Thursday, March 31, 2005

The Face Of America?



After possibly pissing off some people with my post yesterday about Johnnie Cochran - as if I really need to worry about defending myself for having gripes with someone who wore purple suits - let me continue in that vein and say this:

Terri Schiavo is dead? Good.

The fiasco concerning Schiavo has been simply an embarrassment. To who? To Americans. It's bad enough already that most of the world thinks we're cruel war mongers, but for the last two weeks the lasting, daily image coming from our shores is the zombie-like face of Schiavo being starved to death, slowly. And people on all sides arguing in the streets, shouting seemingly because they can and want to be heard. And empty TV talking heads faking compassion. And the Schindlers, the so-called mourners, cashing in on their broadcast suffering. And, occasionally, when lucky, a funny sign.

Naturally, it was the religion-drunk conservatives being the biggest annoyance. Naturally.

I love how they spent days outside Schiavo's hospital like a pack of wolves, picketing and posturing, offering water in a futile gesture of contrived martyrdom, and generally doing their best to appear really, really concerned and righteous.

Fakes.

If they're so concerned about their fellow man, why not actually go out and help someone on any other day. Go help a homeless person. Go spend time with a kid with cancer. Go help the elderly. Go do something.

Instead, they suddenly converge and hang out where the TV lights shine brightest. They hang out where their fake concern has a stage to display itself. They come to make political statements. In actuality, they don't even care about Schiavo's final breaths. Their concern is motivated by a need to feel important and a need to have their agenda unleashed. They're angry, they're pests, and they suck. They love to show up with their Bibles and claim they come in the name of God, yet they'll tell the gay guy to fuck off as they race away from Schiavo's hospital in SUV's.

And, of course, their leaders, corrupt clowns such as Tom DeLay, take advantage of the sudden platform to tell us all how to run our lives. Fuck Tom DeLay.

To paraphrase Courtney Love, conservatives fake it so real they are beyond fake.

And, all too often, they are what the world sees. Embarrassing.

The funny thing is, the zealots have been so quick to call for some compassion for Schiavo - screaming that she desperately needed a cheeseburger through a tube - that they never stopped running in circles long enough to realize that her dying was the most compassionate thing to happen. It's not often I'll say anything nice about a Bush, but props to Georgie and Jebbie (and everyone else who was asked to keep her alive) for choosing to let the woman die. For once Georgie's one-time campaign cry of "compassionate conservatism" rang true, if for the wrong reasons. Of course, Georgie and Jebbie were acting out of political concerns, and not compassion, but whatever. For now, I'll give them a little credit for letting die a woman who needed to die. Sometimes the Bushes are just clueless enough for their own good.

Think about it. Schiavo had been in a coma since 1990. That's, like, almost the '80s. UNLV was national basketball champ. Joe Montana won his last Super Bowl. The Simpsons were in their first season. That's a long, long time. She wasn't coming back. Sure, her family claimed she was alert and communicating, but that has been denied vehemently by many doctors over many years. And if Schiavo was alert and trying to communicate, I'm guessing she was asking for sweet death. Ever lay in bed for 15 years? Ever want to?

Now the zealots are undoubtedly upset that their money shot into our TVs and newspapers and internets has gone and died. I'm sure they're upset that their plans to circumvent the ebb and flow of government process to "save" a woman they cared nothing about just days before were squashed. How disappointing for them.

Terri Schiavo is dead. We all watched her starve for two weeks. We all acted like fools, and the world was watching.

So, st least the eyes of the world will no longer have the Schiavo debacle to laugh at us about. Instead they can focus their laughter on our sagging dollar, our mess in Iraq, and Paris Hilton's career. Now there's a joke.

How ironic that Schiavo originally fell into a coma as a result of her eating disorder and she ended up getting a bunch of loudmouthed Americans to squawk like chickens without heads over a feeding tube removed from her mouth.

America is funny. Sometimes unintentioanlly.

**********

Need proof that Bush's compassion in the Schiavo case was fake? Well, he's already denied a raise in minimum wage and now he's cutting budgets for the poor. And this is only beginning.

Wow, he's just bursting with compassion!

Oh, yeah, he also doesn't have much compassion for anyone with a political website. Particularly, he has no compassion for their privacy, and if he has his way, their existence, surely.

**********

Can we please stop picking fights with other countries? Please?

Now we're busy telling China and Pakistan we're not happy. We're already in a mess in Iraq, and all up in the face of Iran and Syria, and now we're adding new people to our shit list, claiming that human rights are being denied. This message is being delivered by a willing, blood-soaked messenger who helped orchestrate the brutal deaths of tens of thousands of people in Iraq.

And now Condoleezza Rice is preaching to others about human rights?

Then again, Pakistan will be pleased with the F-16s we're selling them. Everyone loves some more weapons.

But wasn't Pakistan a major player in the selling and transferring of nuclear weapons not long ago? And now we're giving them weapons? Hasn't this backfired on us before?

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Pardon Me For Being A Sourpuss, But...



I don't know when exactly defending, not to mention freeing, murderers became an admirable quality, but apparently it has.

Johnnie Cochran has died, and while there are those who claim he will go straight to Hell and act as Satan's lawyer, the larger sentiment seems to be that Cochran was a good man.

I don't know. Admittedly, I'm not an expert on Cochran's career. In fact, it wasn't until yesterday that I did any in-depth reading of his biography. In doing so, I discovered that Cochran had done plenty of admirable work over his career, fighting for the poor, fighting for the wrongly accused, fighting the brutally abusive power of the police, and winning. Winning big.

Yes, I was actually surprised at how much Cochran had accomplished, at how much good he had done in an often corrupt and unjust world. Props all around. Anyone who fights for the little guy, and who topples those who abuse the rights of power, is cool with me.

However, somewhere along the line Cochran lost the plot. He defended OJ Simpson, who was more guilty than a wolf in chicken roost. He defended Tupac. He defended Snoop Dogg. He defended Sean "Puffy" Combs. In other words, he defended guys who, almost undeniably, were guilty.

And why? Because they were rich? Because they were black? Because they were high-profile cases that would stroke Cochran's ego?

Or perhaps because Cochran had not much of a conscience?

Sure, there are those who will say that Cochran only did his job as OJ's lawyer. And they will say he did it very, very well. And they would be right. However, nobody forced Cochran to defend OJ. That was his choice.

Is there a possibilty that Cochran honestly believed in OJ's innocense? Sure, and that would change everything. So let's pause to consider this possibilty...

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!!!

Ah, that laugh felt good. Much better.

Look, Cochran likely knew OJ was guilty, likely felt it in his heart, yet defended him anyway. He freed him. That was Cochran's decision. He had to live with it and die with it.

As for Tupac (whose music I love), Snoop Doog (who I find hilarious), and Puffy (who I can't stand), they, too, were defended by Cochran. Tupac was accused of sexual assault, Snoop and Puffy accused of accessory to murder.

An here's the rub - they were all probably guilty. Do you really doubt it? Come on.

So when did Cochran's consience kick in? When? Or did his conscience leave him somewhere around the time he was raising two separate families completely unbeknownst to one another?

**********

OK, I'm going to detour here. I'm going to bring up the dreaded race card. I hate to do it, but I will do so because A) Cochran himself did it at the OJ trial, and B) I have an enormously large penis, making me feel a kinship with the black man. (Five inches is large, right? Right? Right?) But remember, I'm just throwing it out there (my thoughts, not my penis)...

My problem here is the willingness of black people to suddenly deify a guy like Cochran because...um...well...because he's black?

There are murderers walking free because of Cochran. There are families of victims who were denied justice, if not entirely because of Cochran, then largely because of his efforts. Cochran was an adulterer with two families, um, AT THE SAME FRIGGIN' TIME. And the Black Panthers? Much is being said of Cochran getting Geronimo Pratt out of jail. Black people love him for this, surely. Yet what they forget to mention is that the Black Panthers were a MILITANT GROUP that fought violence with violence, wrong with wrong. Please don't tell me that Pratt didn't have blood on his hands. Hell, he was probably guilty. They forget that Tupac and Snoop and the like probably - get this! - really were involved in heinous crimes. (Deal with it.)

But Cochran was a black man who defended other black men, regardless of their guilt or innocense. So now it's time to sing the praises of Cochran? Really?

Um...OK...if you say so.

However - and excuse me for standing on a pedastal and acting all self-righteous - I don't buy it. Not for a second.

Cochran did a lot of good in his life, and fought for a lot of people who deserved to be fought for. No doubt.

He also left behind a legacy splattered in blood and injustice. His choice.

**********

One last parting shot:

Perhaps the most telling example of Cochran's questionable wisdom in regards to choosing those he defended, was his public support of Latrell Sprewell. (Thanks, Grits.)

Sprewell? Latrell fuckin' Sprewell?

Goodgawd.

Sprewell choked a coach for DOING HIS JOB, yet Cochran came rushing in to portray Sprewell as the victim.

Huh?

I can see no reason for Cochran to do this other than the fact that Sprewell was A) black, and B) involved in a high-profile public mess that would be dragged through the muck of the media.

In other words, it was for perfect for Cochran.

Case closed.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

I Can Almost Smell The Beer, Hot Dogs And Tear Gas



Well, the weather is finally feeling spring-like. Of course, this makes me think of baseball, and more to the point, heading back to U.S. Cellular Field for White Sox action and moments like this. Ah, I can't wait to be back among my fellow Sox fans.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Everyone Was Rising From The Dead




It had to be Easter weekend.

Not since Jesus arose from his three-day slumber and said, "I'm back, bitches! Where's the wine? I want to par-tay!" have we seen more miraculous returns from the abyss of death. Illinois did it. Louisville did it. Even Kentucky did it, though it didn't last for long and it was sent back to its cross, namely the Lexington media.

In the supposed season of miracles, Illinois' 90-89 win over Arizona was, in one word, miraculous. It was almost enough to make me give up drinking, premarital sex, lying, and desiring my neighbor's wife, not to mention roughly half the women I see walking down the street. I even contemplated going to church on Sunday morning, but I was hungover - you know, celebrating a miracle and all. That's excusable, right? And I was drinking wine.

It was one of those games that will never fade away in the foggy bank of aging memories. You'll always remember exactly where you were. You'll remember the no-way-this-can-actually-happen disbelief and the inexplicable affirmation that miracles do exist clashing in four minutes of mayhem. You'll never forget the reminder that, yes, dreams do hard. You might not remember every shot or rebound or steal, but you'll never forget the feeling that you were watching one of those rare moments that - and excuse me for being corny here - reminds you of why you love sports in the first place. Other than the gambling and the cheerleaders, of course.

And it had to happen on Easter weekend. Had to. Isn't this the time of year when Jesus rises from the dead? Hadn't Louisville overcome a 20-point deficit to defeat West Virginia in the earlier game? Doesn't Fran Drescher have a new sitcom on CBS, boggling the minds of funny comedians everywhere?

Yes, yes, and, strangely, yes.

Apparently, this is a great time for comebacks. Has anyone spoken to MJ lately? Somebody lock up Billy Idol.

After the game, Roger Powell, Illinois' ordained minister, offered his opinion that it was all the doing of Jesus. Shit, it even said so right there on his Nikes, as he pointed out. Hmm. I don't know. Technically, Jesus was still a day away from pushing aside a giant rock and emerging from his death cave. And God? Well, God was probably too busy ducking phone calls, releasing PR statements concerning the Terry Schiavo fiasco, and having Scott Pederson gang-raped in prison to worry about a basketball game.

Then again, maybe. Maybe Jesus had some money on the games. Maybe he's a gambler. Who knows? He does like his wine. Maybe he gets a little tipsy and calls his bookie. (“Hey, Jesus here. Yeah, I know I'm calling late. Yeah, I'm drunk. So what! Who are you, my mother? Just give me 'Zona and the points and quit you bitchin'.")

Either way, there is no denying that Illinois' overcoming a 15 point deficit with four minutes left - and eight points with a minute left - will remain one of the more miraculous finishes you'll ever see. Admit it, you thought it was over. I know I did. Hell, even Channing Frye, the Arizona center, hit a three-pointer as the last of the Illini joy seemed to slip away. Everything was going wrong for Illinois and right for Arizona. I was thinking of what Bruce Weber would say in the postgame locker room. I was suddenly remembering the many former Chicago teams that built glorious balloons full of hope and possibility only to pop in a final sad act of utter disappointment. And I was thinking that the blue and orange paint adorning 75% of my body nonstop for the last two months no longer seemed like such a good idea.

(I'm kidding about 75% of my body being covered in paint for the last two months. The paint is only on my face and it's been more like a month and a half.)

I guess it's like Jim Valvano said - "Don't give up, don't ever give up!"

Suddenly, Deron Williams was draining threes, and Luther Head was producing improbable steals, and Dee Brown, the shortest player on the court, was grabbing rebounds in the chaos of the paint and sticking putbacks. The Allstate Arena, virtually a sea of orange, was raucous. Suddenly, it seemed possible. It was a real live revival.

Nah, couldn't be. Inconceivable. Impossible.

But Arizona continued to struggle, running offenses designed with seemingly no thought process, and launching shots that junior high school coaches everywhere must have been cringing at. Salim Stoudamire, the Cats' notorious and moody gunner, was visibly exhausted, his role as an option almost voided by Williams and Head, who took turns hounding him. I have other theories as to why Stoudamire was so winded. I mean, he is a Stoudamire.

By the way, is it just me or does Stoudamire look like the newest member of Santana with that beard and headband?

Oye como va. Listen to my way.

Suddenly, everything was going Illinois' way. Suddenly, Illinois was within striking range. Suddenly, it was tied and going to overtime. And, suddenly, it was over and eyes were rubbed in that-didn't just-happen-did-it astonishment.

But it did.

And I don't want to hear this talk about how it was an Arizona collapse, rather than an Illinois comeback. It wasn't Arizona that hit all the big shots, produced all the big steals, and grabbed the most important rebounds. Sure, the Cats' shot selection at the end of both regulation and overtime was questionable, but let's not forget that the Illinois defense forced those shots. Arizona played well, and with the heart of a champion, and the Cats didn't deserve to be beaten. But they were.

When Illinois lost to Ohio State and their perfect season shattered, there were many who said the loss would be crushing. They opined that the Illini's biggest strength, its ace up its sleeve, was the feeling that it couldn't be beaten, that it was somehow invincible. They said the Illini needed that. Without it, the Illini were just another good team that could be knocked off on any give day. Maybe those people were right, maybe not.

Well, perhaps that feeling of invincibility will return now. Perhaps the confidence returns, the confidence the Illini has seemingly been missing the past several weeks. Perhaps the Illini will reach a level of comfort and competence that only comes to those that have stood at the doorstep of death and survived. Surely, there is nothing like a miracle to make one believe that a journey is blessed and special.

Thing is, Louisville's comeback win over West Virginia was equally improbable. The Cardinals must be feeling a similar sense of being bulletproof. Maybe it will all depend on who Jesus bets on.

If so, I'm glad Illinois has Powell. Perhaps Powell can hold some prayer services and channel God or Jesus or whoever to say:

1) Thank you.
2) The spread for the Louisville game is three points.
3) Let's do it again. That was fun.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

A Little Help Please



The Unknown Column will be MIA for most of the week, so in my absence I will leave you with a very perplexing question, a question that has befuddled the greatest minds of our time for years. And that question is:

For the love of God, how does Billy Packer keep his position as CBS's main play-by-play guy?

Packer is arrogant, annoying, and seemingly universally disliked. (Go ahead, ask a basketball fan what they think of Packer.) I need answers here, people. This keeps me up at night.

By the way, if anyone knows how Tim McCarver keeps his job, I'd love to know the reasoning behind that, as well.

Diary Of A Bracket Gone Horribly Wrong, Pt.2



It's all gone wrong. Oh, it's all gone horribly wrong. My bracket has fallen apart faster than Mark McGwire with his legacy on the line and the scornful eyes of angry parents directly upon him. The only difference being, my tears are real.

Syracuse? Damn all those people who said the Big East was a beast. Damn all those people who said Syracuse was hot at precisely the right time. And, most of all, damn me for drinking the Syracuse Kool Aid like Glenn Robinson on nickel night.

On the plus side, I still have three of my Final Four picks alive, which only means the basketball gods want to torture me a bit longer before fully pulling the rug out from beneath my feet.

If there is a positive to watching your bracket crumble it's the newfound ability to just sit back and watch the tourney without the pressure of pulling for some team that, in actuality, you hate, but are forced to root for in the hope that somehow, some way, your bracket will remain intact. To this I say, just give it up and enjoy the basketball. You've never won a tourney pool, and you never will. Deal with it.

Illinois seemed to enjoy themselves in yesterday's 71-59 win over Nevada. After going through their usual routine of toying with an opponent in the first half, allowing Nevada to stay close, the Illini emerged after halftime and played the free-flowing, beautiful-to-watch ball that has been absent of late. At least for a brief period. The passes were crisp, the shots were falling, the TV announcers were drooling, and the lead ballooned to 20 points.

Of course, the Illini continued their alarming habit of taking their foot off the gas and letting Nevada close the gap. The Illini do this often, and a team like Oklahoma State or Arizona will be more than willing to take advantage.

James Augustine and Jack Ingram each had career highs in points, meaning the continual cries that the Illini big men are a weakness will subside - at least for a few hours, or until a reporter needs an angle and all the old, go-to material comes bubbling to the surface yet again.

Next up for the Illini is a date with Milwaukee at the Allstate Arena. This is an interesting matchup because Bruce Pearl, then an assistant at Iowa, turned rat and offered the NCAA taped phone conversations of ex-Illini assistant Jimmy Collins allegedly offering Deon Thomas cash and a car. How nice of him to assist the NCAA like that. Man, Pearl just looks like the type of guy who would do such a thing. He looks he could easily fit into any movie involving the mafia, probably in a role where he squeals on someone and ends up looking into the wrong end of a gun. Nobody likes a snitch, and Illinois fans have no doubt locked up their feelings towards Pearl in a special place where they won't soon be forgotten.

That said, Pearl is a good coach and the Panthers are a dangerous team. I, for one, am very appreciative of the Panthers for knocking out Cincinnati East (i.e., Boston College), meaning we will no longer have to watch Jared Dudley being Jared Dudley. Thank God for that.

Boston College? Pittsburgh? Syracuse? UConn? How overrated was the Big East this year?

You knew it wasn't UConn's day when CBS selected Ed Nelson as the Huskies' Player of the Game against NC State. Ed Nelson? Ed friggin' Nelson? Nelson can't possibly be on scholarship, can he? He looks like Jim Calhoun grabbed him off the football team to use as a body at practice. Ed Nelson?

North Carolina is looking unstoppable right now. I guess that will make Roy Williams' annual collapse that much more shocking.

I love that Bob Knight is back in the Sweet Sixteen. Love it. All of his critics can kiss his ass. By the way, it's interesting that his son, Pat, sits next him on the Texas Tech bench as an assistant coach. Don't Knight detractors love to bring up the time the elder Knight supposedly slapped him during a timeout as if he banished him into the abyss never to be heard from again? "Oooh, ooh, he touched his son. He's...he's...he's evil." Shut up.

Someone tell Jihad Muhammad that he's not Allen Iverson. And to go by a different first name.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Diary Of A Bracket Gone Horribly Wrong, Pt.1



OK, I feel like I'm about to beat a dead horse, but here goes:

Can we please stop berating the Illini for not always looking like the 1996 Bulls? Please? The Tribune's Rick Morrissey, being his usual whiny self, has plastered a column on the front page today bemoaning an Illini team that he feels is playing, in so many words, lousy. Blah, blah, blah. Of course, this is par for the course for Morrissey, who would find the negative in world peace.

Gee, how nice of Morrissey to piss in the Wheaties of Illini fans this morning. Nothing like advancing in the tourney to bring out Morrissey's expected warnings of impending doom.

I don't know what Morrissey, or anyone else, was expecting from the Illini's first-round matchup with Mr. Farleigh Dickinson. Maybe they were expecting a bevy of high-flying dunks, some Harlem Globetrotter-esque trickery, a 30-point blowout, and for FDU to elect not to come back out after halftime. Sorry, it doesn't always work that way, Rick.

Not anymore. Not with the current state of college basketball when the most prominent young stars are often already in the NBA. The difference between the big guys and the little guys is not what it once was. Toss in the fact that players at schools like Farleigh Dickinson are playing in the biggest spotlight of their lives, juiced to the gills with energy, and relatively close games are more and more becoming the norm. Washington, Wake Forest, Kentucky, and Gonzaga all struggled to dismantle lowly seeds. This is normal. The question, often, is no longer "Can an underdog keep it close?" Rather, the question has become "How close will an underdog keep it?"

That said, did the Illini play their best? No, they can play better. However, there is no use in continually criticizing their lack of perceived dominance as they continue to win one game at a time.

Man, Chicago sports fans are always expecting the worst. And it doesn't help when guys like Morrissey get front-page billing to stoke the negativity.

-- With the Illini's Achille's long suspected to be their inside game, Nevada's 6-11 Nick Fazekas, 6-10 Kevinn Pinkney, and 7-foot Chad Bell should provide an interesting matchup dilemma.

-- Can UAB get a little respect? It was nice to see the Blazers dismantle LSU after many wondered how they even managed to sneak in with an at-large bid. If you haven't seen the Blazers play, make an effort to. They play defense the old-fashioned way - like dogs after loose meat. I love it.

-- LSU? Alabama? The SEC is looking weaker than a Mark McGwire non-answer.

-- Was Milwaukee's win over Alabama the most expected "upset" ever? Who didn't have the Panthers winning that game in their bracket. I mean, other than me, of course, who also saw two of my Sweet Sixteen picks fall already. I may be the worst bracket builder - ever. (By the way, I refuse to add the 'UW-' to the Panther's name. It's pointless.)

-- Bruce Pearl should be on the short list for a lot of jobs at bigger schools - even if he looks and sounds like a member of the Soprano family. He might be a perfect fit for UNLV.

-- Cincinnati looked like it may have restored some of its defensive swagger that used to dominate in the '90s before the Bearcats became infamous tourney paper tigers over the last few years. And Jason Maxiell is an absolute beast. Perhaps they will prove Kentucky correct in dodging the Bearcats on the schedule for several years.

-- Maxiell vs. Kentucky's Chuck Hayes. This matchup could be brutally beautiful.

-- I wonder if a lot of drugs are consumed in Boise. Perhaps there's little to do in Boise but drugs.

First, the Broncos football field is blue. Interesting. Now, their basketball court is adorned with massive, colorful drawings of Broncos' heads. Hmm. Something must be spurring these strange ideas in their creativity. Yesterday, I had a sudden urge to drop acid and watch nothing but the games in Boise.

(The court looks cool, actually.)

-- So, has CBS decided that every commercial break must run at least one annoying ad featuring Coach K? It's ridiculous. Coach K is selling out faster than U2 tickets. It's no wonder so many people despise Duke. Particularly annoying is the commercial where Coach K stares directly into the camera and, basically, offers his best recruitment speech.

"I don't want to improve you only as a player...but also has a student...and a person." Or something along those lines.

Hey, Coach K, get off my TV screen! You really need that extra cash from American Express, huh? Why not just run an ad where Dick Vitale implores the nation's best high schoolers to enroll at Duke?

I patiently count the minutes until the Blue Devils lose. Call me petty.

-- Warning: Billy Packer will be broadcasting games today. Have a remote control handy.

-- Confession of a hoops junkie: Last night when CBS's tourney broadcast ended, I felt edgy and my hands began to visibly shake. My forehead was moist with sweat. Luckily, I switched over to ESPN2 and caught some of the UNLV-Arizona State NIT game. And the rush of relief was immense.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Random Thoughts Of (March) Madness, Pt. 4

HEY, CAN DUKE GET A BUY?



OK, let's take a look at the Austin regional as we wait for Michael Strahan to be the latest Michael to declare his innocense.

Well, Duke has received it's annual love taps from the selection committee, it would seem. First, the Blue Devils open in Charlotte. Is it law that they must pass through a North Carolina city on an annual basis? Second, the region, on paper at least, is the softest - by far.

In other words, typical Duke. Keep your eyes peeled for some questionable calls working in Duke's favor as well. Anyone remember Xavier's Anthony Myles fouling out midway through the second half of last year's Elite Eight game on back-to-back ticky-tack fouls? That was a travesty. Don't be surprised if such shenanigans occur again, magically, as always.

Then again, it might not matter. This bracket is horrible. Did the committee look for the teams with the biggest question marks and then line them up accordingly behind Duke?

Kentucky? Two freshman guards and two late-season losses to Florida - including being embarrassed by the Gators on Sunday - has me seeing two rounds and out for the Cats. Maybe three, but not further than that.

Michigan State? Does anyone else get the feeling that Mateen Cleeves was the best thing that ever happened to Tom Izzo? I'm kidding. Izzo is fine, and the Spartans had a nice second-half to the season, but...I'm not sure exactly what the "but" is about the Spartans, but it seems to be there. Make sense?

Utah? Quick, name one Ute besides "that Australian guy everyone is always talking about."

Again, I ask, what's up with the suddenly 'balling Australians? I suppose they'll kick our Olympic team's ass soon as well.

Cincinnati? HAHAHAHAHA!!!! The Bearcats? Man, how cool were the Bearcats when they had Nick Van Exel and Corie Blount. That was during the era of famous defenses, namely the "Amoeba" at UNLV and "Forty Minutes of Hell" at Arkansas. But for my money, those early-'90s Cincy teams played the most frantic defense of all. They were relentless. In '93 they had eventual champion North Carolina down by 18 points in the Elite Eight before falling in overtime. That hurt. But those Cincy teams were awesome, and fun as hell. The current Bearcats? Please. Hell, they started their annual choke job early this year when they were run off the court by South Florida in the C-USA tourney. The Bearcats need their swagger back.

Stanford? I'm sure they get good grades and all, but...

Mississippi State? Weren't the Bulldogs a Top Ten team in the preseason? Whatever happened with that?

Iowa? Despite losing unrepentant thug Pierre Pierce, the Hawkeyes did manage to save Steve Alford's job, which was the most important thing - to Steve Alford.

This region is weaker than Michael Jackson's squeamish voice. Am I wrong here? Every year the Blue Devils are placed in the softest appearing region, usually with dates scheduled in North Carolina at some point, and, if things are really being laid out nicely for them, the Meadowlands. Toss in some questionable officiating and - VOILA! - the recipe is timeless.

So it was a good thing that as this bracket was announced the first thing one may have thought was, "Oh, baby, Syracuse is going to smack - SMACK! - Duke in the Sweet Sixteen." That's what I thought. Of course, my gut instinct is wrong roughly 98.7% of the time when it comes to the tourney, but I'm loving the Orangemen - er, the Orange. Loving them.

(For potential betting purposes only: This means Syracuse will probably lose to Taylor Coppenrath, Tom Brennan’s farewell, and some guy named Sorrentine.)



Like Louisville, Syracuse was jobbed by the committee. The Orange coasted to the Big East title, knocking off UConn along the way, and yet were "rewarded" with a fourth seed and a trip to beautiful Indianapolis. Well, I suppose they can take solace in the fact that this region is Duke’s little playground.

(OK, I’ll stop picking on Duke now.)

I'm also liking Oklahoma, which quietly won the Big 12 title while Oklahoma St. and Kansas were busy faltering. This is not an easy feat. People like to imply that the Big 12 is down, but I don't buy it. Come on, even Texas A&M was decent this year. (Think about that.) Kelvin Thompson teams always play tough, hard-nosed basketball and the Sooners should be comfortable with the familiar Austin surroundings, seeing as how they're basketball players and not football players, in which case they’d need G-Unit-like security.

UTEP? The Miners could make a run. I'm liking the Miners in that opener against Utah. And as a general rule, UTEP is always a Cinderella candidate in the tourney. Always.

(For potential betting purposes only: Avoid UTEP at all costs.)



Can someone please tell me more about the history of 12 seeds beating 5 seeds? Please? I don't think the 1,473 times I've heard this in the last three days has sufficiently drilled the likelihood into my brain. Anyway, Old Dominion looks like a dangerous 12 seed against Michigan St. Twenty-eight wins is 28 wins.

Niagara? Calvin Murphy will be crushed. So will the Purple Eagles. (Purple?)

You know, Worcester, Massachusetts is a great spot for that Kentucky-Eastern Kentucky game, eh? (Why not Nashville?)

Sweet Sixteen: Duke, Syracuse, Oklahoma, Iowa

The pick: Syracuse. Jim Boeheim seems to get better with age. The players aren't bad either. The Orange have Gerry McNamara from long range and Hakim Warrick from all the other ranges.

Big Props For The Big Hurt



If ever there was a player who Chicago fans have had a love-hate relationship with, it's Frank Thomas. The Big Hurt can divide a room faster than Dubya's policies or a discussion on abortion. Or a big, thick wall. He's a lightning rod, often attracting the bolts of criticism himself by whining about anything and everything. The guy is permanently one self-perceived disrespectful look away form jumping into pout mode.

In other words, Thomas can be infuriating in a way few players can. It's a special ability of his.

However, many props must be given to Thomas in the pathetic mess that is MLB and steroids and congressional hearings and subpoenas. While a spineless scumbag like Bud Selig cowardly hides behind lawyers and red tape, and while cheating steroid freaks willingly bypass the chance to speak the (so-called) truth and clear their names (thus cementing their guilt in the minds of millions, as if there was any aver doubt), Thomas is willing to face the committee and answer all questions.

Look, let there be no question about who the stand-up guy is here. Thomas should be commended. Oh, he has some reservations about heading to D.C, but they have more to do with the swelling an airplane trip might inflict on his recovering ankle, and less to do with the oozing cowardice so visible in the likes of Sammy Sosa, Mark McGuire, and Rafael Palmeiro, who have “politely declined” to tell the truth..

Thomas will show up and speak the truth. Not a problem, Mr. Congressman. What do you want to know?

Let's remember a few things about the Big Hurt:

1) He has openly called for steroid testing throughout his career.

2) Considering he was already built like a truck when he arrived on the scene as a youngster, and has maintained that physique (aside from the occasional weight issue), nobody has ever been able to accuse, nor even suspect, Thomas of steroid use. He has always remained above the fray.

Look, say what you will about Thomas' often surly attitude, but he is one of the good guys. Sure, at times the Big Baby has been a more apt moniker than the Big Hurt, but once you get past Thomas' penchant for melancholy meanderings, he has maintained his integrity in a game drenched in doubt. When the current era is looked back upon, and all the steroid suspects are forever, and rightfully, marked by proverbial astericks in the unforgiving scope of history, Thomas will have nothing to hide and nothing to fear. His conscience and legacy will be as clean as his blood and urine have always been.

The sad part is, if anyone has a gripe about the way this era of steroids will be remembered (at least statistically), it's Thomas. I would imagine he can't help but feel cheated. He came up in the early-'90s and has been producing stellar numbers consistently ever since. Other than the odd injury-plagued year, Thomas has never fallen off much, despite the continual howls that he's over the hill. His early MVP-winning numbers compared favorably with those of Bonds, Sosa, and McGuire before those three (and others) jumped on the steroid gravy train and saw their stats explode.

Personally, I'd love to see how the stats of these players would have compared if steroids never dirtied the pool.

What a shame.

I have a theory that Thomas may just be the best hitter of this era. He may have been remembered with the likes of Ted Williams and Willie Mays as a sweet-swinger who dominated for a long, long time. Should Thomas stay healthy, and have a few more productive seasons, his body of work will speak for itself. It already does.

Of course, we'll never know for sure if Thomas was the preeminent hitter in baseball at the turn of the century. His untainted accomplishments will forever pale in comparison to those who took the easy route and stuck needles in their butt cheeks in the name of well-kept schedules of performance-enhancing injections.

Thomas? He just went out here and hit. And hit. And hit. And all the while, he was a voice of reason as the game of baseball wandered through the dark alleys of corruption and cover-ups.

This should not be forgotten.

Thomas has always loved to talk. Of course, all too often his love of chatting revolved around his litany of complaints concerning contracts and a perceived lack of respect.

But as Thomas heads to D.C. to answers questions that others slither away from like snakes, I'm going to forget about all that for a moment, and look upon Thomas for what he is underneath his thin skin.

A decent guy. And a great hitter. Maybe the best of his era. We'll never know.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Random Thoughts Of (March) Madness, Pt. 3

I NEED AN UPSET - NOW!



Let's take a look at the Syracuse region as we wait for Doug Gottlieb to say something controversial, Bud Selig to come out from behind his lawyers, and for the return of the Winnipeg Jets. Yeah, we're still waiting.

By the way, can we get some applause for the Carrier Dome? That place is a little bit of basketball heaven.

First of all, North Carolina is crazy - and not just Rashad McCants. Can you trust the Heels? Once Roy Williams gets that "I can't lose again, can I?" look on his face in late March, anything can happen, oftentimes bad. The Heels have been involved in some crazy finishes lately, mostly involving big comebacks. That worries me. Then they lost to Georgia Tech, a team less trustworthy than themselves. That worries me. The Heels live on the edge. Can you trust them?

Then again, the Heels are that team - that team you know you have to put in the championship game. You know you do. Your pen is magically drawn to the big square in the center of March Madness. You want to scribble a big UNC right down on that line. On all 32 pools you entered this year. Admit it.

Me? I'm loving the winner of the alleged Florida-Villanova second round game. Loving it. Hot as shit, both of them. I was thinking Final Four dark horse for both teams before the brackets were even announced. Of course, I have no idea what I'm talking about, but still. Now they meet this early? Maybe it's a sign. Maybe I should ride the winner of this game all the way to St. Louis. Maybe the winner is that team - that million dollar dark horse, baby!

But with all the money on the line, can either beat the Heels?

More importantly, can UConn beat North Carolina? Especially after being handled nicely by the Heels up in Stoors? And here's a scary thought. Charlie Villanueva originally signed with Illinois. He got out of the commitment when Bill Self bolted for Kansas. Think about that. The Illini with Villanueva? Almost happened.

With the regional in Syracuse, UConn would be in Big East territory.

Kansas is the most overrated team in the land. Period.

Florida intrigues me.

After the Eagles Super Bowl run, Philly is looking tough this year. I'm telling you: Villanova...Florida...Villanova...Florida...I'm thinking about it.

OK, what's the deal with Wisconsin? In the last week the home of “Happy Days” has seen more gore than a demented B-rated horror flick.

One dude, who happened to have murdered a judge's family a few days prior, was found dead by suicide.

Another dude shot up a church, killing seven worshipping souls.

To top it off, some people were found murdered in a hotel. I believe this all happened on three consecutive days. What's up with the cheeseheads? Geez, Brett Favre retirement rumors begin hovering and they start going nutty.

Back to reality: I'm sure the Badgers loss to Illinois in the Big Ten title game didn't help the self esteem of the cheesheads. The Badgers aren't bad, though.

Charlotte has been frigid of late. Fri-gid. But I bet the Niners love being paired up with North Carolina State. An ACC school. One of the big boys. North Carolina bragging rights on the line. Interesting, interesting.

I have issues with Northern Iowa being in the field. Their inclusion is mysterious. I have no issues with the Panthers themselves. The school produced Kurt Warner, which is cool. But...wait...you know what? Whatever. Forget it. I'm all for the little people, people. Go Mighty Mid Major! (Break into college band jamming...)

UNI will get spanked by Wisconsin.

And tell that UNI athletic director to stop officiating games involving other bubble teams. It looks funny.

Cool story: Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson juggled the conference tourney schedule to get the Lobos on ESPN. Added exposure and all. I like that. Taking the bull by the horns. And the Lobos did not disappoint, winning it...on ESPN. The Lobos haven't been this good since Kenny Thomas' ten-year tenure with the team came to an end.

Ohio looks like the Celtics in their unis. That's about all I know here. The Bobcats did take care of Buffalo, which I kept hearing about, but had never seen play.

Bucknell? All I know is the Patriots were beating the holy crap out of Holy Cross when I peeped their game last week for a few minutes. Holy Cross came back to make it tight at the end, but it was on Holy Cross' court and Bucknell held on. Wins over Pittsburgh and St. Joseph's also look nice on the resume. Stacking up nicely with some of the best programs in the East is always encouraging. I smell upset...

(In Howard Cosell voice): Down goes Kansas! Down...goes...Kansas!

Maybe?

Central Florida leads all Florida schools with 70 wins over the last three years. Not bad.

Ah, the glorious play-in game. The biggest day on the American sports calendar! The Super Bowl and the arrival of the SI swimsuit issue rolled into one!

But seriously, does anyone actually ever watch the play-in game?

It's a good thing Oakland got an automatic bid. I don't know if a record of 12-18 and an RPI of 192 was going to cut it. Alabama A + M + Out.

Sweet Sixteen: North Carolina, Villanova, Wisconsin, UConn

The pick: Look, I know I should go with the Heels. Know it. That possible UNC-UConn showdown is jumping off the bracket and clawing at my eyeballs. But I'm not going to do it. I need an upset in my Final Four picks. Always. I feel too risk-free without. Who wants to go chalk all the time? And, hey, it beats the time I picked North Carolina St. to reach the Final Four in a glorious upset run I was sure would happen. (Last year.) Yeah, I'm going with the upset. I'm going with Florida...Villanova...Florida...Villanova...

Florida. And Major Parker will be partying hard.

No wait...

Villanova.

Yes, Villanova.

This is Big East country. Villanova over UConn.

Random Thoughts of (March) Madness, Pt. 2

WHO WANTS TO GO TO ALBUQUERQUE? ANYONE? ANYONE?



Let's take a look at the Albuquerque region as we wait for Dick Vitale to wipe his chin and zip up Coach K.

On paper, this region is loaded. Stacked. If this was soccer, it would be dubbed the "Group of Death." But it's not soccer, so it's just the region that offers a trip to Albuquerque as a reward. Yay! But, yeah, this region is tough. I mean, NBA legend Larry Krystkowiak coaches Montana. That's tough...Washington earned a surprise No. 1 seed. Let's hope the Huskies live up to it, or these people will be crushed...Many suspect the Huskies might be prone for an upset, but they're forgetting the all important ITPGF. (Inspirational Tiny Point Guard Factor.) This cannot be underestimated. Think Earl Boykins and Eastern Michigan...Somehow the Final Four would be better with Nate Robinson involved, if only because it would mean Chris Paul wouldn't be...I always love to see the tourney make its way to Boise. What a great, and underrated, basketball arena. One of the best...I ask you this about Wake Forest: Is Skip Prosser a good coach, a national title-type coach? I'm not convinced...If Gonzaga fails to reach the Sweet 16 for the third straight year, do the Zags go from being everyone's favorite Cinderella to being a paper tiger?...What exactly is a Zag?...Louisville was jobbed by the NCAA committee. How does a team go 29-4 in a power conference, win it's tourney, and get a fourth seed?...As good as Francisco Garcia and Ellis Myles are, the Cardinals are at their best when Larry O'Bannon is hot. If he heats up, I like the Cards...Isn't Rick Pitino about due for a return to the Final Four?...Anyone notice that Georgia Tech is 2-9 against the tourney field?...The Jackets have been inconsistent all year. Don't expect that to change all of a sudden...I'd love to see Bob Knight's Texas Tech team cause some damage, if only to infuriate all of his critics...That said, the Red Raiders seem to play one stinker at least every 3-4 games. When are they due?...West Virginia may have too many white guys to be a threat...I'm kidding, I'm kidding. Actually, the simple fact that it's West Virginia means it won't be a threat...Let me get this straight: the Mountaineers are playing in Cleveland? Hmm. The state of West Virginia and the city of Cleveland together? Splendid...I'm kidding, I'm kidding. Without West Virginia where would inbreeding humor be? Nowhere, that's where...Pacific has plenty of foreigners on its roster, meaning the Tigers are dangerous...I wonder if "Michael" and "Olakawandi" are painful words to Pacific fans...Pittsburgh, much like Georgia Tech, has been way too inconsistent to expect anything else now...Creighton is a tourney vet. Could be dangerous...UCLA? 1-7 against the tourney field? Check back on the young Bruins next year...The Bruins did manage to cause a lot of damage to Notre Dame's tourney hopes, and for that I am grateful...Quick: name a George Washington alum other than Yinka Dare...Louisiana-Lafayette has some straight-up athletes. Gazelles. Their matchup with Louisville could be one of the better games of the first round...Winthrop? I'm this close to penciling the Eagles in the Sweet 16. No, I'm serious...Chattanooga coach John Shulman has a hot wife. Very hot, actually. Yes, I notice these things...Montana? Coached by Krystkowiak. Enough said.

Sweet Sixteen - Washington, Louisville, Gonzaga, Wake Forest

The pick - Wake Forest. Yeah, an ACC pick. Shocking.

EDIT: I changed my mind. Screw Wake Forest. I can't stomach the thought of Chris Paul having the opportunity to punch someone in the balls in the Final Four. Besides, U-Dub was my gut pick and I was led astray by all the Huskies naysayers, whom are abundant. So...

Washington.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Right On Time, Prior Hurting




Mark Prior is hurt. Again. Of course, he is. You didn't actually think Prior and Kerry Wood would make it through spring training without first torturing Cubs fans, did you? Naturally, the Cubs are saying it's not serious, just as they did last year before Prior began a long stay on the IR.

Cubs Nation drinks hard tonight.

Random Thoughs of (March) Madness, Pt. 1



Let's take an in-depth look at the Chicago Region as we all eagerly await to see what tie Digger Phelps wears today. It's going to be hard to top that pink tie/pink shirt fashion statement he made a few days ago.

1. Illinois - The Illini are winning. In fact, other than the last seven seconds of the Ohio State game, they barely ever trail...Dee Brown has been cold, but he'll come around...Roger Powell has been a beast of late, while also running prayer services on the side, which can't hurt the karma...And, of course, Bruce Weber is still answering questions with a really high voice. Come on, it's funny.

2 - Oklahoma St. - OK, the Cowboys were one of the few teams that I told myself to immediately lock in as a Final Four candidate before I even saw the bracket. What bracket they ended up in was not important...Tough draw for the Illini, or anybody else....If Eddie Sutton actually gets off the bench and stands, look out...Tell me I'm not the only one who saw John Lucas, Sr. grabbing his heart in jest after his son (Jr., for short) hit a big shot against Texas Tech and immediately thought of cocaine jokes...

3 Arizona - The Wildcats had a typically impressive season, but here's the thing: they have a tendency to advance really deep, or to go down shockingly early in a massive upset. The Cats have been prone to end up on the wrong end of a few Cinderella stories. There's not usually much middle ground. If Stoudemire starts shooting poorly, the Cats can be had...Between Lute Olson and Stoudemire, Arizona has cornered the market on nice hair, though this helps them in no way...How tough is the Pac 10?...Will Jenny Finch be in the crowd?



4. Boston College - Anyone get the feeling that Boston College is turning into the Cincinnati of the East Coast? I mean, they have dudes dropping out of buildings to escape death by beating or gunshot. The fact that this was happening on the weekend of the Big East tournament only makes this story that much more classic. The ACC must be feeling real comfortable with this. Meanwhile, and as I've said before, Jared Dudley and Sean Marshall annoy to no end. They're always yapping like tiny dogs. This even as they collapsed late in the season...They do play hard, though, so they could be dangerous...If the Eagles falter early, and/or rack up any arrests this week, Al Skinner and Bobby Huggins might consider playing one another in a nonconference game.

5. Alabama - The Tide are a scary team. I like their track record in the NCAA tourney over the years. They know how to wreck havoc on a bracket. Just ask Stanford...They're so athletic that if they get on a roll they might beat anybody...Is the university doing anything to help Latrell Sprewell raise his kids?

6. LSU - I'm still not over the fact that LSU never won it all when Shaq, Chris Jackson, and the legendary Stanley Roberts were on the team together...Has anyone seen LSU play? Ever? Do the Tigers even exist?



7. Southern Illinois - Now that the Salukis have got their annual MVC tourney collapse out of the way, they can get down to doing what they do best, which is coming to play in the big tourney. They show up ready, having made the Sweet 16 in 2002, and losing to Missouri and Alabama the past two years, both games by a single point. (The Missouri loss was partially the result of a terrible call at the end, but I digress.)...Darren Brooks is a player more people need to know about...The fact that they are called the Salukis, I believe, automatically gives them a 5-point edge over any opponent...Bruce Weber started SIU's current run. Chris Lowery, at 32, is one of college basketball's youngest coaches.

8. Texas - The Longhorns have beaten Oklahoma St. Twice. Enough said.

9. Nevada - Not quite as cool as the old Runnin’ Rebels, but doing the state of Nevada proud. No word on if they also like to hang out with prostitutes in hot tubs. Let's hope so.

10. St. Mary's - No school named for a woman shall advance deep into the tourney. If I had a list of set rules, this would be one of them...And "the Gaels" sounds pretty gay, too...Then again, the Gaels roster is loaded with foreigners, and we all know foreigners play much better basketball these days. Australia, France, Brazil, Morocco...When did Australia become a basketball breeding ground?...Is it just me or does Australia seem like it has the potential to come up with more hot chicks than it does? I'm still waiting for the next Elle McPherson.

11. UAB - The Blazers may be the South's most underrated team. I like these guys. I'm a little pissed that they ended DePaul's tourney hopes, but whatever...After knocking off Kentucky last year, they'll get a shot at another SEC school in LSU...Tell me Demario Eddins doesn't look like Sprewell...Mike Anderson might be one of the college game's best young coaches. And the word is he wants to stay in his hometown and coach UAB rather than take a so-called bigger job. I like that.

12. Wisconsin-Milwaukee - Bruce Pearl has quietly turned UWM into a mid-major power. They could be dangerous...They'd be more dangerous if they stopped with the hyphenated crap and just called themselves Milwaukee...Their loss to Notre Dame in the tourney two years ago - when their big guy missed a wide-open layup at the buzzer - was painful to watch...Jimmy Collins can't be happy about this.



13. Penn - I would love to see these guys upset Boston College. Watching Dudley and Marshall implode would be priceless.

14 - Utah St. - The Aggies were left out last year after going 25-3. They might be pissed off. Pissed off teams can be dangerous.

15 - Southeastern Louisiana - (Insert standard "directional school" joke here.)

16. Fairleigh Dickinson - Didn't he write nursery rhymes?

Sweet 16: Illinois, Alabama, Southern Illinois, Oklahoma St.

The pick: Illinois. Twinkle, twinkle, baby. Twinkle, twinkle. On paper at least, the Illini have a nice road to St. Louis, particularly because it passes through Chicago. The Rosemont Horizon - yes, I still call it that - can be a cauldron of an arena when it's packed. And it will be packed, not to mention decked in orange. It's going to be a party.

Winning Ugly? Illini Just Winning



Is there a difference between winning beautifully and winning ugly? And, more importantly, does it matter?

Of course not.

Illinois continues to win, adding the Big Ten tourney title to the regular season championship it earned, but it currently barely resembles the team that rightfully earned the nickname the Stylin' Illini earlier in the season, a fitting tribute if ever there was one. That Illini team was artful to watch, poetry in motion. They were all steals, fast breaks, selfless passing, and a barrage of three-pointers that, more often than not, hit nothing but net. They were fun, inspiring, and playing basketball about as beautifully as it can be played. They were prettier than Keira Knightly.

The Illini team that successfully banged its way through the Big Ten tourney over the weekend has been much less pretty, its shooting gone cold, its glorious guards seemingly missing their magic touch, and everything it earned accompanied by a cacophony of referee's whistles, grunts, and colliding bodies.

In other words, they've been playing Big Ten basketball.

And winning...still.

Dee Brown, apparently still recovering from the SI cover jinx, was a perfectly ugly 0-for-8 against Wisconsin, his shooting touch gone the way of Major League Baseball's integrity. Deron Williams hasn't been much hotter, and Luther Head, though slightly less in a funk than his backcourt buddies, hasn't been his normal self, either.

So what?

There seems to be a growing concern that this Illini team may be getting cold at the wrong time. Of course, this is what Chicago sports fans do best. They worry. They prepare themselves for the worst, having so often experienced the worst in the past. It comes naturally. Self esteem in this town is more fleeting than the Kansas City Royals atop the standings in April.

But let's remember a few things here:

1) In three Big Ten tourney games, the Illini never really trailed. Oh, they may have briefly fell behind in the early moments, but in each game they quickly jumped ahead and never looked back. This is called taking care of business. Minnesota and Wisconsin, as competitive as they were, both trailed by double digits in the second halves of their respective games before making late runs, which the Illini weathered. Ugly or not, it's hard to find fault with a team that rarely trails at any juncture in a game.

2) All season long critics of the Illini have expressed concern over their inside presence, or lack thereof. The general consensus has been that as go the guards, so go the Illini. It was openly wondered, by myself included, if the Illini could withstand a stretch in which all three guards went cold at the same time.

Well, the Big Ten tourney provided some answers. As the guards struggled, James Augustine quietly earned the tourney MVP by scoring some, grabbing plenty of rebounds, blocking shots, and helping shutdown Wisconsin's Mike Wikinson.

Roger Powell, meanwhile, came up with 15 points and 12 rebounds yesterday and even earned some consideration for tourney MVP himself.

Jack Ingram continues to provide a spark off the bench and Nick Smith...well, he gets in there and looks real tall.

If everyone was so quick to dissect the weaknesses of Augustine and Powell as the guards were orchestrating college basketball's greatest show, they should also praise the pair for doing what needed to be done when games got ugly and brutal.

3) The last week has seen the Illini embark on an emotional roller coaster that no team should ever have to endure. First, it was the devastating loss to Ohio St. Then, it was the death of Bruce Weber's mother. The Illini's journey, which had previously been nothing but the best of times, was suddenly somber and full of heartbreak. How would they handle it?

Well, all the while, the team spoke of "family" and helping guide one another through a troubled time. Watching the Illini players comfort Weber and walk him off the court with their arms draped around him has been just as inspiring to witness as the mesmerizing basketball they play when they're at their best. I'm not one for sentimentality...ah, hell, who am I kidding? I am one for sentimentality, and watching the Illini exist as a tight nit family has been enough to put a lump in my throat.

Whatever doesn't kill you...

4) As for the Illini’s suddenly cold shooting touch, there is one positive way to look at it: perhaps they are getting it out of their system now. Surely, Brown's shot will start falling again, as will the shots of Head and Williams. Everyone goes in slumps, and, hopefully, the Illini shooting touch has endured such a slump. Now, the guards just need to hit the gym and shoot jumpers endlessly - or at least until their touch returns.

Bottom line: The Illini continues to win. It hasn't been pretty of late, but that doesn't matter. And if they manage to win the national title, it can be the ugliest national title ever, for all anyone in Chicago would care.

More NCAA tourney thoughts later as they come...

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Let It Go Already



The endless discussion over the University of Illinois' mascot continues.

This is ridiculous. These PC bastards have been bitching and moaning about this for years. They tend to forget that the Illini symbol was originally chosen in honor of the Indian heritage that existed on the Illinois plains. I mean, at one point in time the school asked itself what nickname/macot it wanted to serve as a symbol of pride, honor, and dedication...and "the Illini" was chosen. Where is the animosity or insensitivity in that?

The sad part is, many of the people who spearhead these angry campaigns are white malcontents who like to stand on soapboxes and sound self-important. I suppose it makes them feel better about themselves. Sure, there are Native Americans who don't care for the symbol and imagery, but I've also read on several occasions quotes from Native Americans who have no problem with it, or at least they don't feel it's anything to bitch about. Or at least they recognize it for what it is - a harmless tradition that aims to hurt no one.

These bored PC clowns need to pick a new fight and go away. There is real - REAL! - racial insensitivity out there and it has little to do with college kids and basketball games.

WTF is up with this?...

Quote:

Last week, five American Indians filed a federal lawsuit seeking $2.5 million in damages against the Honor the Chief Society, alleging their civil rights were violated when they were kept out of a party for the outgoing Chief Illiniwek at a Champaign restaurant in February 2004.


So let me get this straight. These cats publicly and relentlessly bash the school over its mascot, and then when they're not wanted at a party FOR that very mascot, they decide to sue for $2.5 mil? Classy.

Get fuckin' lost. Go get laid by an Illinois coed and stop worrying about one student dressed up in Indian attire for a few hours on gameday. Nobody is laughing at Native Americans. Nobody is mocking them. Nobody is belittling them.

Would these people rather have all memories of Indian culture just shrivel up and vanish and have no mark in public life whatsoever? The Illini mascot, in an offhand way, helps keep Indian culture in the public eye, and it does so in a manner of celebration and joy. Perhaps it isn't done in the most mature or well-thought-out way - after all, these are college kids - but no ill will is intended. None. Whatsoever. Really.

OK?

So relax, enjoy the game, and pick battles that are a little more meaningful.

Or don't...but go away.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Living On A Hope And A Prayer



DePaul? Killing me.

If I'm Dave Leitao, I deny any request to have cameras filming the Demons watching the selection show. It could end ugly. I'd also have one of them DePaul priests on hand to channel God.

Look, when senior leaders Quenton Greer and Drake Diener are missing free throws and turning the ball over in the final few minutes, things tend to end badly for the Demons, who have had a bad habit of losing close games of late. A bad habit. Perhaps the committee will consider the fact that the Demons led UAB virtually the entire game except for the final :0.8. They can only hope.

A date with Notre Dame in the NIT seems quite plausible, which is a shame.

Is DePaul one of the best 64 teams in the country? Yeah. Did they prove it when it mattered most? Not quite. What is the most disappointing aspect of this? The fact that they had every opportunity to beat both Louisville and UAB (twice) in the final minute.

Hit a friggin' free throw.

UAB, meanwhile, is tourney worthy. The Blazers play perhaps the most frantic defense out there, which is always fun. Mike Anderson, a former Nolan Richardson assistant, has the Blazers keeping alive the "Forty Minutes of Hell" mantra, and their defense can be perfectly frantic when they turn it up. Organized chaos. Besides, no NCAA tourney would be complete without the name "Squeaky Johnson" somewhow involved.

Whatever happened to UNLV's "Amoeba" defense?

Indiana could not have been more disappointing. After frantically working their way back into the picture, the Hoosiers were thumped by Minnesota with a performance that looked a lot like a postseason game during Bob Knight's final few years at the school. In other words, they were utterly flat. It will be interesting to see how much one game can get the howls for Mike Davis' head going again.

Maybe Minnesota is better then they get credit for. And, man, do the Gophers have some big oaks playing inside. Dudes look like lumberjacks. And perfectly Minnesotan.

Iowa's Jeff Horner is the Midwest's J.J. Redick. No word on if he also writes poetry.

I don't much care what bracket they end up in, I'm penciling into the Sweet Sixteen Illinois, North Carolina,Villanova, Louisville, UConn, and Winthrop. Yeah, that's right, Winthrop. And Oklahoma.

Put me down as a big Steve Lavin fan. Fine commentator. And his hair still hasn't moved. And I like Lavin paired up with Brent Musburger. Like Musberger or not, whom many don't, his voice can be heard calling some of the NBA's most memorable games from the late '70s/early '80s. His voice is an ESPN Classic staple. There's something comforting in hearing that voice calling a Northwestern game. The voice of a basketball junkie.

Speaking of Northwestern, those slim bubble hopes of the Cats for an NIT berth went POP!

If Memphis wins the Conference USA tourney they are officially the Michael Jackson of college basketball. Crazy, crazy mofos. A roller coaster, nay, a circus. The Pope's health is more stable than the Tigers, who despite their schizophrenia, are finally playing the high-flying ball that was expected of them. They get Louisville today - at home - for a spot in the tourney.

South Florida? Cincinnati lost badly to South Florida? Someone tell the Bearcats that they're not supposed to choke until the NCAA tournament. Come on, it's tradition.

Should a team get in with a 7-10 conference record? No way. Bye bye, Maryland. Nobody needs to see Gary Williams sweat in HDTV, anyway.

I'm loving Alabama even though I've seen them play exactly once, when they lost a close game at home to Kentucky recently. They've absolutely tore up some opponents since then, including Mississippi yesterday. They may get another shot at Kentucky in the SEC tourney.

If ever there was a poor man's Tony Parker it's his little bro, T.J. Parker of Northwestern. I wonder if T.J. ever asks himself, "WTF? How did Tony get to be point guard for ther Spurs and date Eva Longoria - and I play for Northwestern?" Life is unfair.

West Virginia is one of those teams you can't help but root for.

Jared Dedley and Sean Marshall of Boston College may be the two most annoying players in college basketball. Am I wrong here?

Goodbeye, Gene Keady. Seashells and balloons.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Playoff?





2:30 DePaul-UAB.

Only one thing is certain about this Conference USA quaterfinal: the winner gets in the NCAA tourney. Or at least you would think so.

The Blue Demons beat Tulane yesterday, and there's a hopeful feeling that's all they needed to do to secure a berth, but nothing is certain. A loss here by either team leaves them crossing their fingers come Selection Sunday.

Sammy Meija came within two rebounds of recording the first triple-double in DePaul history against the Green Wave. That's hard to believe. George Mikan? Mark Aguirre? Terry Cummings? The immortal Tom Kleinschmidt? None of them ever did the deed?

Maybe Mejia gets his triple-double today. That would be nice. And maybe Quemont Greer plays like he was midseason and Drake Diener gets hot. That would be just as nice.

Unfortunately, Levar Seals may miss the game getting his back rubbed by a hot trainer, the price he must pay for taking a nasty spill while being intentionally fouled yesterday.

**********



Damarcus Beasley may just be the most successful American to make the move to the big time soccer of Europe - ever? He's getting there.

You could make a case for a few other Yanks, but they were mostly goalkeepers. Claudio Reyna had a nice run playing in Europe, too.

But Beasely is playing for one of Europe's most storied teams in PSV Eindhoven. And not only that, he's getting time and scoring goals, as he did yesterday as PSV eliminated last year's runner-up, Monaco, from the Champions League. If Eindhoven's run in the Champions League continues, and Beasely find the back of the net again, you can make an argument that no other American has had such an impact. Of course, it would help if he could crack the starting lineup.

I wonder if SportCenter showed Beaseley's goal. Probably not. Here it is.

I wonder how much the Fire will miss Beasely this year?

PSV's first goal (Vennegoor's) is sweet also, if you want to check it out.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

The Big Hurt Is Healthy...And Happy?



On Monday Frank Thomas made his annual "Hello, I'm here so now spring training can officially start" entrance to White Sox camp. Of course, this meant several things:

1) He was late.
2) He was talkative.
3) Most of the Chicago sports sections ran with photos of Thomas holding court surrounded by a throng of reporters anxious to get caught up in all things Frank.
4) His contract situation was discussed, which is more predictable than an Anna Nicole Smith meltdown.
5) He's still really big.

This happens every year. Thomas arrives late to spring training and everyone walks on eggshells as his mood of choice is anticipated. More often than not, he arrives surly and full of opinions, most of which center on a contract he inevitably feels is unfair and outdated. Or perhaps he has a problem with the present manager. Or his eggs were runny at breakfast. It's always something.

The point is, Thomas is one notoriously unhappy guy, and he's more than willing to let the world know, as he often does, particularly immediately upon his arrival at spring training. And the the world (i.e., Chicago fans and media) blasts him for it. And then a big ball of hate festers and manifests itself as drunken brawlers in the Cellular Field bleachers. This has become an annual occurence right up there with Christmas, taxes, and Peyton Manning choke jobs. Thomas has made putting one's foot into one's mouth an art form.

So it was nice to hear that Thomas arrived in camp not only seemingly happy, but in better shape than expected as he attempts to return from last season's season-ending ankle injury.

The Sox may have overhauled themselves from a home run-dependent club into an outfit based on speed, defense, and added pitching depth, but as long as Thomas is on the roster, the Sox will somehow always be "his" team. He'll always be the center of attention, and the face of the franchise.

So a happy Frank is a necessary Frank.

So far so good.

**********



The Sun-Times Mike Kiley writes that Joe Borowski may reclaim his spot as the Cubs closer. Hmm. Borowski: a 33-year old one-year wonder who physically collapsed last season amid rumors of steroid abuse. I can't say I feel overly optimistic about this possibility.

**********



The strange, and often annoying, saga of Eddy Curry continues.

Continuing his habit of feeling overly and unfairly maligned, Curry expressed dismay over his lack of playing time in the second halves of games. He then had a private meeting with Scott Skiles and the rest of the Bulls coaching staff. And, allegedly, everything has been worked out amicably.

Well, good. Glad to hear it.

There are three ways of looking at this:

1) Curry needs to stay quiet.

Perhaps if Curry used his 7-foot frame to grab a decent amount of rebounds, played better defense, and wasn't a turnover machine, he'd be on the court when it mattered most. If Skiles feels Curry is a liability during crunch time, he surely has his reasons for it. It's not like Skiles wouldn't play Curry if he thought it would give the Bulls their best chance at victory.

2) Curry has a point. He needs to play in the fourth quarter.

In actuality, I tend to lean in this direction. For the past several weeks I've been frustrated during the fourth quarter of Bulls games as I've awaited appearances by Curry that rarely come, if at all.

Does Curry have his weaknesses? Definitely. However, he's a 7-footer who can score. This is a rarity. And Curry won't learn much about crunch time by continually sitting it out. At some point, you would hope that Curry is as effective in the fourth quarter as he is in the first halves of many games. For this to happen, he'll first have to find his way onto the court during crunch time, even if it's in a trial-by-fire scenario.

3) The Bulls are aiming to limit Curry's productivity as he's in a contract year. Smaller numbers, not to mention meltdowns expressed through the media, would surely keep his price tag down. But this possibility is way too sinister for me to comprehend. Nah, couldn't be.

Perhaps this is all a mental game being played by Skiles. Perhaps he's letting Curry simmer on the bench until his psyche reaches a suitable boil. It certainly seemed to work in last night's win over the Bucks in which Curry played the entire third quarter and the final 6:39 of the fourth and seemed very into it. An excited Curry can be a devastating Curry.

Normally, I'd be all over Curry for his latest grumblings about being unhappy and feeling unfairly treated. God knows I've been on his case in the past. This time, however, I'll give him a pass and chalk it up to his desire to be a factor when it matters most. Nothing wrong with that.

**********



DaMarcus Beasely, Carlos Bocanegra, Ante Razov...

Add Damani Ralp to the list of Fire players who have left to test their games in Europe, with the exception of Razov, who was traded to Colombus. While it's nice to see them get their chance in the big time atmosphere of the European leagues, it sure is making it hard on Fire fans. What was once one of MLS's most successful franchises is deep in rebuilding mode, or at least it would appear that way.

On the other hand, I've driven past the site of the Fire's new stadium and construction is underway. Exciting.

**********



In Champions League action this afternoon, Chelsea defeated Barceona 4-2 to advance to the quarterfinals on aggregate 5-4. (If anyone wants an explanation of the Champions League, or wants to know what "aggregate" means, just ask.) Chelsea captain John Terry scored the goal on a header that proved to put the Blues through, and allowed Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho to look very smug, which he seems to love to do. In what was one of the better soccer matches you'll ever see, I was left with one question: Does Terry cut his own hair in the dark while drunk? Jesus, what's up with that mess on his head?

**********



It didn't take long, did it? Chris Webber is already complaining in Philly about playing time and differing "philosophies." Webber and Sixers coach Jim O'Brien had a meeting to "clear the air." Again with the meetings! I love how NBAers have these meetings. How does one of these meetings go?

Coach: "I'd really like to work this out. You seem unhappy. What can we do to ease this situation."

Player: "Shut the fuck up! Do you know who I am? I have a shoe commercial!"

Coach: "Well, certainly that attitude won't resolve anything. Perhaps we..."

Player: 'I said shut the fuck up! I didn't appreciate the way you pulled me out in the fourth quarter last night."

Coach: "But you fouled out. I was only..."

Player: "Tell it to my agent. I'm outta here after this season."

Coach: "Yes, but for the time being..."

Player: "Our philosophies ain't jiving, man! That's it! I'm doggin' it!"


The disease known as "justdoesnotgetititis" continues to infect the NBA. And what's up with this "philosophy" crap? Here's a philosophy for Webber: Shut the fuck up and put the ball in the basket.

Truth be told, I was worried when the Sixers acquired Webber. I didn't like the way they suddenly looked formidable in an extremely top-heavy Eastern Conference. But now? Now I'm just looking forward to watching Webber implode in front of the notoriously harsh Philly fans.

**********



Are you lonely? Perhaps you can drop $20 bucks to talk to Leon Spinks or Larry Holmes, among other celebrities. As soon as Mike Tyson gets in on this deal, I'm all for it.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Suck It Up And Move On



So what? So fuckin' what?

So the Illini lost to Ohio State? Big deal. Get over it. Move on. The inevitable happened. There's nothing to see here.

It was one game, a game that had nothing to do with the Big Ten title the Illini had already wrapped up, a game that won't alter their No. 1 seed in the NCAA tourney, a game on the road against an NCAA-ineligible team that was playing in its self-professed national championship, a game against a Buckeyes team that, lo and behold, isn't bad at all.

Shit happens. Oh, well.

Do you know all of those people who have been clamoring for an Illini loss for months now, somehow believing that losses are a good thing? Well, I hope they're happy. I hope they all sat back and let out big sighs of relief, content with the satisfaction that comes from no longer having to worry about shooting for perfection or history or the stars. Maybe this will make their enjoyment of this Illini team easier. These people were convinced that falling from the perch of greatness was somehow necessary to be great. Huh?

Dee Brown and Luther Head and Deron Williams and the rest of the Illini never believed this nonsense. Early in the season they sensed that a run towards immortality was attainable, and they got closer to that immortality than anyone could have predicted or expected. Good for them. The looks of utter shock and sorrow on their faces after their first loss suggested that they believed immortality was well within reach, that they were shooting for it despite all the lip service they gave to taking things one game at a time and all that. Yet some will say this loss is a good thing, that lessons were learned, that weaknesses were exposed and therefore fixable.

Really? What lessons were learned?

We already knew that the Illini are driven by their guard play, and that one game of poor shooting from Brown, Head and Williams could be fatal. And that's what happened against Ohio St. Williams was limited to a mere two points, Brown had just two points after halftime, and Head was largely ineffective. The Illini's outside shooting has been so great, particularly Brown of late, that you could sense them becoming dependent on it. Against the Buckeyes they continually settled for outside shots without getting the ball inside first, they couldn't hit a shot down the stretch, and the Buckeyes, their fans going crazy, got hot. End of story. So what lesson was learned?

We already knew that the Illini were susceptible to teams with dominant big men, and the Buckeyes Terence Dials, who the Illini had no answer for much of the day, proved that. For the Illini to be truly great, the inside players - James Augustine, Roger Powell, Jack Ingram, and Nick Smith - must be bigger factors on both ends of the court. They can't always defer to the guards to make things right. But, again, we already knew this.

We already knew that on any given day any team can fall, as was evidenced by the losses of Kansas and Kentucky yesterday.

So, really, there were no lessons learned. There were no weaknesses exposed. There were no new discoveries to chew on. All we know now is what we knew all along - that neither the Illini, nor any team in the land, is so good that they can't be knocked off on a day they don't play well. This is the oldest lesson in the book.

Of course, now we'll have the distinct (dis)pleasure of listening to all of the talking heads and self-proclaimed experts who will spend the next few days discussing the ramifications of one near-miss loss as if world peace depended on it. They will question the damage to the Illini psyche, and if they can recover. They will call the loss alarming and damaging. They will say the loss will remove the Illini’s much needed aura of invincibility.

Spare me. It’s a loss. Nothing more, nothing less. Get over it.

Sure, right now the distance between 29-1 and 30-0 seems greater than the distance between good John Travolta movies, but the ramifications of the loss are minimal. If the Illini's ultimate goal, a national championship, is attained, nobody will remember a largely meaningless one-point loss to Ohio State on sad day in early March. It will only be an unfortunate footnote in a season of unmatched joy.

Would 39-0 have been amazing? Sure, but 38-1(with only a one-point blemish along the way) would surely secure the Illini a spot among the all-time great teams. Few teams have ever been so dominant for an entire season, undefeated or not.

There are no words Bruce Weber can conjure up to ease the pain and disappointment his players are surely feeling now. Nor should there be. There is no need to for sweet talk, nor condolences, nor assurances that everything will be alright. Most importantly, there is no need for regret.

There is no need for anything other than to forget Sunday's heartbreak and focus on the road ahead. The ultimate goal remains the same. Nothing has changed. There is no need to do anything but get back to work.

Yesterday was a tough, tough loss, but all is not lost. Far from it.

And if any lesson was learned, this must surely be it.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

It Sucks To Be Davidson



16-0, unblemished
untouchable conference masters
an entire season as the slayer, as kings
as perfect as snow in the sun
in the newly-lit morn
for the very first time
the snow still smoother than glass floors
or silk ties
but now it's bye bye bye
to unfortunate 'Cats of broken perfection

Drew Brees says hello again
back with the Bolts
making official with pen
his one year bounty, a sizable sum
but the Chargers' cautious faith in him
is but a short LaDainlian run
a test ride in SoCal
and despite the Chargers being
the often chargeless Chargers
and with Brees possibly being
a one-year wonder
their caution is reasonable
Philip Rivers is paid to be more than
retrievable
to be more than a man to forget
Meanwhile, Marty
kicks himself in his sleep still, I bet
pictures of wide right and dancing Jets
pulsing through his head

Friday, March 04, 2005

Not A Bad Loss



If ever there was a quality loss, it was the Bulls' near miss in San Antonio last night, 102-99. To be down 17 points in the third quarter while playing at possibly the NBA's biggest heavyweight in the Spurs, and playing without the injured Luol Deng, and coming back to be tied with a minute to go, is nothing to sniff at. It's not often you feel good after a defeat, but the Bulls don't need to lower their heads after this one. They just need to beat the Bucks tonight and everything will be all good.

As for Deng, Bulls fans can take a deep breath. The rookie wonder will be missed, without doubt, but the prognosis of five games is manageable.

Ben Gordon and Eddy Curry continue to be complete opposites in the fourth quarter, Gordon being amazing, Curry nonexistent.

**********



Seeing fellow Argentinians Andres Nocioni and Manu Ginobli playing each other, I was reminded that Claudio Caniggia recently retired. He may not be remembered as one of the all-time great strikers, but the always crafty Caniggia scored some big goals for Argentina in the '90s, particularly the goal that knocked Brazil out of the '90 World Cup. He also tore it up in the Italian League for several years. The dude definitely deserves his spot.

**********

It was good to see Shaq back playing against the Kings on Friday night. The Eastern Conference wouldn't be as interesting without him. The trades of Chris Webber and Antoine Walker to the Sixers and Celtics, respectively, have definitely spiced the East up, but we'd all be cheated if Shaq wasn't around to be a factor.

Meanwhile, Tara Reid was at the game, making one of her regularly scheduled sports world sightings. She sure does like to date athletes and show up courtside, which is a good thing. And her abilty to go through athletes is...impressive? Who's she dating mow? Rick Adelman?

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

The Sox' Asian Invasion Continues



This is Sang Ho Moon, a 23-year-old South Korean pitcher the White Sox are looking at. I'd like to see him make the team if only because he's kind of crazy looking. I mean, look at him. He's a classic baseball card waiting to happen. Oh yeah, he throws heat in the mid-90s.

**********



So have we reached the point yet where it would be really cool if Gary Bettman was to just suddenly disappear? I think we have.

Why must we hear about the NHL and its pathetic problems on a daily basis? Drop it already. I don't want to hear another peep about the NHL unless it's news of a new contract agreement.

And I specifically don't want to hear a peep out of Bettman.

Until this cheap clown can explain why franchises were moved from Canada to places like Nashville and Columbus, and stops haggling like a 'roided-up rat over a few million dollars, I can't take him seriously. Nobody can. Has any commissioner, in ANY sport, ever messed up a professional league the way Bettman has? I don't think so. The dude is unpresedented in a bad, bad way. Way to go, Gary, now get lost.

By the way, any new contract should demand the return of the Winnipeg Jets. This is a necessity. Having a team in Nashville and not in Winnipeg is...un-American? Yeah, un-American. That's the ticket.

A hockey team in Nashville is cool and all, but how can you not have a hockey team in Winnipeg? Ridiculous.



I'd demand the return of the Quebec Nordiques as well, but they usually sucked when they were around, so they will be put on a waiting list.

**********



As much as I hate to admit it, there are few franchises I respect more than the Minnesota Twins. They're hard not to root for. Talk about a feel good franchise. And former manager Tom Kelly, who guided the Twins to a pair of World Series titles in '87 and '91,, has never really left apparently. Cool story. He's still hanging out with the team at spring training, giving tips to the troops. The dude's a sage at this point and the grandpappy of one MLB's most successful franchises.

It will almost make be feel bad when the White Sox must crush them. Almost.

**********



Do you remember when the Portland Trail Blazers were possibly the most lovavble team in the NBA? Remember when the Blazers were pretty much the blue print of a model franchise? It wasn't that long ago.

Yeah, those Blazers were the only team in a relatively small city, meaning they were beloved. They were the show. The Portland fans were famous for their undying dedication to the team. They were rabid. The Blazers players were class acts, not to mention extremely talented. Some of them were even potheads, but it was all cool. And the Blazers won. Always. They were a long-running success parade of sellout crowds and steady trips to the NBA Finals. They were the Green Bay Packers of the NBA.

Now they've become the Oakland Raiders, a collection of known knuckleheads and running jokes. If Randy Moss was in the NBA, he would definitely be a Blazer. Luckily for Maurice Cheeks, he is no longer in charge of the mess.

Good for him. Cheeks deserves a better situation than the playpen he has been given, as he is quite possibly a good coach waiting to happen. Sure, the Blazers have done poorly, and Cheeks can't be held entirely without blame, but I wouldn't judge him just yet. He can't really be held responsible for the Blazers' problems. Management has crippled the franchise with notoriously bad judgement regarding both financial decisions and a bad habit of employing some of the NBA's naughtiest thugs. At times, it has almost looked like the Blazers were trying to provide comedy for basketball fans everywhere. And in that regard, they've done a stupendous job. They were already a sinking ship when Cheeks took over.

In the right situation, with players who aren't distracted by arrests, court cases, anger management issues, and general malaise, Cheeks seems to have the coaching goods that might be present in a former NBA title-winning point guard. Maybe Cheeks just needs the right audience, and not Darius Miles. Bill Belichik is the poster boy of first-time coaches who struggled but only needed a new start. I'm not saying Cheeks is the Belichik of the NBA, but give Cheeks a respectable roster and I'm guessing he does just fine.

And in the NBA, where head coaches get more second chances than Darryl Strawberry, Cheeks should get another opportunity soon.