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There's an inti­ma­cy in this that so res­onates with me. I mean, it's impos­si­ble to imag­ine that I wouldn't be charmed by the sub­ject mat­ter alone — a Pres­i­dent I great­ly admire, plus two NBA play­ers. But this moment is espe­cial­ly great, because I love Der­rick Rose's game and I will always appre­ci­ate that he OD'd on can­dy before the 2008 NCAA Final with Kansas. And I admire Joakim Noah's grit­ty post play and his seri­ous media game. And I love that there's gen­uine emo­tion in this shot. It has got a lit­tle bit of stagey-ness, but it also feels, like I said, inti­mate, like the pho­tog­ra­ph­er took this pho­to and emailed it to me, and said: "You'd appre­ci­ate this."


Bracketological madness, volume 2 — Bracket edition

You might have noticed that I wrote a bas­ket­ball-relat­ed post last week, but I'm actu­al­ly try­ing to sep­a­rate my obsess­ing about sports from … well, real stuff. So I post­ed this year's brack­et at Tur­ri­ble, which is intend­ed to be my online man cave. Of sorts. Any­way, don't assume that I post­ed it else­where because, like, I'm ashamed of how bad it is. My ter­ri­ble pre­dic­tions had noth­ing to do with my deci­sion to post it on a blog that no one reads. Noth­ing. Zero. Am I angry that I'm in last place in my brack­et pool? Maybe a lit­tle. But my only regret is that my picks were not more bold. Except, if they had been more bold, I wouldn't be in last place. I mean, how could I have missed St. Mary's over Vil­lano­va? You'll notice in my brack­et notes that I even talk about how bad Vil­lano­va is play­ing; the words "Bad moon ris­ing" were cut off in the scan­ning process under Villanova's first round game. And yet I had them advanc­ing into the Sweet Six­teen. I will ask the now-annu­al, post-sec­ond-round ques­tion: What was I think­ing?

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Bracketological breakdown, 2010 edition, volume 1!

It's March, and the mad­ness of the sea­son has over­tak­en me. Thus, I won't be offend­ed if you are about to click back to Twit­ter, or your RSS reader.I'll start by not wast­ing anyone's time com­plain­ing about this year's tour­na­ment pair­ings. That path is well-trav­eled.1 And well it should be! The pair­ings are out­ra­geous! Kansas was pun­ished! Ken­tucky, Duke, and Syra­cuse — they've all got gold­en tick­ets to Indi­anapo­lis. Right? Right?

For starters, I'm glad I'm not Kentucky

For so many rea­sons. Let's look at the round two match-ups. Texas and Wake For­est have been ter­ri­ble — hor­ri­ble — over the past cou­ple of months. But, they're tal­ent­ed, and each could gel for just long enough to beat any­one in the coun­try, includ­ing Ken­tucky. Is this unlike­ly? High­ly. Is it more like­ly that Cor­nell will grind their way past Tem­ple, Wis­con­sin and Ken­tucky? Per­haps. But indulge me: Texas actu­al­ly match­es up pret­ty well with Ken­tucky, size-wise and tal­ent-wise. I think that it's pos­si­ble that they could get moti­vat­ed (ever so briefly) to not be embar­rassed by them. Am I pick­ing Texas over Ken­tucky? Maybe not. Texas coach Rick Barnes is nev­er in dan­ger of out-game­plan­ning any­one. He's nev­er been accused of hav­ing his team ready to play, and his teams are always threat­en­ing to under­per­form. Let's not for­get this. Still, I wouldn't want to be a Ken­tucky fan, not in this tour­na­ment, or in any life­time. Because let me be frank: I don't think I could face a world with­out read­ing, with­out lit­er­a­cy. I just don't think I could do it.

Which reminds me, did you hear that Coach K was born in the year of the Ratfaced Bastard?

Eerie, right? Not sure what his astro­log­i­cal sign is, but I'm rel­a­tive­ly sure that all the major media fig­ures kiss its ass.

But Duke didn't get an easy road, either

I know, most peo­ple say that Duke has the eas­i­est path: a #4 seed in free-fall after its star blew out his knee (Pur­due), and a #2 seed that lost six of its last ten (Vil­lano­va). I say: Thank you for notic­ing, world, but look at the #3 seed: Bay­lor. This team got pun­ished for play­ing cup­cakes ear­ly — Hardin Sim­mons? Texas Arling­ton? South­ern? Hart­ford? Coach Scott Drew, c'mon. You asked for your crud­dy seed. But then Bay­lor played a tough con­fer­ence sched­ule, didn't lose a game by more than 7 points, and they absolute­ly light it up (119 points per 100 pos­ses­sions — 5th in the coun­try). Enough about Bay­lor; Duke may not even get there. Louisville will give Duke every­thing they can han­dle in round 2; per­haps more. Rick Piti­no v Coach K, in the sec­ond round? Fans' brains might explode. Which coach do I hate more? Minds will boggle.

Back to the Wildcats

Kansas State. Are they good enough to reach the Final Four. Yes. Can they beat Syra­cuse? Quite pos­si­bly. How do you beat Syra­cuse? You pun­ish the zone. And K‑State has two guys who can do this — Pullen and Clemente. What about the glass? Two more guys: Wal­ly Judge and Cur­tis Kel­ly. They can hold their own under­neath. Ken­Pom has K‑State ranked 5th in the coun­try in offen­sive rebound­ing per­cent­age at 40%. They gath­er 40% of the rebounds on their offen­sive glass. That's huge. And they play great defense. Did I men­tion I wouldn't want to be Syra­cuse? I wouldn't. Espe­cial­ly because a big guy might be hurt. Or, he might not be. March mad­ness, baybee!

The team that will break my heart: Cornell

Every year I pick a team like this. They're good. They play under con­trol. They've got a sys­tem. All the ingre­di­ents are there for sur­prise. Sub­text: They played very well against Kansas. Okay, let's face it, they out-played Kansas for 20–25 min­utes in the hal­lowed hall of Lawrence, and they came up short (bare­ly). Texas A&M, Bay­lor, Col­orado, Kansas State and Mem­phis also played very well against the Hawks, and lost. Sub­text: I also have these teams doing well in the tour­na­ment. Caveat! Any­way, every year, I pick a team like this to get out of the first round, and they lay an egg. I'm look­ing at you, But­ler team of 2008. This year's heart­break­er is espe­cial­ly obvi­ous to avoid because Tem­ple is a good team who could eas­i­ly … force the afore­men­tioned egg? To emerge? Any­way, Tem­ple is a great defen­sive team, though you wouldn't have been able to see any evi­dence of that against … Kansas! Yes, they lost to the Jay­hawks at home. By 32 points.Did I men­tion that this brack­et break­down was from the point of view who has watched 34 Kansas games, and rough­ly 20 total oth­er games. Caveat!1 I will offer one sug­ges­tion: Why not just fac­tor their media desir­abil­i­ty into the RPI? Your team's win­ning per­cent­age x their opponent's win­ning per­cent­age x their oppo­nents' oppo­nents' win­ning per­cent­age x the like­li­hood that your team will draw a large, rich audi­ence to the Final Four week­end equals their seed. It's obvi­ous­ly a fac­tor in every year's brack­et. Last year, North Car­oli­na was invit­ed to do the Ten­nessee Waltz all the way to Detroit. In oth­er words, they had it easy. In oth­er news, the nation loves them some Tar Heels. It's worth men­tion­ing that adver­tis­ers tend to pay more when the Heels are play­ing. And of course CBS is for-prof­it enter­prise. You get the point. We all do. It's time to be up-front about it.Okay, wait. One more thing. I will post some­thing about the absurd lop­sid­ed­ness of the pairings:

You want to make mar­gin­al No. 1 Duke's road that easy? Seed­ing the brack­et is tough, but come on. The South reeks of a com­mit­tee that lost the for­est for the trees, and Ken­tucky, Syra­cuse and Kansas — espe­cial­ly Kansas — will suf­fer. So much for being the over­all No. 1. If we can't reward Kansas for its excel­lence with some­thing bet­ter than this, then the anti-expan­sion folks' main point is offi­cial­ly moot. The reg­u­lar sea­son doesn't matter.

More here.


How Nick Van Exel got his 20 assists

Excel­lent Dead­spin post about the undis­ci­plined and occa­sion­al­ly crooked world of NBA score­keep­ing. It's based on the sto­ry of a guy named Alex who once kept score for the Griz­zlies, and it includes this gem about how Nick Van Exel (who wasn't known for his pass­ing, let's say) racked up 23 assists one night:

A lit­tle more than a year lat­er, with Nick Van Exel and the Lak­ers in town, Alex decid­ed to act out. "I was sort of dis­grun­tled," he says. "I loved the game. I don't want the num­bers to be mean­ing­less, and I felt they were becom­ing mean­ing­less because of how stats were kept. So I decid­ed, I'm gonna do this total­ly imma­ture thing and see what hap­pens. It was child­ish. The Lak­ers are in town. We're gonna lose. Fuck it. He's get­ting a shit­load of assists." If you were to watch the game today, you'd see some "com­i­cal­ly bad assists." Alex's fin­ger­prints are all over the box score. He gave Van Exel every­thing. "Van Exel would pass from the top of the three-point line to some­one on the wing who'd hold the ball for five sec­onds, drib­ble, then make a move to the bas­ket. Assist, Van Exel."


Kevin Garnett / What can you say now?

Two things: (1) How awe­some would it be to play on KG's team? [Don't ask Big Baby that ques­tion]. Still, what if KG worked in your office? He could walk the halls, pump­ing peo­ple up, bring­ing every­one into pre-meet­ing hud­dles — one-two-three-UBUN­TU! — and he could remind peo­ple that it's about the lit­tle things, remind them that things are get­ting bet­ter and that they just need to hold it togeth­er a lit­tle longer for the title run (or the final design deliv­er­able, in my case). Seri­ous­ly, how rare is it that an ath­lete is so insane­ly gift­ed and so deeply, out­ward­ly pas­sion­ate? I'll tell you what: He would give Ter­ry Tate a run for his mon­ey in the office ath­lete depart­ment. [The pain train is comin]. And, (2) Some­one needs to cre­ate an iPhone app or an audio­book or some­thing that blends the inspi­ra­tional wis­dom of Coach Tay­lor from Fri­day Night Lights with KG's extem­po­ra­ne­ous pas­sion. That would be tech­nol­o­gy that I could use. (Okay, three things.) (3) Who­ev­er made this com­mer­cial is a genius. It's just doc­u­men­tary-ish enough to give you a sense of the entire arc of the sea­son; it real­ly brings out the grind, how long KG spends say­ing the same stuff again and again; and it ends in just the right way: "What can you say now?" Noth­ing. You can't say any­thing. Actu­al­ly, you could say one oth­er thing: "Any­thing is pos­si­ble!"

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Basketball / It's bracket time

2008 NCAA tournament bracketYou prob­a­bly can't tell, but I've been wor­ry­ing over my picks for the last cou­ple of days.

My patented approach = tossed out the window

I've filled out 20+ brack­ets in my life, and each year I take basi­cal­ly the same tack: At least one #1 seed goes down rel­a­tive­ly ear­ly; every Big 12 team rep­re­sents. This most­ly works, but it gets com­pli­cat­ed because I also gen­er­al­ly want Duke to flame out ear­ly (and with the great­est pos­si­ble degree of humil­i­a­tion), and I expect the Pac 10 teams to eat shit as well. His­to­ry has not been kind to this approach. Did I men­tion that I usu­al­ly send Kansas to the Final Four at least as well? So yes, I usu­al­ly lose what­ev­er pool I've entered.

Instead, I predict that history will be made in a couple of ways

Of course, I still have Duke flam­ing out and Kansas win­ning, but I've twist­ed a cou­ple of the oth­er valves in my strat­e­gy engine:

  1. All 4 #1 seeds make the Final Four. In every case, I couldn't imag­ine any one of them los­ing. North Car­oli­na is play­ing in their home state all the way through. Mem­phis is good, and they're mad, and I don't think they're going to have to face Texas, so who are they going to lose to? Pitts­burgh? Bob Knight thinks so, but I'm not so sure. Kansas is also good, and they're focused, and I just hope that Bill Self has them ready to go. UCLA is the only team that, to me, seems vul­ner­a­ble, if only because K‑Love's back may be hurt. Then again, Ben How­land is a wily bas­tard, and I wouldn't put it past him to use a very minor injury to start mess­ing with the minds of future oppo­nents, a la Bill Belichick.
  2. The Pac 10 per­forms. I dare you to look into the sea­sons that each of the teams played. They played good teams, and they per­formed pret­ty well. I've got USC in the Elite Eight. Crazy? Maybe. But they fin­ished the sea­son pret­ty strong, even though Waz­zu obvi­ous­ly had their num­ber. Which is why I have Waz­zu advanc­ing before los­ing a tight one to UNC.
  3. The Big 12 fiz­zles. K‑State is reel­ing, and I've got them los­ing to USC. Okla­homa looked awful quite a few times this year; I wouldn't be at all sur­prised to see St. Joe's stick it to them. I've got Texas los­ing to Stan­ford, only because I have a hard time see­ing Damion James sin­gle-hand­ed­ly deal­ing with the Lopez bros. On the oth­er hand, I do have Bay­lor and A&M win­ning in the first round, and I've got Kansas win­ning it all. So it's a minor fizzle.

Remem­ber: You heard it here first. Prob­a­bly not.

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Basketball / Tale of two teams

Baron!The Bay Area: Where Baron hap­pens. Pho­to: Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

Liv­ing in the Bay Area, I've watched Baron Davis and Don Nel­son breathe life into the corpse of the Gold­en State War­riors by play­ing fast, loose, undis­ci­plined, unpre­dictable bas­ket­ball. When they're click­ing, the War­riors are invig­o­rat­ing and life-affirm­ing. Nel­lie doesn't bur­den the team with struc­ture — they don't real­ly run an "offense" or play "defense" in the tra­di­tion­al sens­es — instead, they rely on the play­ers' abil­i­ties to impro­vise, pull their oppo­nents out of their own struc­tures, and wear them down with run­ning and gunning. 

Playground electicity

When the War­riors are good, they're like the best play­ground bas­ket­ball team you could ever imag­ine. What makes them all the more excit­ing is that their ros­ter lacks key tra­di­tion­al dimen­sions asso­ci­at­ed with suc­cess­ful teams. They com­pete with­out the tra­di­tion­al man-moun­tain in the low-post to take on Shaq, Yao, Dun­can, or Pau; instead, Andris Biedrins, who has very lit­tle in the way of a J and doesn't ever try to play fac­ing the bas­ket, uses his quick­ness and hops to rebound, fol­low, and gen­er­al­ly sur­prise oppo­nents with his abil­i­ty to keep War­rior pos­ses­sions alive. (Check out where The Wages of Wins ranked Biedrins for the 2006–2007 sea­son) Spoil­er: He's #1 on the team, with 11.7 to Baron's 9.7. On the guard front, Baron and Stephen Jack­son and Mon­ta Ellis don't real­ly run an offense as much as they weave through defens­es in per­pet­u­al one-on-fives, dri­ving to the rim, dish­ing to team­mates. Baron has a (admit­ted­ly deserved) rep­u­ta­tion as a shoot-first point guard, but he defers to oth­ers when they're hot and his team­mates seem to feed off his ener­gy. Mon­ta, more of a two-guard than a point, some­how can't shoot the three, but he can blow by just about any­one and he's one of the bet­ter fin­ish­ers in the league right now. 6'9" Al Har­ring­ton is more reli­able from behind the arc than he is with his back to the bas­ket; Wages of Wins doesn't think much of him, but it's hard to deny the prob­lems that he cre­ates for defens­es when he's in the game. Stephen Jack­son — Stack Jack, as Baron calls him — is the glue; when he's in the game, every­one is bet­ter. Seri­ous­ly, who wouldn't want to play with him? He's got everyone's back.

DarnellDar­nell can't do it alone. Pho­to: Nick Krug, Lawrence Journal-World.

Con­trast the War­riors with the oth­er team that I fol­low, the Kansas Jay­hawks. Where the War­riors are dan­ger­ous, inscrutable, fierce com­peti­tors who save their best for big games, the Jay­hawks have been the oppo­site: soft, pre­dictable, vul­ner­a­ble when the game is on the line. Where the War­riors have at least three guys who thrive in pres­sure sit­u­a­tions — Baron, Stack Jack, and Har­ring­ton — the Jay­hawks have eight guys who could start on any team in Amer­i­ca, but not one who wants to take over a game. Last week, I trekked to Ora­cle with Justin, Mara, and Lynne (Lynne? Blog?), and we watched the War­riors wear down the Celtics and, in the final moments, dri­ve a dag­ger into their hearts. Three days lat­er, I watched the Jay­hawks wilt in the final moments against a very, very fired up Okla­homa State team. Part of the prob­lem is that Kansas sim­ply doesn't have reli­able offen­sive weapons; anoth­er part is that teams love beat­ing the Hawks, and each Jay­hawk oppo­nent is play­ing its biggest game of the sea­son. Col­lege bas­ket­ball is dif­fer­ent in that regard. Mes­sage boards don't rejoice each time the Lak­ers lose a game, but oh how peo­ple love to see teams like Kansas (Google: "kansas" + "choke"), Duke (Google: "duke" + "choke"), and Ken­tucky (Google: "ken­tucky" + "choke") lose. Which is fine. If peo­ple didn't real­ly react this way, the wins wouldn't be as much fun.The root of the Hawks' prob­lem is offen­sive, though. The War­riors are stocked with guys who can cre­ate their own shot, but Kansas has to rely on Mario Chalmers and Sher­ron Collins (and, to some extent, Rus­sell Robin­son) to break down defens­es and spring Bran­don Rush on the perime­ter or Dar­rell Arthur inside. Like the War­riors, the Hawks don't run a struc­tured offense with inter­change­able parts; they rely on ath­leti­cism. This lack of dimen­sion is eas­i­ly exploit­ed by teams who effec­tive­ly pres­sure the Hawks' guards, and who run big guys out to trap the ball at the three-point line. Add to this mix the fact that Kansas guards can­not seem to defend oppos­ing guards, and there's no ques­tion that they've got some big prob­lems to solve before mid-March.

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Kansas basketball / Post-Julian thoughts

Julian at the SIU game

Julian Wright is tak­ing the oppor­tu­ni­ty of a life­time, and who can blame him? He brought enthu­si­asm and ener­gy to every game, con­tributed huge­ly in many of the big wins in the last cou­ple of years (cf. these dunks dur­ing the Flori­da game and this epic 33-point per­for­mance at MU), and showed enough skill and poten­tial to be very high­ly regard­ed by NBA scouts. Who wouldn't seize a chance to be finan­cial­ly secure, and to play in the NBA? The future is rarely cer­tain in these sit­u­a­tions, as these guys can attest. Best of luck to you, JuJu.The KU-sports-relat­ed Inter­net is (pre­dictably) thrash­ing around with the news, and the emo­tions range from hurt to hap­py, fatal­is­tic to opti­mistic. And who can blame them, real­ly? The last four years have been tough on Kansas bas­ket­ball, so tough that the men­tion of cer­tain names — Roy, Mic­ah, Pad­gett, Galin­do, Gid­dens, CJ, etc — can pro­voke pangs and spasms of hurt and guilt. I guess Julian gets added to the list now, though per­son­al­ly I think he's ready and I'm hap­py for him. Most of the com­menters at the end of this sto­ry feel oth­er­wise. Julian's depar­ture is com­pli­cat­ed, of course, by the fact that he pledged to stay fol­low­ing the loss to UCLA. This CBS reporter was real­ly peev­ed that Julian recon­sid­ered his prospects after the sea­son end­ed, which seems kin­da sil­ly to me. Did it real­ly take Julian's change of heart to com­mu­ni­cate to him that big-time col­lege sports are bit­ter­sweet, unpre­dictable, and per­pet­u­al­ly com­pro­mised by the twin prospects of major, life-chang­ing injuries and major, life-chang­ing paydays?Whatever hap­pens, I think that Julian will even­tu­al­ly have a good NBA career. Ryan Greene of com­pares Julian to Shawn Mar­i­on, and I see the resem­blance as well. That said, he would be way bet­ter off with estab­lished, vet­er­an-heavy teams like Phoenix (who wouldn't?) or Chica­go, where he'd be able to learn and adjust out of the spot­light. Career-endan­ger­ing teams like Mem­phis, Atlanta or (once again) Sacra­men­to will give him too much respon­si­bil­i­ty too soon, though he may be able to sur­vive that either way. Long term, he's a West­ern Con­fer­ence play­er who will come off the bench, get his 12 and 8, con­tin­ue do all the lit­tle stuff that makes him great (deflect­ing pass­es, set­ting oth­er guys up, keep­ing offen­sive rebounds alive), and be a good team guy to boot.

The bright sides

Look­ing for­ward to next Novem­ber, here are three sce­nar­ios that reflect my think­ing on the remain­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties for ear­ly entries and (yikes, not again!) transfers.

  • With­out Wright: Actu­al­ly may be bet­ter. Like Drew Gooden's ear­ly exit, I actu­al­ly think there's quite a sig­nif­i­cant bright side here. Julian's ath­let­ic abil­i­ty and tal­ent require that he play a major role in the offense, which results in few­er oppor­tu­ni­ties for the tal­ents of oth­er play­ers — Mario's dri­ves and shots, Sherron's shot and dri­ve, Rush's entire offen­sive arse­nal, Shady's sweet moves inside 12 feet. When Good­en left, Collison's McHale-like low-post pres­ence and Hinrich's Stock­ton-like abil­i­ty to make the right deci­sion on every fast break end­ed up pro­vid­ing a sys­tem more sta­ble than the one focused on Gooden's always ath­let­ic, some­times errat­ic pres­ence. With­out Julian at the 4, Shady starts and gets more time. This means that the line-up gets bulki­er with­out los­ing that much in the way of speed. They'll miss Julian's explo­sive­ness and shot-block­ing, but they gain Shady's sweet touch and bet­ter abil­i­ty to (more depend­ably) make plays while post­ing up. If Rush is still around (not like­ly, so see the bul­let point below), I tend to think that this line-up may even be more dan­ger­ous than if Wright had stuck around.
  • With­out Wright and Rush: Lots of re-jig­ger­ing, lots of uncer­tain­ty. Los­ing Rush is a much big­ger deal than los­ing Wright, obvi­ous­ly. He's the team's best on-the-ball defend­er; he became the go-to scor­er dur­ing the games in San Jose, and he can stroke it. Unfor­tu­nate­ly for him, he's not the explo­sive ath­lete that Julian is, and scouts are not eval­u­at­ing his drafta­bil­i­ty in the crys­tal-ball­ish terms of upside and poten­tial. His capac­i­ty is known, appar­ent­ly, and there­fore it has lim­its in the eyes of scouts. Does this mean he can't become, say, a Bruce Bowen type of play­er? Heck no. In fact, I think he'd fit in real­ly well with the type of team who would draft him in the 20's or so. And this is prob­a­bly what will hap­pen, so it all works out for the best, for him. If mon­ey and aca­d­e­mics (which are a major has­sle for him) were not issues, he's in a great posi­tion to thrive next sea­son. He fits into Self's sys­tem real­ly well; he real­ly began to shine at the end of the sea­son; anoth­er sea­son would real­ly give him a chance to refine his drib­ble-dri­ve and his out­side shot. But this is not an ide­al world, and bar­ring the entry of the entire UNC team or an injury that pre­vents him from com­pet­ing in the pre-draft camps, I sus­pect he's gone. Good luck to him.
    So. How do the Hawks replace Bran­don? Who becomes the stop­per? Who takes over the offense at the end of games? Who attracts the oth­er team's defend­ers when­ev­er he's on the floor? I'm not real­ly sure about any of this. A cou­ple of things are cer­tain, though: This will be a sea­soned, capa­ble team. They've been through a lot, beat­en Kevin Durant twice, won two Big 12 tour­na­ments, etc. More­over, they'll be with­out a super­star like Bran­don and Julian, and this — weird­ly — might make them much more like Self's Illi­nois teams — grit­ty, hun­gry, scrap­py and dan­ger­ous in the tournament.
  • With­out Wright, Rush, and Collins: !@$#%$#@*&. Almost too painful to con­sid­er. How many times did I text the words "Thank God for Sher­ron" dur­ing the Big 12 sea­son? How many times did he sin­gle-hand­ed­ly change the pace and momen­tum of a game with a vicious dri­ve to the bas­ket? He's not ready to jump to the League, but rumor has it that he wants to be clos­er to home. But would he real­ly want to sit out a year, play for a school in a mid-major con­fer­ence, give up a chance to play in a Final Four, give up a chance to play on nation­al tele­vi­sion for 15–20 or 20–25 games next year? I real­ly hope not. Man, that would hurt.
basketball kansas basketball

Pre-post-season thoughts / Containing Kevin Durant

In a pre­vi­ous post, I sug­gest­ed that the Kansas defense must "con­tain" Kevin Durant, there­by imply­ing that Kevin Durant could, in fact, be con­tained. I said: "he's going to get 10–15 points no mat­ter what you do," and any­thing in excess of that was a mat­ter of the oppos­ing team's defense shut­ting him down. Against Kansas on Sat­ur­day, he rat­tled off 12 points in a row between the 17:41 and the 14:14 marks in the first half, and had 20 points just five min­utes lat­er. (Thanks to ESPN's play-by-play for this). And it wasn't like the Texas offense was get­ting him a lot of open looks: He was bury­ing every shot, no mat­ter who was guard­ing him and no mat­ter where he was on the court. 22 feet away, Julian Wright's hand in his face: Rat­tled in. Pulling up from 27 feet at the tail end of a fast break: Swish. Texas didn't even need to run an offense, they just need­ed to get him the ball and then wor­ry about get­ting back and play­ing defense. In the first half, this worked. In the sec­ond half, dif­fer­ent sto­ry. Two things changed (at least): Bran­don Rush was on Durant, rather than Julian Wright. It was hard to say whether Durant just cooled off, or whether Rush cooled him off, but the fact was that he missed 4 of 5 shots before going down with a twist­ed ankle. Sec­ond thing: Anoth­er play­er imme­di­ate­ly dou­ble-teamed Durant on the perime­ter when­ev­er he got the ball, and Texas failed to exploit this for easy low-post bas­kets. (Nice call by Coach Self. Not sure why he didn't go to this ear­li­er, but I'm just glad that it worked). At the same time, I can't believe Texas couldn't exploit this. I mean, teams must be doing this all the time. Why weren't they able to find Dami­an James for easy bas­kets under­neath, or Augustin on cuts to the bas­ket? (I share Bill Simmons's assess­ment of Texas coach Rick Barnes, by the way: "How can you not run more plays for Kevin Durant? Post him up and he has 27 dif­fer­ent ways to score. Curl him off picks and he makes 15-foot­ers like they're layups.") Speak­ing of bad coach­ing, I was mys­ti­fied that Texas didn't start foul­ing soon­er. Kansas wasn't even in the bonus until the 2:20 mark, and Texas didn't start foul­ing until the 1:18 mark when they were down by 8. Russ­Rob missed the front-end of a one-and-one, and Texas cut the lead to 6. Then, on con­sec­u­tive pos­ses­sions, Mario makes one of two; Russ­Rob makes one of two; Julian makes one of two. HEART ATTACK TIME. Instead of a 6‑point lead, it's a 3‑point lead, and Texas has a chance to tie. This is a huge, huge issue going into the post-sea­son, both for the Hawks chances and my own phys­i­cal and men­tal health.Incidentally, with this in mind, I deeply enjoyed a recent piece by Gene Wein­garten about FT shoot­ing: "If I took a year off and prac­ticed all day, every day, I could then defeat the NBA's best free-throw shoot­er in head-to-head com­pe­ti­tion" (via kot­tke).

basketball kansas basketball

Big Saturday / KU-UT thoughts and predictions

Watch­ing the Long­horns repeat­ed­ly (and ulti­mate­ly suc­cess­ful­ly) dri­ve a stake into the heart of Acie Law IV last night, I got to think­ing about Saturday's show­down between the Long­horns and the Hawks. (I also pen­ciled in A&M for the Final Four. Is there any team in the nation — oth­er than UCLA, I guess — that has such a per­fect blend of March-ready qual­i­ties — go-to guy, great defense, grit, gump­tion? Total­ly g'ed up). Any­way, here's the big stuff that KU has to address:Con­tain Kevin Durant. I know, I know. Obvi­ous. Duh. Every­one tries to do this. But I think Kansas has a chance to suc­ceed. Yes, he's going to get 10–15 points no mat­ter what you do. He'll be every­where — around the bas­ket, out on the perime­ter, get­ting put-backs, rolling off picks and tak­ing jumpers. The chal­lenge for the Hawks is to make sure he doesn't get 30–35, to lim­it the num­ber of open looks he gets on the perime­ter, and to make sure that he doesn't get any­where near a rhythm like he had against Texas Tech (37 points, 23 rebounds). Durant thrives when teams don't have some­one who can get in his face when he's away from the bas­ket. At 6'9", he's going to shoot over the kind of guy who will take away the dri­ve, but he's also fast and agile enough to go around most guys his size. All of that said, I think he's going to have prob­lems with KU's long, fast, and high­ly dis­rup­tive defend­ers — Julian Wright and Bran­don Rush. I think it's total­ly pos­si­ble for them to con­tain him, as long as they stay out of foul trou­ble. Dis­rupt the sup­ply chain. DJ Augustin kept them in the game last night when Durant went into a funk. In many games this year, I've seen him slice through defens­es, get to the bas­ket, and gen­er­al­ly cre­ate the kind of chaos that leads to easy put-backs for Durant. Mario Chalmers, Rus­sell Robin­son, and Sher­ron Collins have to keep him from dri­ving, and com­pli­cate his dis­tri­b­u­tion of the ball. Run them ragged, and don't get beat by AJ Abrams. Or any­one like him. Last year, the rel­a­tive­ly qui­et Abrams explod­ed for four three-point­ers dur­ing a first half run, sin­gle­hand­ed­ly demor­al­iz­ing the Hawks. The good news is that, this year, the Long­horn weapon­ry is far from secret. Abrams, Augustin and Durant play pret­ty much all game, every game. This is an oppor­tu­ni­ty for the rel­a­tive­ly deep Hawks to be relent­less in their defense — Maybe even press a lit­tle? C'mon, Coach. Gim­mick defens­es have stunned KU twice recent­ly (A&M, OU). Why not break one out once in a while? Mak­ing free throws. The mere thought that this game will come down to free throws makes my stom­ach hurt. The last five min­utes of the Okla­homa game was excru­ci­at­ing in that it almost turned into A&M, Part II. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, it's no secret that Kansas can't shoot free throws. They're going to get fouled late in the game; with any luck, Chalmers and Robin­son will con­trol the ball and hit their freebies.Lastly, Collins and Arthur must con­tribute, and Rush has to get his shots. It's pret­ty amaz­ing that the Hawks could get by OU with­out con­tri­bu­tions from any of these guys, but there's no way that a win ver­sus Texas is pos­si­ble with­out them.