Category Archives: Basketball

The Week and One Day in Review

“The answer to the question everyone wants to know, Justin, what’s your decision?”

“Umm, in this fall, man, this is very tough, umm, in this fall I’m going to take my talents to East Lansing, and umm, join the Michigan State Spartans.”

Sound familiar? Well it should, if not, click here to refresh your memory.

It’s official, I have decided to take my talents to East Lansing and attend Michigan State University. In the end, it was a tough decision for me. Having applied to only Michigan State, I felt the Spartans were the school that best suited me.

In case you were wondering, no I did not notify Oakland University before my decision to leave, and no I did not make any promises to bring a championship to the city of Rochester Hills, Michigan before my departure.

Comparing the two signings, I definitely believe Michigan State will benefit more than the Miami Heat in the long run. Just kidding…Maybe.

Why is this relevant to you? Well for one, you are reading MY blog and two, it has been over a week since my last blog post so I figured I would explain my absence.

Right now, I am in an interesting situation. I am just like a free agent in the NFL. Typically, there are three steps taken before a free agent joins a new team:

  1. Team X and Player A express mutual interest in one another.
  2. Team X and Player A meet, discuss and negotiate a contract.
  3. Pending a physical, Player A joins Team X. *
  • After signing the contract, if Player A gets injured or acts poorly, Team X can release Player A and that’s that.

I have currently just completed step three, and am trying to avoid being “released.” With the end of the semester approaching, professors are assigning truck loads of reading in preparation for final exams. Between the increase in homework, and my perfected procrastinating methods, I haven’t had too much time to write.

In the week plus one day since my last blog post, we have seen two epic chokes, letdowns, disappointments, collapses, meltdowns or any other word you can use to describe Butler’s National Championship game performance and Rory McIlroy’s Sunday at Augusta.

After watching the National Championship game I decided to put the 24-hour rule into effect. Basically, that means I needed 24 hours to reflect on what I did and didn’t see. Twenty four hours turned into 48 hours, which increased to 72 hours, and eventually, I decided words couldn’t describe what I had seen.

I feel for the Butler Bulldogs and not just the players. What Butler did was truly special. Going to back-to-back National Championship games as a 5-seed and 8-seed is no small feat.

Over the past two years, the Bulldogs captured America’s heart, and if not for the magical run by VCU, they would have been this year’s cinderella. Unfortunately, the Bulldogs will be remembered for playing one of the worst National Championship games ever.

The stats are difficult to look at. The game was brutal to watch. The effect it took on the players was the worst.

You could see the toll it was taking on them. Every lay up missed, every 18-footer left short, every three pointer bricked, slowly killed them on the inside. You could see it in their eyes, they were demoralized, confused and shocked. I was demoralized, confused and shocked.

If the basketball gods have any conscious, Butler will make it to the National Championship game again, soon, and hopefully they will be victorious.

He is the youngest player to lead after round one of the Masters. He was the leader after rounds one, two and three at Augusta. He shot a final round eight-over-par 80 to finish ten strokes behind eventual winner, Charl Schwartzel. Meet Rory McIlroy.

After shooting a one over on the front nine, McIlroy made the turn to the back nine and left his golf game somewhere on the course. Through the first three holes on the back nine, McIlroy was already six over par. With a triple on nine, a bogey on ten and a double on 11, McIlroy disappeared from the leader board.

McIlroy choked, no doubt about it. He was five-sixths of the way through his sandwich and lost his appetite. The last nine holes at Augusta, the last sixth of his sandwich proved to be too big for McIlroy and I have nothing but sympathy for him.

To me, the real story was not McIlroy’s performance on Sunday. The kid is extremely talented and I have no doubt he will learn and grow from this situation. He will be back.

The real story was the manner in which McIlroy handled himself Sunday. After collapsing on the last nine holes at Augusta, McIlroy had to have known the media was coming. He was a  wounded fish and the sharks could smell blood.

McIlroy handed the situation with nothing but class. He was cool, calm, collected and honest. He admitted it was rough out there. He admitted he didn’t play his best golf when it mattered most. He gave all the credit in the world to Charl Schwartzel after collapsing nine holes away from the finish line, which is hard to do. Between McIlroy’s display of class and sportsmanship, I hope nothing but the best for the 21-year-old from Northern Ireland.

The other emerging story that came out of Augusta on Sunday was the surge of Tiger Woods up the leader board. Entering the day seven strokes back, no one gave Tiger a chance. After all, Tiger had never won a major trailing after three rounds. Even though Tiger didn’t win, he showed encouraging signs he will be back. And Golf needs him back.

I won’t go into Tiger’s history. We know who he is. We know what he did, and those of us with a brain know what he did was wrong.

Tiger Woods is not a perfect human being. Forget about Tiger’s personal life and focus on the athlete. As a sports fan, I was hoping he would complete the epic comeback and accept the green jacket once again.

On four separate occasions, Woods missed putts by fractions of inches. The most crushing of these misses coming on the 15th hole where Woods had a chance to jump into the lead with an eagle putt under five feet. He ended up settling for a birdie.

If Woods makes two or three of those putts, the 2011 Masters most likely has a different ending. Instead of Adam Scott and Charl Schwartzel sprinting to the finish line, they would’ve stumbled. The intimidation Tiger Woods used to strike in his opponents would have returned. Heading into the home stretch and seeing Woods atop the leader board, it would have been hard to imagine Scott and Schwartzel not thinking “he’s back!

Those putts didn’t fall, and even if they had, there’s no definite way of knowing Woods would’ve won. What we do know, whether Woods is winning or losing, he is still the biggest story in golf.

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The Big Game!

The night we have all been waiting for is finally upon us.

The 2011 Men’s Basketball National Championship game is less than four hours away from tip-off and the anticipation is building.

The field of 68 has been dwindled down to two teams, the Connecticut Huskies and the Butler Bulldogs. The legacy of the Huskies and Bulldogs will be determined by one 40-minute game in Houston, Texas.

At the start of the year, if you would have told me UConn and Butler would play for a National Championship in April, I probably would have thought you were insane. Heck, if you would have told me that on Selection Sunday when the brackets were released, I still would have thought you were insane.

Apparently, there are numerous people out there that I would have deemed “insane.” The final of UConn-Butler was picked by 881 brackets out of a possible 5.9 million brackets submitted to ESPN’s Tournament Challenge.

To all 881 brackets that predicted a UConn-Butler final, I give you permission to pat yourselves on the back, but now on to the stuff that matters.

The 2011 National Championship game is your classic “Cinderella-Powerhouse” matchup that we all hope to see in college football some day. Here are three key match-ups that will influence the outcome of the game:

  1. Jim Calhoun vs Brad Stevens
  2. Kemba Walker vs Ronald Nored
  3. Shabazz Napier vs Shelvin Mack

Calhoun is your veteran coach who has been there, done that. Stevens is the youngest coach in NCAA history to take two teams to the Final Four. Both these coaches are extremely talented and respected nationwide. Basketball is a game of two halves, and the half-time adjustments made by Calhoun and Stevens could be crucial to their team’s success.

Kemba Walker is arguably the best scorer in the country. Ronald Nored is arguably the best on-ball defender in the country. Walker went to UConn to play for Calhoun and to win a National Championship. Nored turned down a scholarship to Harvard because he “wanted to be part of something special.” The two will go head-to-head tonight in what will be a very physical matchup.

Not many people know who Shabazz Napier or Shelvin Mack are, but they will likely be glued to each other tonight. Napier is UConn’s best perimeter defender and Shelvin Mack is Butler’s best perimeter shooter. In two games against Kentucky this year, Napier has shutdown Brandon Knight, one of the best freshman in the country. Mack is one of Butler’s most consistent scorers and has been exceptional throughout the tournament.

Both UConn and Butler have had incredible rides to the National Championship game, but the road ends here for one of them.

Unfortunately for UConn fans, Kemba Walker’s magic runs out one game short. In the 2011 tournament, Walker has played 384 out of a possible 405 minutes including every minute of the last three games. Walker is exhausted, evident by his 5-16 shooting against Kentucky on Saturday night.

Butler is one of the most physical and efficient teams on both sides of the ball. Many people under-estimate the toll physical play takes on an opponent. It wears you down, physically and mentally. After carrying his team nearly the entire tournament, Walker can’t take the final step.

Butler will capitalize on their second chance and finish the Cinderella story. I’ll take the team with the real dog mascot, Blue II, to come out on top 65-61.

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Welcome to the Final Four

This year, in the world of sports, March definitely lived up to its reputation of delivering madness.

March was so mad that even Major League Baseball decided to join in on the fun. Six games were played on MLB Opening Day and all six of them were decided by three runs or less.

Fans were spoiled with a walk off three-run home run courtesy of Ramon Hernandez of the Reds. In the same game, Rickie Weeks and Carlos Gomez of the Brewers, went back-to-back to start off the game, the first time that feat has been accomplished since 1969.

Also, the first extra-innings game of the season was played between the St. Louis Cardinals and the San Diego Padres.

The real madness of Opening Day was Albert Pujols. Pujols went 0 for 5, and grounded into three double plays. Talk about hurting your negotiating leverage.

Now that the hype of MLB Opening Day 2011 is dwindling down, it’s time for us to turn our attention back to the real March Madness. It’s time for us to put baseball on the back burner for just a little while and look towards the Final Four.

The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is famous for producing a unique Final Four every year. This year is no exception.

Out of 5.9 million brackets submitted to ESPN Tournament Challenge, only two people correctly picked the Final Four. This is largely due to the fact that this is the first Final Four without a #1 or #2 seed since seeding began in 1979.

On one side of the Final Four, you have your typical suspects. Kentucky and Connecticut are no strangers to the Final Four and NCAA Tournament Championship game.

On the other side of the Final Four, you have TWO Cinderellas in Butler and Virginia Commonwealth University. Unfortunately for one of them, the clock will strike midnight tonight.

The road traveled by each of this year’s Final Four teams has been a treat for fans across the country.

As fans, we want to see the emotion of the two teams as the final buzzer sounds. We want the moments that bring us out of our seats and into the air. We live for the games that make all of our problems melt away, even if it’s only for a few minutes. We desperately want to connect with the players and teams.

In case you missed it, here are some key moments from each team’s journey to the Final Four:

East Region: Kentucky

Brandon Knight proves that it’s not how you start, but rather how you finish. With under ten seconds left in each game, Knight hit the game-winning shots against Princeton and Ohio State to advance Kentucky on to the next round.

West Region: Connecticut

Connecticut’s Jeremy Lamb shows the country he has more poise than your typical freshman by helping Connecticut pull away from San Diego State. With under two minutes to go, Lamb scored seven of his team’s last nine points to put Connecticut in the Elite 8.

Southwest Region: Virginia Commonwealth

For a team that many people thought shouldn’t even be in the tournament, VCU has definitely been playing with a chip on their shoulder. VCU has cruised through the tournament dismantling every team by double digits except one. In their Sweet Sixteen match-up against Florida State, the Rams showed they can execute under pressure and win close games.

Not only has the team developed a chip on their shoulder, but so have their fans. Here’s a couple examples:

Example 1

Example 2

Southeast Region: Butler

Talk about a team living on the edge. Butler seems to thrive in close-game situations and executes the best when it matters most. Matt Howard has proved to have ice water in his veins by knocking off Old Dominion and Pittsburgh with less than one second on the clock. If you haven’t seen the celebration after the Pittsburgh victory, click here. Now tell me you wouldn’t want to play for a coach like Brad Stevens.

Now that we’ve seen highlights of each team’s journey to the Final Four, let’s look ahead to tonight’s match-ups.

VCU vs Butler 6:09PM

This isn’t your classic Final Four showdown. VCU and Butler, teams that were considered an afterthought at the start of the tournament, are now 40 minutes away from the National Championship game.

Both teams have had impressive runs knocking off opponents from various  conferences. It’s unfortunate that they are paired together in the semi-final match-up. Given the chance, would these two teams be able to slay another giant and meet in the National Championship game? We will never know.

The Cinderella team who gets to wear the glass slipper after tonight will be Butler.

VCU has had an incredible run to the Final Four, but Butler will be too much for them to handle. The Rams have been able to break down defenses with their drive and kick offense, along with forcing turnovers leading to easy transition buckets. Butler will be able to slow down the pace of the game and force VCU to play half-court defense. The experience and talent of Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard lead the Bulldogs through to the National Championship game.

Kentucky vs Connecticut 8:49PM

Two of the most storied programs in Division I basketball meet for a chance to build on their legacy. Both teams have had their ups and downs this year, but seem to be peaking at the right time.

Kentucky, who struggled on the road earlier in the year, has been playing to their full potential when it matters most. Knocking off #1 seed Ohio State and #2 seed North Carolina was no easy task, but will the Wildcats be ready for Kemba Walker and the UConn Huskies?

Connecticut is on one of the most impressive runs in history. After winning five games in five days in the Big East Tournament, the Huskies have continued to roll into the Final Four. Kemba Walker has continued his dominant play while trusting his teammates to help him carry the load. This has resulted in the Huskies becoming a more balanced team and overall, more dangerous.

The last time these two teams met, UConn ran Kentucky out of the gym in the Maui Invitational Final. Kemba Walker was too much for the young Wildcats to contain. This time, the result will be different. Both teams have grown considerably since their early meeting, but the Wildcats seem to have found their stride. Josh Harrellson has emerged as a leader and will play a key role in the Wildcats‘ victory as they move on to the National Championship game.

Find a TV, sit down on the couch and “getcha popcorn ready”, it’s going to be a great night for college basketball!

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