Weekend wrap show
Mar. 5, 2007 | feedback
Ten lingering thoughts from the weekend in college hoops:
1. The Kevin Durant Era has reached the point where I watch every Texas game with my TV room covered in protective plastic, like the kind used in mafia movies when they're bringing a stoolie into somebody's living room to whack him. I mean, did you SEE the first half of Saturday's Texas-Kansas game? Did you see him drop 25 in the first half against the deepest team in college hoops?
Everything crested with about seven minutes left in the half, when he pulled up and drained a ludicrous 27-footer from the top of the key, giving Texas a double-digit lead and prompting an immediate Kansas timeout. ... Durant swaggered his way around midcourt, staring into the stands and nodding at the Kansas fans. He wasn't even showing off as much as he was soaking it in. I'm playing in one of the most famous gyms in the country on CBS and kicking everybody's ass. Just an electrifying moment. There's officially no ceiling for him as an NBA player anymore. I'll believe anything.
Of course, Kansas came storming back in the second half (note to Rick Barnes: You can actually call timeouts during the game; I've seen other coaches do this and it works quite well), tied the game and then pulled away after Durant twisted his left ankle on a drive to the basket. (Watching at home, I reacted like the owner watching his prize horse tumble into a heap during the Kentucky Derby.) As weird as this sounds, I thought both teams came off well in the game.
Texas proved that ...
A. It could hang with an elite team on the road. We needed to see that once before the NCAA Tournament. Now we know.
B. As long as Durant is out there, it can beat anyone in any given game. In a related story, its odds to win the title have dropped from 50-to-1 to 12-to-1.
Kansas proved that ...
A. When it needed it, the Jayhawks can hit another gear that no other college team currently possesses (not even Florida). Barring a late-minute switch because of something that happens this week, I'm picking them to win the title.
B. It's the deepest, most talented, most flexible team in the country. For instance, the Jayhawks abandoned the pound-it-inside game plan when they fell behind by 16, switched to run-and-gun and dropped 48 points in the second half. Just an awesome performance.
2. Speaking of Durant, it's not too late for the USA Basketball Committee to switch gears and send an under-22 squad to represent us in the 2008 Olympics. Would you rather root for NBA stars stuck in an impossible "if we win, we're supposed to win, and if we lose, we screwed up" situation ... or an underdog team of college kids/NBA rookies featuring a starting five of Durant, Greg Oden, Julian Wright, Jon Scheyer and Darren Collison, with Brandan Wright, Spencer Hawes, Chase Budinger, Daequan Cook, Chris Lofton and D.J. Augustin or Mike Conley Jr. (we could only have one of the two) coming off the bench? Seriously, is there one basketball fan on the planet who wouldn't rather root for the kids next summer?
Either way, one thing's for sure: Durant needs to be on that team. I'm pretty sure we can find a place for a 6-foot-9 forward with 27-foot range in the 2008 Olympics.
3. My favorite Durant e-mail from a reader during Saturday's game, courtesy of Jared in Lawrence:
"Please tell me you watched the first half of the KU-UT game just now? That was unlike anything I've ever seen. I'm a diehard Jayhawk, yet I find myself strangely numb. That was unreal. It was like that time Baxter ate an entire cheese wheel and Ron Burgundy just threw up his hands and said, 'I'm not even mad, that's just amazing!' The GM that takes Oden first will be making a pantheon-level mistake."
4. I don't mean to pile on Billy Packer here -- OK, maybe I do -- but when you're already considered to be one of the biggest apologists on the planet for Duke basketball, is it really a good idea to keep making excuses for a Duke player after he just threw a malicious elbow at Carolina's best player with 15 seconds remaining in an 12-point game? That was one of the strangest sequences I've ever watched in a televised basketball game. Here's a rough transcript (I'm doing it from memory):
(We see a replay of Gerald Henderson measuring Hansbrough, flying over from six feet away, then delivering a Macho Man Savage-type elbow into Hansbrough's face one second after Hansbrough had already been stripped of the ball.)
Packer: "Yeah, he was going for the ball ... that was NOT intentional."
(We see another replay of the same thing from a different angle -- this time, it looks like Henderson could potentially be arrested for what just happened.)
Packer: "See, from that replay, there's NO QUESTION that Henderson was going for the ball ... that was definitely an accident.)
(Jim Nantz thinks about mentioning that Hansbrough had already been stripped of the ball before Henderson even raises his elbow, realizes that he has to announce games with Packer for the next four weeks, doesn't want it to be awkward, decides against saying anything at all, starts day-dreaming about the Masters.)
Packer: "Nope ... no way. He was going for the ball."
(Cut to a replay of Hansbrough walking off the court with his face broken in half.)
Packer: "Jim, if anything, that was probably Hansbrough's fault for going after Henderson's elbow with his face ..."
You get the idea. We have media criticism rules at ESPN, so I have to tread carefully here ... but have you noticed that Packer somehow turns himself into a major story before EVERY NCAA TOURNAMENT? As I wrote a couple of years ago, I was watching an Indiana State Final Four game from the '79 tournament and they made a big deal before the game about how Packer had publicly attacked Indy State's credentials for the entire tournament, and now they were in the Final Four and he was eating a little crow -- they even showed an awkward interview with him and Larry Bird after the game. This was 28 years ago!!!!!! What chain of events needs to happen for CBS to replace him with a more palatable, more enjoyable, agenda-less lead analyst? Does 100 percent of the country have to band together and say, "We're tired of this guy?" Or are we good at the current number of 97 percent?
(Note: After this column was posted, I received a flood of e-mails from Duke fans saying that Packer is NOT a Duke apologist -- in fact, he's considered to be anti-Duke and anti-UNC because he's a Wake Forest alum. I always thought he cowtowed to Coach K over the years, but I'll defer to the masses on this one. Maybe he's just a curmudgeon.)
5. Two other notes from the UNC-Duke game:
A. You can't exaggerate the whupping that Hansbrough delivered to Josh McRoberts during this game. I don't see either of these guys becoming NBA starters -- Hansbrough isn't a good enough athlete, and McRoberts is too soft -- but at least Hansbrough should evolve into a more polished version of a Madsen/Scalabrine-type bench player, one of those tough cookies who knows his limitations and doesn't do anything he can't do. McRoberts? Not a chance. He's like a homeless man's Darko Milicic. And that's not a compliment.
B. Congrats to Coach K for questioning why Hansbrough was still in the game and inadvertently using Isiah Thomas' "he was asking for it" defense. And the Duke fans wonder why everyone hates Duke. If the roles were reversed, and this had happened to McRoberts, Coach K would have shown up for the news conference covered in McRoberts's blood, fighting back tears, urging for the offending UNC player to be suspended for the entire ACC tournament and basically looking like Jackie Kennedy in Dallas after the JFK shooting. God, I hate Duke.
6. The UCLA fans are angry because I gushed about the Bruins in Friday's blog, which apparently caused them to crap the bed in Washington 24 hours later. Did you know I could control the destiny of sporting events like that? Me neither. In a weird way, the Bruins proved my point -- they're impossible to blow out. Even on the road. In this particular game, they survived a 6-for-29 shooting performance from its guards (Affallo and Collison) and still somehow attempted a game-tying 3-pointer in the final minute.
The bigger issue: Every time I watch the Bruins, I say to myself, "They're one big guy short." The Huskies were a bad matchup because of seven-foot center Spencer Hawes (13 points, 15 boards) and 260-pound forward Jon Brockman (20 points, 13 boards). UCLA could have handled one of them, but it couldn't handle both at the same time. Now, it's possible for the Bruins to sneak through the entire tournament without facing an opponent that features two talented low-post players ... but I doubt it. Let's say they land in the same bracket with UNC and have to play the Tar Heels to make the Final Four. Is there any way they're stopping Hansbrough AND Brandan Wright? No way. I don't see any way they'd beat the Tar Heels unless their guards shot the lights out.
7. One more note on the Huskies: They're your typical Pac-10 team (good at home, awful on the road, one good player short ... although Arizona is the complete opposite and somehow just as flawed). I don't see Washington doing anything in the tournament (if it even makes it). But Hawes has been growing on me all season.
When Chad Ford tossed him into his top 10 earlier in the season, naturally, I was dubious because we've been burned so many times by white centers: Eric Montross, Chris Mihm, Shawn Bradley, Evan Eschmeyer, Alec Kessler, Greg Ostertag, Todd Fuller, Mike Doleac, Scot Pollard (it's an endless list). ... Best-case scenario, you might end up with someone like Chris Kaman or Joel Przybilla (both of whom were top-10 picks). Still, Hawes has a variety of post-up moves; he can score with either hand; he's a surprisingly good athlete and an excellent passer; he plays with genuine fire; he's a good shot blocker; and he runs the floor well for a big guy. He brings more to the table than any non-black, non-Euro center prospect since Raef LaFrentz in 1998. There's just a lot to like with the Hawes package -- he's like a talented Chris Mihm.
At the same time, Chad just moved Hawes to No. 4 on his top 100, arguably his biggest reach on ESPN.com since he was advocating Pavel Podkolzine for the top five three years ago. Again, I like Hawes as a prospect ... but over Jo Noah and Julian Wright? That's insane. I can't wait to exchange angry e-mails all week with Chad about this. Look, we haven't seen a white, U.S.-born center make the All-Star team since Brad Miller. Before that, it was Mark Eaton in 1989 ... and he was 7-foot-6. Before that, you'd have to go back to Kevin McHale and Bill Laimbeer. Now we're sticking a white center into the top five of the most loaded draft of the decade? I'm going out on a limb and calling this a horrific mistake.
As for the racial implications of the previous two paragraphs, whaddya want from me? Plodding, semi-athletic 7-footers simply aren't effective anymore and haven't been for some time -- doesn't matter if it's Ostertag, Adonal Foyle, Rasho Nesterovic, Rafael Araujo or whoever else. You need to be able to run the floor, block shots, rebound in traffic and play above the rim at that spot. If you can't do those things, you better have some girth and a killer post-up game like Eddy Curry. For whatever reason, every white center prospect from the past 15 years -- with the exception of Jeff Foster, LaFrentz and Mihm -- has been one of those plodding, old-school center types. And it took until the middle of this decade for teams to realize they were wasting high picks on them. Now we have Hawes, who isn't a plodding, old-school type right now ... but what about eight years from now, when he fills out and doesn't move as well? Just from the history of that position, he's a much bigger risk than Wright or Noah in my opinion. We'll see.
8. Speaking of Noah and Wright, I keep getting e-mails from Kansas fans and Florida fans that ...
A. Noah has been battling an upper-respiratory infection the past few weeks, which would certainly explain his lack of energy. He looked like himself during the decisive Kentucky win Sunday, so maybe there's something to it. I still believe that he needs a big tournament to play himself back into the top four (even if he's still No. 3B on my board). I also think he needs to grow a goatee or something; with the look he has going now, it feels like he should be chest-bumping Teresa Witherspoon after every dunk.
B. Julian Wright promised his parents that he'd graduate in three years and is actually on pace to do so. According to everyone there, he's not coming out. Whether that's wishful thinking remains to be seen.
(By the way, before Wright makes that decision this spring, somebody needs to sit him in a room, tie him in front of a television and force him to repeatedly watch the YouTube clip of Shaun Livingston blowing out 45 different ligaments in his knee last week. You can always bank on going back to school in the summers and get your degree. You can't always bank on the fact that your body will remain healthy.)
9. Greg Oden showed a little somethin'-somethin' down the stretch of OSU's come-from-behind win over Michigan. Seemed legitimately interested in the result of the game. I thought that was encouraging. And while we're here, I thoroughly enjoyed this e-mail from NYC reader Alex:
"I was watching 'The Princess Bride' on TV the other day and thought, what if Oden has been fooling all of us these past few months? Can't you imagine the following exchange in the NCAA Tournament?
"Greg Oden: You are wonderful.
"Kevin Durant: Thank you; I've worked hard to become so.
"Greg Oden: I admit it, you are better than I am.
"Kevin Durant: Then why are you smiling?
"Greg Oden: Because I know something you don't know.
"Kevin Durant: And what is that?
"Greg Oden: I ... am not left-handed.
(Tears the wrist guard off his right hand and immediately takes over the game.)
10. A couple of scattered thoughts and I'm done ...
A. I've only seen bits and pieces of Al Thornton, and I know he's 23 years old, and I know the game went into OT, and I know Miami sucks ... but 45 points in a college basketball game? I'm officially intrigued. Al, I have the TiVo set for your next game.
B. If you missed previous entries in this blog, jump to the top right of this page and look for the little calendar. If there's a link under the date, that means I wrote something that day. You can also look up the entries from last month by clicking on the "February 2007" link. We don't have a print button for the blog, but if you press the left button of your mouse, copy over the entire page of text, then press your control and P buttons at the same time and click the "selection" button of your print menu, you can easily print out that day's blog. It's really not hard.
C. Not that I'd ever advocate wagering on college sports, because we know it's an absolute no-no, even if the newspapers print the spreads every day and Vegas accepts wagers on the games, and anyone with even a rudimentary sense of how to navigate the Internet can open an online gambling account, so the best thing we can collectively do is stick our heads in the sand and pretend none of this stuff is happening ... but seriously, how was St. Mary's favored over Santa Clara in the WCC semifinals Sunday night? If gambling wasn't illegal, I would have jumped on the Broncos +1.5. It was almost like free money. Man, it's just too bad gambling is illegal. What a shame.
(On an unrelated note, I'm buying a new plasma TV this week. If anyone has any suggestions, please e-mail me.)
D. That reminds me, ESPN is showing the WCC finals tonight -- Gonzaga against Santa Clara, playing on a neutral site in Portland in front of at least 200-225 people, 150 of whom work for the WCC. Feel the excitement of do-or-die WCC action! They could have played this tournament outdoors in Vancouver and drawn more fans. Anyway, you might remember me touting Santa Clara's praises a few weeks ago: they're playing for a lame-duck coach in his final season; they don't have a scorer averaging more than 11 a game; everyone on the team looks like they just left the set of "Maui Fever." On the flip side, the Zags looked awesome against an overmatched San Diego team that has looked like it was trying to get its coach fired for about five weeks.
But you know what? I'm sticking with my original prediction: Santa Clara somehow shocks the Zags, sneaks into the tournament and topples a high seed in Round 1 as everyone watching in bars across America says to each other, "Wait a second, are they throwing up a whitewash right now?"
Yes. Yes, they are.
(Tonight's upset special: Santa Clara 70, Gonzaga 65.)