A few questions, a few links

Wanted to clarify something from yesterday's blog: Some readers wondered why I'd praise this year's NCAA Tournament (which has featured few upsets and a Final Four with two No. 1 seeds and two No. 2 seeds) and dismiss last year's tournament (which featured a ton of upsets and a Cinderella making the Final Four).

The answer is simple: I like watching good basketball.

That was the underlying theme of yesterday's blog -- for the first time in years, the quality of play has matched the excitement of the tournament itself. Because the elite teams were so weak over the past few years, college basketball had degenerated into a 3-point shooting contest -- really, anyone could beat anyone else if they made 3s, so the style of play transformed into a slash-and-kick game with guys launching 23-footers (and there never seemed to be a Plan B). As a basketball fan, I just didn't think it was an interesting evolution and had trouble watching that crap. (And that's what it was: crap. Maybe it was exciting, but it was still crap.) The reason I loved Sunday's Georgetown-UNC game was because it was an up-and-down game that featured low-post offense, ball movement, coaching strategy, fast breaks, guys killing themselves to protect the rim and everything else you'd ever want from a college basketball game. That 2005-06 George Mason team would have gotten blown out of the building by either of those teams. I'm telling you.

So I guess it comes down to what you're looking for in a college hoops game. I don't think there's a right answer or a wrong answer -- some people like upsets and Cinderella stories, some people like good basketball. Ideally, you'd like to have both at the same time. But if I had a choice between the two, I'm going with quality basketball over upsets and Cinderella stories. And if you're not with me, just remember, last year's Final Four ended up being completely unwatchable because the basketball was so horrendous. This year's Final Four will be VERY watchable. At worst.

Some housecleaning before we get to some relevant links …

• Two corrections from the paragraph about college point guards in yesterday's blog: I mistakenly left out Virginia's Sean Singletary, and Indiana super-stud recruit Eric Gordon is apparently a shooting guard (I thought he was a point guard because of the nonstop Oscar Robertson comparisons). We do have an elite point guard entering college next year: Chicago's Derrick Rose, who's headed to the University of Memphis. I like both of those names. Eric Gordon and Derrick Rose. Just SOUNDS like they'll be good.

• Yesterday's blog elicited a few e-mails along the lines of this one from Mark Jacobs in New York: "I was very offended by your comments about last year's season being such a disaster that 'two white guys' were indisputably the best players in college basketball. Basketball doesn't require a non-white gene to be played well. You ought to look up Larry Bird or Pete Maravich. Did you write that the last football season was a disaster because two African-American coaches were in the Super Bowl? Didn't think so. Keep your comments to sports and athletics and stay out of the social arena."

Um, I was trying to be funny … I just forgot that we live in a world where you can't joke about anything. This nation is tighter than Meg Ryan's face right now. Loosen up. It's not a crime to joke about the fact that last year's college hoops season sucked so much that the best two players were white. See, basketball has been a predominantly black sport for about 40 years now, a blessing because the game evolved in a vertical direction and became infinitely more entertaining than the product from the late '50s. If you wrote down the best NBA players from the last three decades, you'd probably notice that all of them were black except for Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Steve Nash, Chris Mullin, Dirk Nowitzki and John Stockton.

Now, if last year's best college players were on the level of Bird, Nash and Stockton, it would be one thing. But J.J. Redick and Adam Morrison both flamed out in the tournament and look like potential busts as pros. Hence, my joke in yesterday's blog. For anyone who was offended, I'm sorry … not for the joke, but for the bug up your ass.

• If you missed it last night, HBO's documentary about the Wooden dynasty was absolutely terrific. I loved it. Couldn't recommend it more highly.

• One more note before we get to an impromptu batch of links: ESPN.com and ABC.com somehow talked the Sports Gal into writing a weekly recap of "The Bachelor," which debuts its new season Monday night on ABC. The recaps will run every Tuesday on ABC.com and the SGW Page (we're giving her a box); they're mailing her the DVDs in advance and she's aiming for four paragraphs per recap. So alert your girlfriends, wives, mistresses and platonic female friends that you're secretly trying to sleep with -- on April 2, the Sports Gal returns. In the words of Pete Carroll, I'm as shocked as you guys.

All right, here are some links I enjoyed from the past few days. Thanks to everyone who keeps sending in suggestions:

1. The Portland Tribune has the dirt on Zach Randolph's bereavement leave, which will almost definitely be the name of my fantasy hoops team next year (Zach Randolph's Bereavement Leave). This story feels like NBA Mad Libs -- just plug in a player who's known to have bad judgment, a shooting, a cousin, a strip joint and the overriding theme that NBA teams can't discipline players because of the players' union, no matter what they do.

2. Received a ton of e-mails about Dan Shaughnessy making fun of Curt Schilling's new blog in Monday's Boston Globe, along with Schilling's quick response. This has a chance to be the best athlete-writer feud ever. I have high hopes. Both guys just don't give a crap at this point. By the way, I made up the nickname "CHB" for Shaughnessy in 2001 -- happened right after Carl Everett derisively referred to him as the "Curly Haired Boyfriend." It remains one of my top 20 career achievements.

3. Thought this LA Times feature on "Lost" about John Locke's character (and the actor who plays him) was really interesting. Also, Rex from Anchorage has an answer for my question in Friday's mailbag about how much money Jack Bauer makes: "Like Jack, I am a federal wage slave. Here's the pay table for him. He's likely a GS13 or 14, probably step 7-10, so you were high on your prediction."

4. Rhode Island's Joe Almonte asks, "What about Jim Calhoun of UConn publicly calling for the players on the end of his bench to transfer ('there will be a couple of changes to the roster mandated by our performance, mandated by our inadequacies, mandated by some kids who probably deserve to get a chance maybe at a different level … ') so he can clear scholarships? Should Congress hold hearings on this abuse of student-athletes, and if so, do you think they will subpeona Robby Benson to testify?"

(Note to Joe: How dare you make the obvious "One On One" joke before I did!)

5. Got a ton of feedback about Jemele Hill's "Kobe over MJ" column yesterday. Look, the whole point of a sports column is to take an angle, then argue the hell out of it. That's what she did. I wish more people would do this. Anyway, I didn't agree with the column for two reasons:

A. Kobe's scoring took off only after they changed the hand-checking rules and made it impossible for anyone to play defense. That's why Kobe scored 50-plus points in four straight games, that's why Steve Nash has a chance to win three straight MVPs, and that's why guys routinely score 50-60 points these days. If the 1987-93 MJ played in the current era, he would have obliterated every non-Wilt scoring record there was. That had to be mentioned.

B. MJ played in the most competitive era in the history of the league (1987-93) and emerged with three titles from 1991-93. Jemele argued that Kobe's current competition is tougher than the teams from 1991-93, which is just plain wrong. There's no comparison. The league sucks right now. Back in the early '90s, you had Magic's Lakers, Drexler's Blazers, Riley's Knicks, Isiah's Pistons, Price's Cavs, Hakeem's Rockets, Robinson's Spurs, Malone's Jazz, the TMC trio in Golden State, some underrated Celtics teams (they averaged 52 wins a year during Reggie Lewis' prime), some great Suns teams (including a 62-win team in 1992-93 with Barkley) and a Sonics team that was just taking off with GP and Kemp. It was a top-heavy league back then, unlike now, when 80 percent of the teams are mediocre and there are only four good teams (Dallas, Phoenix, San Antonio and Detroit).

6. Last week, I predicted that Kevin Durant could be looking at a $70 million-$75 million shoe deal if he entered this year's draft. Old colleague Darren Rovell argues that the deal would be closer to $30 million ($6 million a year) and lists Kobe's contract ($8 million a year) and Carmelo's contract ($3 million a year) as the barometers (meaning Durant would fall somewhere in between those guys). I disagree because the last two players who entered the NBA with as much hype as Durant will get (MJ in '85 and LeBron in '03) both signed Nike contracts for way more money than anyone expected, and that's before you factor in how much he could mean to adidas or Reebok. We will see.

7. Brian from Boise suggests, "In your blog, you called out Holy Cross fans for being a bunch of 'soccer moms.' I think 'soccer moms' is played out, and should be replaced with 'Colorado football moms.'"

8. John from Ann Arbor sends a fantastic YouTube clip along: "Not sure if you've seen this video yet, but somebody made a compilation of clips from the old Sega Madden game back when a player would get injured and they'd send out the ambulance to scoop them off the field … and wipe out the rest of the offensive line in the process."

(Note: Now somebody needs to make a compilation of intentional injuries from either the '94 or '95 game when you could blow out somebody's knee after the whistle, followed by Pat Summerall saying, "Uh-oh … there's a man down." Let's get on this, people. I don't ask for much. By the way, my old roommate Geoff and I actually had to pass a "No late hits rule" because we spent more time going for cheap hits than playing the game.)

9. Roughly a kajillion readers sent this link to me this week, and with reason: Apparently Tony Parker is trying to obliterate the Unintentional Comedy Scale. Between this video and the gushing Sports Illustrated feature about Tony and Eva's relationship (which should have been headlined, "The Day Sports Illustrated Officially Died"), I think Tony needs an intervention. And soon. I keep picturing a grim Gregg Popovich and an equally grim Tim Duncan taking him to dinner right before the playoffs, making small talk for about 45 minutes, then one of them saying, "Look, Tony, we need to talk …"

10. In case you missed it over the weekend, Billy Packer became involved in another March Madness controversy, ripping UNC's Reyshawn Terry and provoking an angry response from Terry. Of course, Billy ended up announcing the UNC-Georgetown game on Sunday. Great.

(Note: I'm working on some special "Mute Billy Packer" iPod mixes for this weekend but they aren't done yet. Hopefully we'll have the links on Thursday.)

11. A few readers from back home passed along one of the 10 most disturbing sports photos ever released. I want to release a coffee table book of photos like this one that's called "I Will Now Light Myself On Fire."

12. I watched the YouTube clip of Eddie Griffin's Ferrari accident at least 50 times this morning -- maybe my favorite clip since Rick Fox and Doug Christie were fighting and cameras captured Jackie Christie wading into the pile and swinging her purse. Anyway, I hope you caught the story on our Web site with the picture of Eddie posing next to the mangled car -- it looks like he's posing next to a deer that he just killed. Highest of high comedy. I love Eddie Griffin. If only he had rammed the Ferrari into Tony Potts.

13. Brennan in New York passed along an incredible soccer clip that involves the team I'm supposed to be following: "I hope you're still following Tottenham closely enough to know that Paul Robinson, the goalkeeper, scored on a free kick from 88 yards out last weekend. The best shot is at about the 45 second mark. Enjoy."

14. This well-done Chicago Tribune magazine feature about a 12-year-old boxing prodigy gave a couple of readers flashbacks to Seasons 3 and 4 of "The Wire." I'd say the story has a chance to make "The Best American Sports Writing" book, but the kid isn't dying or missing any limbs. So that's too bad.

15. Josh from Boston passed along a CNN story entitled, "ACL injuries growing problem for young female athletes." I thought this was funny, because back when I wrote the "Daily Links" for my old Web site during 1999-2001, one of the running jokes was about female athletes blowing out their ACLs. Every time one of them blew out a knee, I'd link to the story with a sarcastic joke like, "You're not gonna believe this, but LSU's best women's basketball player blew out her knee." So how can this be a "growing problem"? I swear, somebody writes this article every year and just changes the names.

16. Finally, a few Holy Cross alums passed along the Southern Illinois recap in Ralph Willard's Web site in which he inadvertently proves the point of my upcoming magazine column:

"As a coach I want to win every game, and have a mind-set that every game can be won. I am never satisfied with losing any game. However, as a coach and as a realist recognizing our limited resources, facilities, exposure, and support, what is even more important to me is how we go about trying to obtain that objective. I want our kids to get better mentally and physically as they go through this program. I want them [to] give their best effort no matter what the venue or who the opponent is. I want them to care about how they represent themselves, their families and our school. I want them to understand the selflessness of making the whole better than the sum of the parts. I want them to learn lessons that will serve them in their after school life, and I want them to believe they can always do better.

"Basically I want them to have an 'overachieve mind-set,' that helps shape who they are. We don't have the most heavily recruited players in our program and rarely any with exceptional natural ability. We have no innate advantages over the rest of the programs in Div. I, and some real physical and fiscal disadvantages. What we do have is young men who work very hard every day to define how the Holy Cross program competes. That to me is what I ultimately care about. That to me is what is really important. That is the tradition of this program this group lived up to and helped carry on."

Look, I agree with everything in those two paragraphs. He's approaching a thankless job the right way. He's a good man and a good coach. Everyone agrees.

I just have two questions …

Why should Holy Cross basketball have a degree of difficulty every season? Who decided this was a good idea? "We don't have the most heavily recruited players in our program and rarely any with exceptional natural ability. We have no innate advantages over the rest of the programs in Div. I, and some real physical and fiscal disadvantages." Why? Why is this an acceptable reality? I keep getting e-mails from Holy Cross students imploring me to be more supportive of our program. Really? I should be more supportive of a situation in which the coach openly admits that he's trying to win with subpar recruits and some legitimate physical and fiscal disadvantages? That's an acceptable direction?

Anyway, we're running my magazine column tomorrow. Just keep in mind -- my problem isn't with the players, the coach, or the character/resolve/dignity of the team. My problem is the situation itself. Back in the '80s, when the Jesuits inexplicably decided to cripple sports at Holy Cross and kill our famous rivalry with BC, their explanation was that we needed to raise the school's profile as an academic/athletic institution. So we left the MAAC and joined the Patriot League, which was originally envisioned as a Division I version of the NESCAC (like a poor man's Ivy League with better sports). Well, guess what? That idea bombed. They should just change the name of the league to No-Man's-Land.

You know why I know this? Because the head coach of my basketball team just told me, "We don't have the most heavily recruited players in our program and rarely any with exceptional natural ability. We have no innate advantages over the rest of the programs in Div. I, and some real physical and fiscal disadvantages."

This isn't a new thing, either. When I was attending school there from 1988 to '92, nobody understood what was happening with the Patriot League move and our curious decision to scale back sports when the football and basketball teams were such an enormous part of the Holy Cross experience. At the time, the direction was sweepingly unpopular. I even wrote a newspaper column or two for the Crusader about it -- they were crippling our football and basketball programs for reasons that didn't make sense to anyone. Nearly two decades later, the reasons STILL don't make sense. It's the equivalent of a triathlete intentionally amputating his left leg, then continuing to compete while telling you, "Look at me, look at me. I'm doing this with one leg!" Admittedly, it's impressive and takes a ton of heart and courage. At the same time, HE STILL CHOPPED OFF HIS LEFT LEG FOR NO REASON. There's a difference between courage and abject stupidity.

That's where we are with Holy Cross sports right now. More to come tomorrow, when everything will finally make sense.