start with Kentucky, it’s finally happened, the formula that John Calipari has been using for the past decade has been used against him. Yesterday Calipari came to the realization that he no longer is the revolutionary who carries the burden of embracing the one and done alone. Everyone is doing it, and this year it is looking like Coach K might have done a better Calipari impersonation that John Calipari. This is definitely not going to be a year where Cal can just roll out the basketballs in practice and let them scrimmage and play 3 on 2, 2 on 1 all day. Cal is always hoping for a season where he can have this type of practice schedule and run through the SEC like Dash Parr; but in order to do that he has always needed one thing, and that is THE top recruiting class. Anything less and his formula collapses on itself. LeBron put it best with his “…not two, not three, not four…” the same goes for Coach Cal in recruiting. In order for him to have a team where the casual fan is calling him the greatest coach ever he needs to have the absolute top recruiting class bar none.
The second area that was concerning was defense, I am aware what they were up against from a defensive standpoint but there were still some major issues with how they were going about playing their matchups. Their defensive woes last night were eerily reminiscent to what we saw from Duke last year when they were at the nadir of their defensive competency. There was a lack luster attempt to switch to zone in the last 7 minutes of the game which had Calipari looking like vintage 2017 Dwane Casey in the adjustments department, but that was to no avail also. Overall Kentucky was a mess on the defensive end and it showed on the scoreboard.
The craziest thing that the Wildcats had us endure last night was without question the ridiculous shot selection by some of the Kentucky players. I don’t know if someone told Tyler Herro that he is the second coming of Jesus in the form of a shoot first point guard but whatever they did they need to take it back. There were other areas within the offense that weren’t taken advantage of because of some of the outrageously quick and deep shots that were taken by some of the guards last night. And as I have always preached to my players, a bad shot is the first pass in the other teams break. There was an egregious amount of “Herro Ball” being played that brought back Pangos PTSD and hopefully Cal has plans on addressing this issue. There are guys that the offense can be properly ran through and Herro ain’t it.
Now with all those issues coming to the front burner there still is no real need for concern if you are a Wildcat fan. This year will be very similar to last season in the sense that they aren’t going to reach their full potential until late January early February. Their record will also be better than it was last year as there is a good amount of talent on the team. Guys like EJ Montgomery and Quade Green are going to come into their own as the year progresses and be big time players when SEC play hits. And let’s not forget about the biggest addition to their team this year, Reid Travis. This Stanford player who grad transferred to Kentucky is a grown man on the low block. Frustratingly enough the team didn’t get him involved in the game as early as they should have and it played a part in the early deficit. He will without question be one of the top forwards in the SEC this year and be a key part to the success Kentucky sees during the season. So as much as it pains me to say it, even with what seems like an embarrassing loss, Kentucky faithful shouldn’t come away from this too worried.

          On to the team that had everyone ready to crown a champion after literally only 80 minutes of nationally televised college basketball. Without question the four Freshman for Duke (Williamson, Barrett, Reddish, Jones) looked outstanding in their season opener last night. Zion and R.J. both broke the record for most points by a freshman in a season debut (25) with 28 and 33 points respectively. Tre Jones looked like a veteran point guard and probably had a few people thinking they were watching Tyus back on the court for his Alma mater. Zion, R.J. and Cam also showed just how K is looking to position the three of them on the court at the same time. All three are technically forwards and the question was how were they going to effectively place them on the floor. This year we can expect to see a good amount of 4 and 5 out from Duke to allow for the four freshmen to be set up for success on the offensive end. Getting to the basket was a strength of this group against Kentucky and it will more than likely be the focus of the team all year. They did a great job drawing fouls around the rim and hitting open shooters from outside the arc later in the game. Coach K spoke before the season started about the emphasis of hitting open spot up 3’s and it was definitely showcased against the Wildcats. Defensively the team looked extremely better compared to any point of last year’s team. It is clear Coach K saw the issues he ran into last year having so many freshmen on the defensive end and was not about to have the same problem two years in a row. All in all the Blue Devils played extremely well against an opponent that seemed to not be totally prepared or in a groove as a team.
All back patting aside, while this was a great showcase of what Duke can look like in a world run by Walgreen’s, they also tipped us off to what their weaknesses are. As a coach in any sport when you have a chance to scout a team your goal is going to be to take away the things a team does well and exploit the things they don’t. Last night Kentucky played into Duke’s hand by jumping on-board with turning the game into a track meet. With players like Barrett and Zion fast break points are their specialty and playing in transition is where they are most comfortable. To no fault of Calipari’s his thought process was obviously “I invented the one and done, run and gun game” and that is what he has and will continue to practice as long as this phenomenon is a part of college basketball. It just so happens that Duke is better at it and it cost Kentucky a chance at making the game respectable. When Kentucky was able to cut into the lead (slightly) about 5 minutes before halftime they were able to do so because they slowed the game down. One area that Coach K seemed to be trying to avoid lingering in too long was the half court offense. They showed off some quick hitters  but what they showed offensively was not built for any extended period of time in the half court set. When teams don’t fall into the trap of playing the Duke pace of basketball and slow the game down the young Blue Devil team could run into some problems with the amount of variety in their offense.
The shot selection for Duke was also a point of interest. As we talked about this team is going to be all in on getting to the basket and looking for open spot up shots on the outside. Things were definitely going their way against the Wildcat defense and we got to see just how skilled this team is when they can get to the basket and when they are left open on the perimeter. The game that was neglected and often is by players and teams in today’s NCAA is the mid-range game. There weren’t too many mid-range shots taken and it was clear that there was an attempt to avoid having them taken at all. There seems to be an attempt to shift to the D’Antoni school of thought of layups and threes under Coach K this year and while that works in the NBA it can be a weakness at the college level.
Looking at the pace this team wants to play at and the shots they want to take there are a few teams in the ACC that can already be put down as problems for this Duke team. This is purely from the fact that the culture that has been built at these programs directly conflicts with what this Duke team wants to do and those teams are Virginia and Syracuse. Virginia without question is the best defensive team in the country and one thing they do better than anyone else is prevent easy buckets and slow offenses down. Virginia leads the NCAA in most games holding a team under 50 pts, has had numerous games where they have went into halftime and their opponent has only scored 20 or less, and bring the overall pace of the game to an almost monotonous crawl (and it’s beautiful). The shot selection and pace that Duke is going to be looking for will be off the table against Tony Bennett’s veteran squad and his team has the size and physicality to go along with what Duke is planning to dish out. Guys like Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome and Jack Salt are not going to be easy matchups for this young team as they have a wealth of experience under their belt and have proven they can defend the best freshmen in the country time and time again. The same issue comes when looking at Syracuse as last time I checked Jim Boeheim still runs the nastiest 2-3 zone in the college game. The problem with Boeheim’s 2-3 is that it is different than the average 2-3 zone you might see team’s run and can be categorized like the option in football when it comes to planning for it. When you coach football and you know you have a game coming up against a team that runs the option the benefit your opponent has is the fact that you can’t properly prepare for it in a week’s time. You know it, your opponent knows it, and you end up just throwing some things together to try and deal with it as best you can. Coaching against Boeheim’s 2-3 is no different and for a young team it has proven to be a culture shock when seeing a 2-3 that shatters all the stereotypes of the lazy nonathletic tags that are associated with zone defenses. As everyone knows, especially Coach Boeheim, the best way to beat his style 2-3 is with mid-range shots in the gaps of the defense via ball movement. These shots are going to have to be quick because their ability to close out on shooters in unprecedented, and they aren’t going to come without a bit of work so there will need to be some offense ran to get those small windows of opportunity. Returning all 5 starters this defense is fresh off a very nice tournament run and is going to pick up right where they left off defensively. Duke will have to find a way to get shots on a defense that wants you to show off your basketball IQ and run some offense then take shots from the mid-range area.

Some will take this as Duke hate and to them I say go pull the legs off a spider. This team has clearly got some great talent in their starting group and it is going to be fun watching them play. Watching a team force a spectacle like that down an improperly ranked Kentucky’s throat is not the time to be swooning over how great and perfect the team is. That is the time to break down the film and see what areas can this dubbed NCAA super power be attacked. This team is without question going to do well this year but don’t have your lip stuck out when there are some growing pains come conference play. The ACC is arguably the best conference in basketball and these teams are not about to bow down without solid preparation and a good fight. Similar to when Batman fought Superman his first question was famously “Do you bleed? You Will.” Plenty of teams are going to come to their game feeling like Batman in his Kryptonite laced suit. It is going to be great to see how teams game plan for Duke this year but I can guarantee you that the teams that have the most success will be taking advantage of the things that they showed and didn’t show in their opener in Indianapolis.

 

 

Meet the Five Who Are Going To Make West Coast Basketball Relevant

          It’s no secret, when it comes to west coast games few outside of the Pacific time zone are staying up to watch these teams play. The sad thing is this is to no fault of even the most dedicated college basketball fans. Outside of Gonzaga, Arizona, Saint Mary’s College and (I guess) Oregon few teams are putting out a product that is worth staying up past your bedtime to check out. It doesn’t help that the local enthusiasm for college basketball isn’t too much better. California in particular is great with their professional teams and college football but when it comes to college basketball there is a distinct drop-off in interest. The teams mentioned earlier are the teams that are going to have to carry the load and get people in the state and around the country to get excited about west coast basketball, but there are also some individual players who are going to give everyone a reason to stay in the loop with west coast hoops. These five guys are a mix of everything, big name freshmen coming onto the NCAA scene, contributing players who will see a bigger role in the upcoming year and returning stars that might be in their last year of college basketball. All of these players will give the college basketball junkies of the world enough of a reason to throw back an energy shot and stay up for those late night matchups.

Elijah Weaver – USC
Elijah Weaver is an incoming freshman that is slated to be a huge contributor for the USC Trojans in the 2018 season. At 6’5” and 200 lbs this four star recruit is expected to compliment the Trojans’ other top back court recruit. Averaging 23 points and 9 assists in his senior year the Trojans are expecting this top 50 player to help jump start the team’s offense both in and out of the PAC-12. The only caveat is that we all will have to wait a little bit longer to see this big guard take the floor, back in August Weaver had surgery on his left ankle and is expected to miss around a month of the season. The coaches are confident that as he rehabs and gets back into playing shape that he will be able to hit the ground running once he is cleared to play.

Bol Manute Bol – Oregon
Bol Bol is the one big man everyone was waiting to see play at the college level and it came to somewhat of a surprise when he chose Oregon. Ranked 4th in the nation Bol stands at a whopping 7’3” with a 7’8” wingspan. This shouldn’t be too much of a surprise as he is the son of NBA star Manute Bol, the 7’7” center from the mid 80’s and 90’s who played for teams like Washington and Golden State. The rim protection of the Ducks this year is expected to be on level 99 as Bol will probably not run into anyone his size all year. He doesn’t necessarily have too much weight on him so his height might be countered by a center with some girth to him. Needless to say it is going to be worth seeing how someone the height of a small U-Haul truck fairs in today’s game. Whether or not he can be dominant to the point he spends only one year in Oregon is something we will have to just wait and find out

Rui Hachimura – Gonzaga
The 6’8” Japanese born forward is one that has intrigued many who have followed Gonzaga basketball the past couple of years. Hachimura is a prime example of someone you can expect to see have a drastically increased role going into this year. Last season he contributed on average 12 points and 5 rebounds. These are the numbers that you can expect to see go up as you see the offense go through him at times. Shooting 80% from the free throw line Mark Few is definitely going to be looking to get Hachimura to the line as many times as possible. Gonzaga is notorious for pulling great players out of a hat and this year Rui is going to be it.

Kris Wilkes – UCLA
Kris Wilkes coming back is great news for UCLA, not having Shareef as they had initially planned was a big hit for the team and having Wilkes return for his sophomore season will give some stability to the team’s roster. Averaging 14 points and 5 rebounds and shooting 35% from three, we can expect Wilkes to increase not only those numbers but also his assist numbers as well. The reason being Wilkes is looking to improve his game enough to get his draft stock where he believes it should be. He worked out for a few teams this past off-season before the draft and wasn’t necessarily pleased with where he was projected to go so he chose to return to improve that projection. “I see myself as a 1st round talent. If the teams don’t think so, I’ll go back to school, I’ll kill it and there won’t be (any) option about it next year.” . Wilkes has big plans for himself so we can look to see if he is going to be able to hold himself to it in a conference that is set up for him to be successful.

Martin – Nevada
The biggest draw that is going to have us all tuning into games on the west coast this year is because of not one but TWO players out in Nevada who are going to make things happen all season long starting from day one; and it’s none other than Caleb and Cody Martin. The Martin twins averaged a combined 33 points  11 rebounds and 8 assists in their junior year at Nevada. They also were a two man wrecking crew during their sweet sixteen tournament run this past season. Going into the 2018-2019 season Nevada is going to have a wealth of senior leadership coming from these two  as well as Jordan Caroline, this trio with the young talent that they will mentor is going to create an a juggernaut in the Mountain West. The good news is this team will hopefully get a decent number of prime time games and the nation will get to see firsthand just how dominant the Martin twins are. If you’re one of those people who only likes to watch college basketball games with future pros playing, then these two are right up your alley.

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Get excited because college basketball is almost here and for all those looking for a reason to tune in to those late night games your prayers have finally been answered. Get your popcorn ready because it’s about to be a show out west.

The Voters Have Spoken

With the AP Poll coming out with their official rankings for college basketball before the season starts you might be asking yourself if they got it right? To that I answer your question with another question, does a fat baby fart? The layperson who keeps up with college basketball their first thought is that a Duke or Kentucky should be ranked number one coming into the season and finding out that they aren’t would obviously be some sort of mistake. The truth is going into this season the Jayhawks of Lawrence Kansas are the top team in the nation and they are in this position for good reason.

Like most years Kansas is coming into the season with an outstanding recruiting class, Quentin Grimes and Devon Dotson are two of the bigger names that most are excited to see take the court in Phog Allen this year. And while the Kentuckys and Dukes of the country can boast star studded freshman classes as well one area where they have come up short the past ten years or so is in their veteran upperclassman presence. Kansas has repeatedly had experienced players that play major roles that have the conference and tournament experience that helps give them an edge in some of the bigger stage games. This season the biggest of those returners are LaGerald Vick, Mitch Lightfoot and Udoka Azubuike. The biggest factor in this duo is without question going to be Azubuike, the 7 footer is without question the most dominant big man in the Big 12 and possibly the country. Staying healthy has been a concern in the previous two years but when he is on the floor. With a 75% field goal percentage (that took place entirely in the paint) Azubuike was close to averaging a double double in points and rebounds. His size and improvement in his feetwork on the low block has allowed for him to turn most matchups in the post to “Barbecue Chicken” as Dr. O’Neal has so eloquently described it. Coach Bill Self has also been able to land some PAC-12 talent as Charlie Moore, a double digit scorer formerly at Cal will join the roster this year as well.

Kansas for the most part ran the tables in the first place voting receiving 37 first place votes to Kentucky’s 19 and while the rosters play a role in that so does the staff that is at the front of the bench. Coach Self not only has the championships and Final Fours to support his resume, he also has been a part of a level of dominance that is rivaled only by that of the Roman Empire. For 14 straight seasons Kansas has been the Big 12 regular season champions and while some might try to “poo poo” this achievement this was done in the conference that put him up against Blake Griffin, Kevin Durant, LaMarcus Aldridge and Michael Beasley just to name a few. Coach Self has proven that he has the ability to garner the proper mix of veteran players along with younger talent to fit into his system that plays a grit & grind style of basketball that can only be found in the Big 12 and Charlottesville Virginia with Tony Bennett.

The Jayhawks have an interesting non-conference schedule this year so they will put their ranking and experience to the test very early on this year. On top of that the Big 12 won’t be a pushover either as several teams in the conference are in the top 25 and returning key players. Don’t be surprised though when we see that Kansas hasn’t dropped out of the top ten all year and is a lock for a one seed come late April. The reason being Coach Self has the one piece that he has always needed in order to have a successful season which is a dominant big man. Look back on any of his more successful years and you will see there was an outstanding big man on the block. Azubuike fits that description ten times over and he has the surrounding pieces to make this team a juggernaut on both ends of the floor. If you follow any obnoxious Kansas fans on social media you might want to get a head start and block them now because the Rock Chalk Mafia will be out and about flexing their muscles this year.

 

AP Poll Top 25

  1. Kansas
  2. Kentucky
  3. Gonzaga
  4. Duke
  5. Virginia
  6. Tennessee
  7. Nevada
  8. North Carolina
  9. Villanova
  10. Michigan State
  11. Auburn
  12. Kansas State
  13. West Virginia
  14. Orgegon
  15. Virginia Tech
  16. Syracuse
  17. Florida State
  18. Mississippi State
  19. Michigan
  20. TCU
  21. UCLA
  22. Clemson
  23. LSU
  24. Purdue
  25. Washington

Not All Heroes Play On the Perimeter

We are about a week into this year’s NBA season and all we have heard leading up to opening day was the birth of “positionless basketball”, how the big man is obsolete and small ball is the only way. If there is anything these first few weeks have made abundantly clear it’s that big men are far from out of style in today’s league and when you’ve got the right one there will always be a place on the roster for a big body.

Rockets vs Pelicans
Anthony Davis doesn’t get much airtime given the market that he is in but this week he made sure to take full advantage while he had the spotlight. This offseason Davis made it known that he plans to do what he has to so that he can make sure his name is in the conversation when talking about the top players in the league. Davis has always been a great player and a versatile one as well and it showed as they silenced the crowd very early in the Toyota Center. Houston is a prime example of a team that is leaning towards the positionless/small ball approach to the game. After not retaining players like Luc Mbah a Moute as well as Trevor Ariza Houston was clearly shifting to a style of play that more readily matches up with teams that will run lineups on the smaller side. For a player as well versed on the low block as Anthony Davis that aint gonna cut it. Being without a true post defender allowed for Davis to score 32 points and grab 16 rebounds to go along with his career high 8 assists. The Clint Capela and PJ Tuckers of the world didn’t prove enough to stop AD from getting his even though they are what Houston will rely on as their “post” defenders. Now after watching the game or even if you know just how much Davis works to have a truly all around game you might be asking of that 32 how many were outside shots which in turn would somewhat kill the argument. The answer to that question is less than you think. Davis didn’t take any threes against Houston and only 6 of his points came from the free throw line. And while anyone could be susceptible to giving up 30 to AD another red flag that post defense was an issue was the fact that Julius Randle scored 20+ points as well. Generally speaking Randle will probably average around 12 or 18 points on the year and for an undersized forward he does a great job playing bigger than he is; this does however go to show how a post player with solid feetwork and moves around the basket can cause problems for a team that isn’t equipped to defend against it.

Suns vs Mavs
For the Dallas/Phoenix opener we got our first look at the Suns top pick Deandre Ayton and he did anything but disappoint. Over the course of 36 minutes Ayton must have thought he was on an episode of Shark Tank because he was giving Dallas the business. 18 points 10 rebounds and 6 assists was the stat line for him as he recorded a double double in his first ever NBA game. Dallas has their own 7 footer of sorts in Deandre Jordan (no relation) but as a big man who has made a career on nothing more than blocking shots at the rim and catching alley oops, running into a big man with a mid range game nullified that defensive capability relatively quickly. Dallas had more height that on paper should have been able to stifle some of Ayton’s abilities but in just one game he has shown that he is going to be one of the top and dominant big men in the near future. Offensively he played a very efficient game shooting 72% as well as having the capacity to find open teammates on the floor. With the ease he was able to score when he had the ball in the post and around the elbow it won’t be long before he starts to see double teams regularly; having the ability to pass out of doubles to guys on the perimeter like Booker and Ariza will only add to just how integral he is going to become to this Phoenix team. Right now it still is heavily centered around Booker and while that will never change as he finds a rhythm it will allow for some of the workload to be taken off of Booker and give some of the shine to Ayton as well. The Phoenix offense could easily go through Ayton in the post as he scores and finds his shooters for a one-two punch that could be pretty scary.

Sixers vs Bulls
Now this game was more of an example of two teams who generally are going to have big men on the floor. Philly has Embiid while Chicago will have Markkanen when he is healthy both 7 footers and both major pieces to how these teams play. However Markkanen was out this game and Chicago was forced to run a slightly smaller lineup that what they normally would. Bobby Portis and Jabari Parker were the big men on the floor with Parker doing his best attempt at a Ben Simmons impersonation running point forward. Yes it was by design and yes it was as gross as that virgin couple that got married and kissed for the first time on TLC (I dare you not to google it). Embiid had a field day and did what he does to most teams with 30 points and 12 rebounds. The Celtics are one team that with the eye test seem to have his number but the box score says differently as he had 23 pts and 10 reb in the season opener but they are able to do even that because they have big men like Aron Baynes and undersized bigs who play taller than they are like Al Horford. Even with as great of a job as they do when push comes to shove its hard to stop the 7 footer from getting what he wants offensively.

Blazers vs Lakers
This matchup was a unique one, it is well known that the Lakers are slimmer than an iPhone when it comes to their depth at center. McGee is their only true big man and his asthma has put him on minute restrictions which limits the length of time he can be on the floor (especially with the fast pace that the Lakers are dead set on running at). The gimmick the Laker coaching staff has decided to go with is using Kuzma and LeBron as that low defender which was exposed against Portland on their opening night. Portland is a unique situation compared to the other teams and their big men that we have discussed. The reason being that the Blazers don’t have any true dominant post player, they were able to dominate in the paint through throwing average to above average post players at their opponent. Seeing Zach Collins come in and be able to record points, rebound and blocks against a team so much his senior was testament to the notion that big men are necessary on every roster. If I’m a Laker fan my hope is the Mo Wagner can come back and help lighten the load for James and Kuzma down low because at the moment the frontcourt defense is not going according to plan.

One thing that is going to come to light this year is that the teams that are lacking a solid post player or at a minimum true post defender are going suffer. While the Jokic and Davis’ of the world might bring down the overall speed of how a team plays they bring an invaluable asset to their team. Even Detroit who has Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond in their lineup is currently undefeated as they have been able to use their size (and their opponent’s lack of it) to their advantage. Small ball and the new craze with positionless basketball will have its place in the NBA from here on there is no questioning that, but it will not overtake how the entire game is played. Think of it as running a wishbone offense or the wildcat in football; there are a few teams that run it and you gameplan accordingly but it is not a style that every team is going to adopt. Right now we are seeing the emergence of the next wave of dominant big men which don’t come along as frequently as great guards do so there can be down years. So while every team may not have a 7 foot big man to protect the rim and score around the basket every team better account for their opponent having one. Any team with a Anthony Davis or a Deandre Ayton would be foolish to not take full advantage of what they can do with their back to the basket as well as everything else. The game may speed up as time goes on but it will always slow down to pay homage to those big men who are skilled in the post.

The Man Who’s About to Jump Start Detroit

Of all the coaching changes that took place this off season few were as big of a head scratcher as Toronto’s decision to get rid of Dwane Casey. We are talking a guy who had just won coach of the year and made it to the Eastern Conference Semi Finals where his team lost to LeBron. The general consensus is you don’t hold it against someone who loses in the playoffs to LeBron but Toronto felt it was time to go against common practice and take a new direction. Casey landed on his feet but some people might be thinking he landed barefoot into an underground fecal fountain with his new job being the head coach of the Detroit Pistons. I’d say they don’t know Dwane.

The situation in Detroit going into the season isn’t what most coaches would call ideal. The roster is a unique one as the center pieces are Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond. To the new age basketball hipsters who say “you can’t play basketball with pieces like these anymore” to those knuckleheads I say there is plenty of room for a little Lord of the Rings offense a.k.a. Two Towers. Now, while there is a place for this style of play, Detroit’s ride to this genre of basketball seems to have two flats and a bad transmission but it is a misdiagnosis. The possibilities with Griffin and Drummond are well known but there is a need for the right pieces to be around them to make that lineup work. Generally speaking the supporting roster looks a lot like the Island of Misfit Toys but the only thing that is missing is their own personal Rudolph. The Pistons picked up a couple of guards in the 2nd round of the draft from Creighton and Miami but this team needs free agent help to make the immediate splash they are looking for. Bad news is it ain’t gonna happen. The Pistons currently have all but 6.2% of their cap tied up in contracts with Griffin, Drummond, Jackson and wait for it…Jon Leuer taking up the majority of the cap space. All of that to say that the team Detroit currently has is the team Detroit is going to have.

Casey is coming into a roster that hasn’t changed and went 39-43 last season. The record should make anyone cringe but let’s not forget we are talking about the Eastern Conference. Comparing East records to those in the West is like comparing dollars to rupees, one is worth more than the other. That particular win total had the Pistons right outside the playoffs in the 9th spot in the East and this luckily for Piston fans is familiar territory for Coach Casey. When Casey took over the Raptors in 2011 their previous year’s record was 22-60. Two years later Casey had them in the playoffs with a young Demar DeRozan, Jose Calderon and Andrea Bargnani. The good news is things aren’t that bleak in Motor City. Having not missed the playoffs since 2013 there is no reason to think that the Pistons won’t continue on his trend in April as the pieces are there. Griffin is still a top ten power forward in the league and having him for a full season this year (barring any injury) as opposed to just 25 games after the trade will help the win total greatly. Blake proved in L.A. that he can stretch the floor and post up when necessary making him a versatile scorer and defender. Drummond is also a top ten player at his position and he can control the paint on both ends of the floor just as well as some of the more well-known centers like Demarcus Cousins. When both are in the lineup it is hard not to argue that these two are one of the more dominant frontcourts in the NBA. Not being the biggest fan of Reggie Jackson this is the one area of concern in my analysis. It is a struggle to imagine him running an offense because I am pretty sure the pass button is broken on his controller. Somehow he was able to weasel his way into a 5 assist average this past season but I am not ruling out him hacking into NBA records to make that so. Reggie Jackson comes off as an above average backup point guard but Casey has been in situations similar to this in his Minnesota days. Casey was spoiled in Toronto with guards like Kyle Lowry and DeRozan but he made a backcourt full of reserves look serviceable while coaching the Timberwolves so he has the background necessary to lay out a plan to get his current guards to play on the level he has needed from his playoff caliber teams. One thing this Detroit team does have is a handful of young guards with potential to be major contributors. Luke Kennard and Stanley Johnson are two who will definitely see a boost in their play under Casey’s system. Adopting the style we have seen in Toronto for so many years is going to put them into more positions to succeed as they both thrive scoring from the perimeter through shooting and attacking the basket. Reggie Bullock is another player who will play a big role as we see Detroit extend their range this year, he was their most consistent shooter from 3 percentage wise and will be featured a great deal in Casey’s offense. Detroit was a little behind the eight ball the past couple of years finding themselves towards the bottom of the rankings in shots taken behind the arc. All signs are pointing to a complete 180 after the pre-season as well as what we know Casey historically likes to do on offense. For this team offense has been the issue in regards to getting over the hump and taking the next step as a constant playoff participant and Coach Casey has the track record that would lead us to believe he will be able to lift a team that finished 9th into one of the top 8 spots in the East.

We in part should be onboard with this coming to fruition because the new look Eastern Conference has seen the last of the banes of Dwane Casey’s existence. That’s right I’m talking about LeBron James. There are two things all the teams that have ever knocked Casey out of the playoffs have in common; they either had LeBron James or Paul Pierce on their roster. As of today Pierce is on The Jump and LeBron is two Southwest flights away in the Western Conference. No individual player with a history of sending him home is impeding his path to the Finals anymore. This is not to say the Pistons still don’t have their hands full. They are in the Central Division with the Pacers and Bucks and they still will have to see Boston, Philly and his old stomping grounds in Canada. Sure Casey is known for dominating in the regular season and teams like Boston and Philly aren’t going to scare him any because he spent the last six years in that division. His issues, and what probably played a role in his ousting in Toronto, is his playoff shortcomings. As many people know comparing a regular season gameplan and a playoff gameplan is like comparing times tables to quantum physics. Come playoff time your opponent has more time to find and exploit weaknesses as well as tweak their gameplan to put you at a disadvantage. Coaching in the playoffs is truly a chess match and a key component of these chess matches are adjustments, especially in game. This is one area where Casey has been suspected to have come up short in the past. With his new staff  that consists of a member of the Championship Dallas team and a veteran NBA assistant along with the numerous playoff games (both wins and losses) under his belt we are due to see some growth in his playoff acumen in the coming seasons.

The board is set for Casey and the Pistons to surprise the league with a jump in not only wins but also the Casey legacy with playoff success. Several coaches in the East are going to be looking to prove themselves this season and none more than Casey as he looks to justify his selection for Coach of the Year and instill regret in the Raptors Franchise  that let him go.

Space Jam Tryouts

So word is out around town that the Space Jam sequel is actually happening, and it is being directed by Ryan Coogler who is responsible for Black Panther. He is going to attempt to do the impossible and recreate the Sistine Chapel and if anyone can do it, it’s probably him. This film is going to have to pull in today’s youth while passing the eye test of the crusty 90’s kids who are going to be waiting to pounce on any scintilla of a plot hole. Luckily for Ryan and everyone else involved in the process they have Coach Red here to help guide them through this rigorous process.

The one thing that is for certain is the free agent signing that the Tune Squad will be making and that is LeBron James, the star of this film. This is a good choice for obvious reasons in regards to where he stands in the sport of basketball but also because James might very well be the best actor out of all NBA players who have ever been in a movie. He stole the show in Trainwreck and has even began to diversify into voice roles with the new movie Small Foot. While this choice was a no brainer the real job starts with the selection of the rest of the roles that need to be filled for this long awaited sequel. That being said my hope is that as many NBA players as possible are in this movie to maximize this movie’s potential but we need to make sure just like in game, we put the right players in the right spot. For the sake of this piece I am going to make a few assumptions, I am going to assume that some form of a Monstars squad is going to make a return. Five players are going to get their talent stolen and the NBA is flipped upside down as the best player and a handful of other superstars are missing either literally (in LeBron’s case) or figuratively. Coogler will most definitely put a different spin on the movie but it’s going to be hard to divert from this plot point of the now series.

The first matter of business is picking the five players who will have their talent stolen and be the players on the Monstars squad. This is an area where many people go down a selection path that is ill advised by thinking the best players or the most popular players should make up the Monstars. I’m sorry but no, so let’s go ahead and cross out the “wrong obvious choices” I know many people are putting on their Monstar big board. First, the Golden State Warriors back court, the Bay Area and everyone under the age of 14 doesn’t want to hear that but it’s the truth. Next, Giannis Antetokounmpo, I will do my best to keep the Greek Freak rant to minimum but no promises. We can go ahead and add James Harden to the list as well, as great as he is his talents are needed elsewhere in this project. Finally anyone on the Lakers, it’s just not going to work with him playing against teammates and if you truly thought anyone on the Lakers roster was worthy of a Monstar slot we have bigger issues. Those are some of the obvious names that are always going to be thrown into the mix that shouldn’t. The reason being that the Monstars are bullies, they are a team that is going to use physicality and intimidation to help them win the game. The original Monstars were about as physical as the early 90’s Pistons and did nothing but monkey dunk the basketball like they were Phi Slamma Jamma Alumni. And if you’re not familiar with a monkey dunk please refer to exhibits A, B and C shown below…

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These are going to be guys in the league who know how to instigate and who have a solid base of anti-fans. Steph, Klay and Durant are great but their style of play isn’t one that screams physicality or intimidation on the court, also the general consensus is (at least in Steph and Klay’s case) that everyone loves these guys. People are going to have a hard time rooting against the Splash Brothers and their Splash Cousin once removed. The same can be said for James Harden, while he isn’t as universally loved as the boys in Golden State his play style is one that doesn’t necessarily fit what is needed to make the cut for a Monstar. And that leaves us with none other than Giannis, does he have talent? Yes. Is he a freak of nature with his athletic ability and size? Yes. My issues with Giannis stem from the fact that I am not ready to get or die on the Giannis Is Greatness Hill. I need to see something other than great defense and the ability to dunk from outside the lane. If he doesn’t have a proven jumper by the All-Star break this year I will be entirely on the train of Giannis being an elite defender and nothing more. He does check most of the boxes aside from him being a player people generally like but I just can’t bring myself to elevate him to Monstar status with there being such a huge part of his game (shooting the freaking ball) that is still sub-pedestrian.

Now while those are the “wrong obvious” answers, there are some that I didn’t mention that you might be wondering about. There was a select few that almost made the cut and for whatever reason went from on the bubble to on the outside. The first one is Anthony Davis, I don’t have to go into just how amazing he is and the fact that he is a top five player in the NBA. Davis missed the cut purely because at his position there was someone else who just fit the Monstar persona way too well to not be on the list. Next was Kawhi Leonard, he checks all the boxes as well but up until recently we had only heard him talk twice and smile once. We can now add a laugh to the four minutes of documented audio we have on him but there should be a certain level of boisterousness which Kawhi (and this is definitely no knock on him) doesn’t have. Lastly, and I was really torn on this one, is the Morris twins. There is nothing more Monstar than the Morris brothers, they talk trash, they get techs, they play physical, everything you want in a Monstar recruit. The only catch is neither of them really meet the unwritten accolade requirement to even be in the Monstar discussion so I had no choice but to nix them from the big board. These guys were all close but didn’t fully have what Ryan and the gang need to be looking for when they get their squad together. There are only five real choices for the Monstars and that’s Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, Jimmy Butler, Draymond Green and Demarcus Cousins. And if you’re wondering what makes these guys so qualified don’t worry I have the whole scouting report ready.

Westbrook

Considered as competitive as Jordan, ridiculously athletic and short fused with just about all media, there is a great deal of creative liberty you can take with a tiny alien gaining his on the court abilities. Also when his talent gets stolen who wouldn’t want to see his fashion sense go as well? Russ wearing something from the half price rack at Ross to a game would be entertaining.

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Paul

One of the few people in the league with an actual Napoleon Complex, Paul gave enough fits to the Warriors this past playoffs and was extremely physical with Steph to a point that he earned a spot on the Monstar squad through tenacity alone. Paul is also quietly one of the more polarizing players in the NBA, there are a good number of Chris Paul haters who would love a new avenue to cheer against him. On an off the court note, given that Paul is about as tall as Drew Brees it would be hilarious to see him living life for a few days not as an NBA star but instead as just another dude who is a questionable six feet tall.

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Butler

Over the past few seasons Jimmy Butler has proven to be a great two-way wing and a top 15 player in the league (yes I said it) but that’s not the main reason I want him to be a Monstar. This might be the only choice that has more to do with off the court than on it. I want Jimmy to be a Monstar purely so we can have a scene where he is playing against the Timberwolves when his talent gets stolen. I feel like that would be basketball cinema gold and I don’t want that opportunity missed. So in regards to Butler making the list…deal with it.

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Green & Cousins

If I have to explain why these to have to be Monstars then we have bigger issues. Both of them since they were in high school were the epitome of the Monstar style of basketball. Quite frankly I’m not sure that the two of them don’t model their entire game from scenes from the original Space Jam. These two are ones that without question or debate have to be Monstars otherwise the movie doesn’t work. And one of them needs to get similar scenes to the ones Charles had where they are out in the world trying to find themselves and get man handled by some teenage kid on the streets in a pickup game.

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While we have the players set one thing I would add to the mix is a coach. The Tune Squad has their player coach in LeBron as they did MJ in the past but the Monstars were without a coach. All they had to work with was a green Danny DeVito who was more of a greasy general manager than anything else. What the Monstars need is a coach to have his talent stolen as well so the aliens can do more than play prison street ball. Not that I was ever against the Michael Irvin style of basketball they played we could all just stand to see it expanded upon. I think it comes down to Steve Kerr or Brad Stevens for this one. Initially I had Dwane Casey in the running as well given that 80% of his failures in the NBA can be accredited to LeBron. There would be that aspect of an alien inheriting his talent and knowledge and taking it upon himself to exact revenge in Casey’s name but that was a bit much. Also nobody is more of a Brad Stevens fan than myself but I am leaning towards Kerr being the guy who loses his talent and coaches the Monstars. This is because we still don’t know with complete certainty that Brad Stevens isn’t a T-1000 Terminator so using him for something like this could make things more complicated. Kerr I think could play up the coach losing his knowledge  a little better and would be more into the role, he has multiple rings as a player and coach so he can laugh at himself with a bit more ease than the ringless Stevens and Casey.

The next role that needs to be filled is actually a set of two which I refer to as The Golf Boys, Larry Bird and Bill Murray. These two were an amazing comic relief and side story in the movie and their roles have to be reprised in some shape or fashion and I have come up with the ultimate solution. My thoughts went immediately to LeBron’s charity work that he has done over the years and more specifically the original LeBron James Player Scholarship. Most of you are probably wondering what this scholarship is and why you haven’t heard of it before. Well that’s because this wasn’t one that was publicized almost at all; back during LeBron’s time at Miami he started a program where he took troubled and underprivileged NBA “culture guys” and provided them with the shelter of a title contender with a chance at being gifted an NBA championship ring. The two repeat winners of this particular scholarship were James Jones and Mike Miller, hopefully you didn’t think those two were on Heat and Cav teams for legitimate basketball reasons. When they appeared on LeBron sanctioned rosters I can assure you it was for future tax write offs. James Jones could definitely be the one to fill the Larry Bird role. Enjoying life after basketball and basking in the care free lifestyle that comes with being the general manager to a circus of a franchise like the Phoenix Suns. Mike Miller could be the updated version of Bill Murray, a friend of LeBron who desperately thinks he should still be playing in the NBA who ultimately gets his chance again when he finds his way into the Looney Toon arena during the middle of the game. Plus when Miller shows up it would be great for one of the aliens to mistake him for Mike Dunleavy or Kyle Korver like they did with Murray and Aykroyd. Having seen several interviews with these two I feel they would be up to the task of having some fun with these roles and come on it’s the least they could do to show their thanks to the guy who personally extended their careers and got them rings.

It is not lost on me that some of these asks are simply rehashing what was done in the original. There is a certain outline that Coogler is going to have to follow to get everyone onboard. This is no different than when directors take on Star Wars spin offs, you are dealing with a fan base that has a mix of excitement and skepticism and a set of standards they expect to be met all while being surprised with something new. Nearly impossible I know but he knew what the deal was when he took it. I think even following this skeleton of an outline leaves enormous amounts of room to add  his own creative style to the movie. That’s where all the other NBA players and coaches come in. I want to see as many players and NBA personalities in this movie as  humanly possible. Just because they aren’t a Monstar doesn’t mean they can’t and shouldn’t be in the movie. There is no way they can make this movie and not have Steph, Klay, Durant, Kyrie, Blake Griffin, Joel Embiid even Porzingis and Harden just to name a few. Karl-Anthony Towns and Wiggins have to be present when and if Jimmy Butler loses his talent; The hosts of ESPN’s The Jump (Rachel Nichols, Stephen Jackson, Amin Elhassan and Paul Pierce) have to make an appearance; And of course at some point Michael Jordan has to have a cameo and just like Green and Cousins this isn’t debatable.

After the ungodly amount of time spent contemplating how this sequel should be presented to the world it is safe to say I have laid out a rough outline of a formula for success. And while I have all the faith in the world that LeBron and Coogler will put  together a great product it wouldn’t hurt to take some of my recommendations under advisement.

NFL Style Officiating in the NBA

We are five weeks into the 2018 NFL Season and one of the biggest points of controversy is the officiating of hits on the quarterback. Over the years we have seen the job of the defense become increasingly more difficult as restrictions continue to be placed on what they can and can’t do to offensive players. The NFL clearly wants more material for Red Zone while protecting the 32 faces of the NFL. 300 years passing is the norm and if the defense farts in the direction of a quarterback in a manner that offends their nasal passages you can take the over that a flag is getting thrown. Many NFL die hards aren’t happy and all the fans of defense are ready to riot in the streets and it is quite understandable why.

After just a few weeks of the NBA preseason it is pretty clear that the NBA had a visit from the vaunted Good Idea Fairy. Adam Silver and officials have colluded with NFL top brass to give basketball fans a similar product to what we are seeing on Sundays (double offense with a side of offense) and it is hard to see how the collective changes are going to benefit the game.

Before the preseason began last month the NBA put out several new rules that would be in place at the start of the season. The big ones being that after an offensive rebound no longer will the shot clock reset to 24 seconds but instead it will reset to 14. This will in turn force quicker second chance shots and increase the number of possessions in a game which is a more than acceptable change in my book. Another was the introduction of more unambiguous wording surrounding the clear path foul. This obviously will allow for the rules around the security of fast break highlight plays to be more black and white. Security of the highlight, not the player, because let’s be honest it isn’t a safety issue it’s an unwritten rule, you don’t shove a guy in the back on a breakaway when he jumps in the air *cough cough JR Smith* you just hug him to prevent the dunk. These were two of the rules that were at the fore front of the release of the rule changes coming this season and they clearly scream “we want more offense”. There was however one new addition you may not have heard coming down the pipeline, and this one is screaming the same thing except this is the type of scream that makes that one nosy neighbor call the local top flight security guard. This year officials are going to be cracking down on players restricting an opponent’s “freedom of movement”. This simply means if I’m moving don’t touch me. As a defensive minded coach this is one of several punches in the jejunum over the years that are inevitably going to make us vomit. It started in the late 2000’s when the hand check was taken away. The hand check was useful because it allowed defenders an opportunity to recover with an offensive player who had a quick first step, defenders could use that hand briefly to assist in keeping their man in front of them. The introduction of no hand checking saw good defenders suffer as a result as preference was given to the ball handler. Now we see that any player on offense who is in motion can’t be bumped, pushed or knocked around when moving on the court. This is big because defensive coaches teach to never allow an offensive player to cross your face or make any type of cut on the court without paying a “tax”. Any type of forearm or bump to get them off the line they were intending to travel is what coaches want on the defensive end and now it’s gone. This preseason we have seen a moronic number of fouls called on teams with above average defenses. In the Rockets game against the Grizzlies there was a total of 71 fouls (yea that’s right) 34 for the Rockets and 37 for the Grizzlies. If you’re wanting to say something like the Rockets don’t play defense I’m going to stop you now, I can write on just how well D’Antoni is defensively at another time. The Sixers had 35 of the 61 fouls in their second game against the Mavericks and the Celtics has half of the 60 fouls called in their game against the Cavs.

Now just like a teacher the first week of school the hope is refs are just coming in hot to set the “tone” so to speak and assert their dominance before the season starts and when the regular season hits they will lighten up on the whistle. That’s what the optimistic side of me and everyone else is saying. That being said I’m pretty sure that’s what NFL fans said and six weeks in Clay Matthews is getting penalized for not getting written consent from opposing quarterbacks before tackling them. As we make our way to week one of the NBA season all signs are pointing to the side effects of the “I want ALL the offense” movement trickling down from the swamp butt of Roger Goodell and the defensive debacle he created into our beloved National Basketball Association. Just like football, putting a priority on those who pass the ball and those who score it. The only catch is that while that makes up around 6 people on a football field at any given time, it is all 10 in the game of basketball.

High scoring games are great but not at the expense of good defense. There is something to be said for seeing a team put the clamps on their opponent and have them struggle on offense. Anyone who can’t find value in the play of defenders like Tony Allen and Scottie Pippen, team defenses like the 04’ Pistons and the 96’ Sonics and schemes like the infamous “Jordan Rules” should thing again. In fact I have a message for those individuals and I have Trevor Matich to thank for the conclusion I have reached for those who crave that double offense with a side of offense. If this season you find yourself looking at a defensive game aghast that the collective score isn’t over 240 and the teams competing have put an emphasis on keeping their opponent from scoring for just an instant; if that offends you SO much, you can buy a hamster cage. You can buy a hamster cage and get one hamster because sometimes they get off task when there’s two. With that one hamster let it run on a Bluetooth hamster wheel that counts revolutions so you can see a number in the triple digits appear on your phone every game night. While you are doing that the rest of us will happily go back to watching good basketball.

It’s Time You Started Watching College Basketball’s Greatest Rivalry

This coming college basketball season all fans should be concerned, the reason being that one of the game’s greatest rivalries could become endangered. And I’m not talking about polar bear endangered, I’m talking full on black rhino endangered. Now all you ACC and Big 12 elitists can go ahead and cool your jets because we aren’t talking about any rivalry within your conference. You think Duke and UNC is the greatest rivalry? In the 80’s, 90’s and early 2000’s yes you clearly had a dog in the fight; these days those teams are made up of all freshman, they’re too busy trying to remember how to take advantage of their meal plan to be concerned with the team up in Chapel Hill and vis a versa. Kansas against anyone in the Big 12? Stop it. Watching Kansas play anyone who would consider themselves a rival is like watching Jason Statham pistol whip a blind kid. Louisville and Kentucky? Close, the hatred of this in state rivalry runs deep and is well documented but the last time things were interesting Cousins was there. Back in those matchups refs were giving out techs like free samples from that one restaurant in every mall’s food court. These all can be categorized as second tier when compared to what truly takes the cake is the premier rivalry of the past decade, and that rivalry is none other than Xavier and Cincinnati in the Crosstown Shootout.

First things first as a college basketball purist I refuse to call this rivalry anything outside of its birth name, Crosstown Shootout. So rest assured you won’t hear any of that “Crosstown Showdown”  nonsense here. You’re probably wondering why Xavier and Cincinnati could possibly be categorized as one of the greatest rivalries in recent memory. First lets lay out what we all are looking for when we start to rank these games. One, there should be some bad blood. No rivalry is truly a rivalry if the two teams don’t sit up at night dreaming about humiliating the other team in every way possible. Two, there should be parody, there needs to be an actual toss up from year to year in regards to who might win the game. Once upon a time rivalries like Kansas and Missouri were competitive but I’m pretty sure the last time that was the case Bob Knight had a reality show about walk-ons (shame on everyone involved in that production). Finally, there needs to be a certain level of showmanship. A wise man once said “I wasn’t the best because I killed quickly, I was the best because the crowd loved me…win the crowd.” When you have players that are going to play to the crowd and make sure they give the fans a show and have that ESPN montage they have been advertising all week live up to the hype; then you know you have the pieces necessary to complete what makes for a great rivalry.

Xavier and Cincinnati have for a long time now been quietly meeting these criteria. The problem is these games are like Easter Eggs in a video game, if you aren’t looking for them you ain’t gonna find them. These games are almost always on a Saturday afternoon sometime after Thanksgiving (this year is no different as the game is on December 8th at 2pm) and the teams are always ranked in the middle of the pack with someone being between 10 and 15 and the other being at the lower end of the rankings at 23-25. The memorable games go back as far as 99’ when Xavier upset then #1 Cincinnati and while this is all fine and dandy it pales in comparison to what this rivalry has evolved into. Under the most recent regimes of Mick Cronin with Cincinnati and Chris Mack at Xavier, the rivalry has evolved into a dress rehearsal for a spectacle that is a cross between The Purge and WrestleMania.

“We’re grown men over here, we got a whole bench of gangsters in the locker room…and we went over there and zipped them up after the game.”

No boys and girls that is not an excerpt from a Stone Cold Steve Austin monologue, that is a direct quote from a player after the Crosstown Shootout in 2011. With Xavier up by 21 with 9 seconds left and trying to run out the clock things got spicy. Two players who had been going back and forth since the national anthem got in each other’s faces and as if choreographed slapped each other almost simultaneously after they had had enough. Both benches cleared  and like an old school baseball melee, chaos ensued. The only true victim was Xavier big man Kenny Frease who took a right cross square on the side of his head. Frease then proceeded to do his best impression of the crawl Carlton did through the kitchen on Fresh Prince when he thought Will killed Lisa (treat yourself and look that up on YouTube). Trust me though if you ever saw Kenny Frease play you wouldn’t feel bad for him, he was the Bill Laimbeer of the 2010’s. Even this past year we got some extracurricular activities as the final buzzer sounded. At the end of the game this past season Cincinnati’s Mick Cronin had to be restrained as he was seen on camera rushing the Xavier players yelling “You want a piece of me mother f***er?!?!” Now, the player Cronin was ready to go fisticuffs with was none other than Xavier’s JP Macura. If you’re wondering who in God’s name is JP Macura, imagine Greg Paulus, Adam Morrison, Sophomore Grayson Allen and Marshall Henderson all conspired together in a lab and built their dream player, yea that’s JP Macura. If you weren’t an Xavier fan you hated him, if you were a Xavier fan you loved that they hated him. During this most recent meeting Macura in true showman form was involved in a double technical with Mick Cronin right before half after telling him to “suck it” and let’s just say I am cleaning up his wording tenfold. As the game went on Macura continued to talk trash as they extended their lead (Xavier was clearly the better team this past year). When the game ended Macura gave one last dig in the handshake line and it was enough to send Cronin into a frenzy. The post-game interview was where he let the press know exactly why he lost it, “Never had a kid tell me to ‘F off’ before.” Is what he told reporters when they asked what was said. They followed up with who it was that said it and Cronin only had one response, “You know who it was, same guy it always is every game.” Chris Mack went on to back his player in true presidential fashion by saying there are two sides to every story and JP Macura is a good kid who just loves to play the game. He did however say that he planned on using the rest of the day to enjoy this particular win over Cincinnati a little bit more than usual.

As entertaining as this rivalry has been in recent memory it is in danger of losing its WWE Smackdown appeal. Now that Chris Mack is in the 502 (that’s Louisville) there is a chance that there may not be the same fire that we have seen from these two teams in the past. The two reassuring facts are Mick Cronin is still at Cincy and that man doesn’t seem like one who drops a grudge anytime soon; second the new Xavier head coach, Travis Steele, was a former assistant under Mack so he knows what the standard is. He also still has many of the players recruited by Mack so the team Motto very well may still be “Zip’em Up” but only time will tell. On another note my prayers now heavily consist of requests for that same level of gladiatorial mystique to find its way into the Louisville and Kentucky rivalry now that Chris Mack is behind the wheel. If we have seen the last of the old school Crosstown Shootout it is our responsibility to keep its memory alive and stay on the lookout for another pair of teams who desire to elevate their rivalry to a level of savagery that will meet our needs. But if things are destined to stay the same, make sure you have your schedule cleared for this year’s matchup as it never disappoints.