Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The State of the Suns and the MVP Race

As an avid Phoenix Suns fan, I feel compelled to give you my opinion on their team in general right now. Let's just say I am deeply, and I mean deeply, dissatisfied with their front office. The Killing K's (not Killer, mind you) are hurting this franchise more than anything else. They got rid of James Jones, a remarkable shooter, to go under the cap and then basically gave away Kurt Thomas for next to nothing. Last season, those were two key reserves on a team that got within one win of the Western Conference Finals.

Now wait, it gets much better. They trade Shawn Marion, a four-time all-star and possibly their most valuable player, for Shaquille O'Neal, a past-his-prime overly-expensive center. At the time, I wasn't quite sure what to think of the trade. However, after Shaq's little playoff performance, in which he went 32-63 from the FREE THROW LINE and fouled out of two of the five games, this trade was one of the biggest mistakes made all year by any team with the exception of the Knicks.

My next problem I have with them is their drafting ability or lack of any drafting ability. Rudy Fernandez, also known as the next Manu Ginobili, was traded by the Suns to the Blazers. Luol Deng and Nate Robinson were, like Rudy, drafted by Phoenix before being traded away. What do they think they are doing? Drafts are supposed to be used for building your future. The Killing K's, however, have been trading their future away.

My final "beef" with them is their rumored decision to get rid of head coach Mike D'Antoni. This is the wrong move. D'Antoni is a great coach who helps that team very much. Yes, he made some mistakes in the series against the Spurs this year, but that doesn't mean you drop him like a bad habit. If Phoenix does decide to hire a halfcourt offense-favoring coach, they are in some serious trouble. Not only will it take the veterans of D'Antoni's system such as Nash and Stoudemire some time to adjust, but it will also weaken the talent of the team. Diaw, Barbosa, and Bell help the team because of their ability to play well in an uptempo game. With a slowed-down tempo, these players aren't so good.

To end this, Kraft and Kerr better make some good decisions fast or the fans won't be too happy. I doubt it will get anywhere near the situation that Isaiah had in New York, but it definitely will not be good for the organization. My first advice is to either keep Coach Mike or hire a coach that favors the uptempo game. Next they should draft either a defensive specialist or a shooter and KEEP HIM for years to come.

Moving on in this blogging program...the MVP race is close. Last year, Kobe's averages of 28 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists while leading his team to the #1 seed would have been enough to win the League's most coveted award. However, last year did not include the phenomenal season of third-year playmaker Chris Paul. So without further adieu, I give to you my top three Most Valuable Players of the 2007-08 NBA season.

3. LeBron James- King James is like no one else on the court. He is dominant and puts up his great numbers, but his supporting cast (or lack thereof) is holding him back from winning. At any rate, if Cleveland didn't have this guy, they would be the cellar dweller of their division behind even the Milwaukee Bucks.
Stats: 30 pts, 8 reb, 7 ast, 2 stl

2. Kobe Bryant- As I mentioned before, Kobe has put up ridiculous stats and his team is actually doing well for the first time since the Shaq and Kobe Era. So why doesn't he win? Well he could, but the competition for the award this year is as stiff as ever. My reason for his being second though is simple: he's not so valuable to his team as the person I chose to win the trophy.
Stats: 28 pts, 6 reb, 5 ast, 2 stl, 46% FG

1. Chris Paul- I believe this year's Most Valuable Player award goes to the player that is the most valuable for his team. He is the player that makes the #2-seeded Hornets go. Without him, they would be settling in mediocrity. Paul is the playmaker for his team that simply wins them games.
Stats: 21 pts, 12 ast, 4 reb, 3 stl, 49% FG

----- -----

Poll Results: After asking readers "Who was the best team to lose in the Elite Eight?", they responded with some very close results. Texas drew 40% of the votes while Davidson and Louisville received 30% each. Xavier, however, garnered no votes.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Season That Was

This is the time of year when every diehard college basketball fan is suddenly saddened. He is forced to watch the NBA, which he considers second-rate basketball viewing. Every Saturday, he misses the sound of Dickie V and Digger arguing about whom will win on that particular day. I am one of those people. I thrive on the game of college basketball. It's a necessity in my life. I guess I'll have to pay attention to my Suns now, but I'd much rather watch Duke or Memphis play.

The purpose of this blog is to recap the memories of this season. It is also to list what I believe to be some of the best players and teams in the country. But, first, I'd like to say how enjoyable this season was. Great freshmen, a lot of elite teams, and a nice cinderfella run in March. The upsets weren't as plentiful as some would hope but it was still a good tournament.

This year was chalk full of games between closely matched teams. We had the pleasure of watching #2 Duke take down #3 North Carolina. We also saw one of the most hyped regular season games ever in #1 Memphis versus #2 Tennessee. Quite recently, we watched games such as #10-seeded Davidson lose a close one to eventual champion, Kansas. But what topped them all? The National Championship game in San Antonio. The Kansas Jayhawks defeated the Memphis Tigers in a thrilling overtime event.

I am aware that many of you reading this blog also read my thirteen Game-Planning blogs I posted throughout the year. In those, I previewed 63 games. My record was 39-24 and went undefeated only one week. My bright spots had to have been picking Vanderbilt over Tennessee and Texas over the heavily-favored UCLA Bruins.

To start the lists, I will give you my Top Twenty Players from the 2007-08 college basketball season. Before you jump into that, however, check out a Bruce Pearl pregame speech...

20. Russell Westbrook, UCLA Soph. Guard. This breakout star has been possibly the biggest reason the Bruins had such a successful year. He was a stat stuffer who helped on both ends of the floor in any way he could. To not put him on this list would be wrong as he had as good a year as any of these guys save the top five or so.
Stats: 13 pts, 4 reb, 4 ast, 2 stl

19. A.J. Abrams, Texas Jr. Guard. He was the shooter that thrived off Augustin's penetration. Their weave offense was effective partly because of this guy and that is why he makes the list. He had two games with 30+ points and fourteen games in which he reached the 20-point mark.
Stats: 17 ppg, 3 rpg, 2 spg, 2 apg

18. Darrell Arthur, Kansas Soph. Forward. Last year, Arthur was playing behind a couple different big guys. This year, however, he has flourished into a top big man in the country. In the National Championship, he got Joey Dorsey in foul trouble and proceeded to dominate the game finishing with 20 points and 10 rebounds. He would have been higher if he had stayed more consistent throughout the year.
Stats: 13 ppg, 6 rpg, 1 bpg

17. Brook Lopez, Stanford Soph. Forward. The highlight of the season for Brook almost had to be the effort he put forth in the NCAA Tournament against Marquette. He put up 30 points, which included the game-winning shot. He is a very talented player but probably needs to average more rebounds per game with his kind of height. If he does, the Pac-10 better watch out.
Stats: 19 ppg, 8 rpg, 2 bpg, 79% FT%

16. Scottie Reynolds, Villanova Soph. Guard. The Virginia native was a huge factor for the Wildcats on both ends of the floor. He had eleven games with 20+ points and seven games with 3+ steals. Without him, I doubt they would have made it out of the first round of the tournament. He had a very solid game against Clemson with 21 points.
Stats: 16 ppg, 3 apg, 3 rpg, 2 spg

15. D.J. White, Indiana Sr. Forward. He was the force inside for the roller coaster ride that was the Indiana Hoosiers basketball season. White averaged a double-double per game and was possibly more valuable to the team than the fabulous freshman, Eric Gordon. The difference between the two was consistency in which the senior had the edge.
Stats: 17 ppg, 10 rpg, 2 bpg, 61% FG%

14. Ty Lawson, North Carolina Soph. Guard. The leader of one of the best fastbreaks in the nation and a key contributor to a team that made it to the Final Four before losing to the champion Jayhawks. In games that Lawson had at least five assists, the Tar Heels were undefeated. To leave him off this list would be an injustice. He deserves it and had a fantastic season. I can only hope he doesn't turn pro and stays a few more years.
Stats: 13 ppg, 5 apg, 3 rpg, 2 spg

13. Chris Lofton, Tennessee Sr. Guard. What started as a year full of Player of the Year consideration ended as a disappointment. Tennessee lost in the Sweet 16 and Lofton struggled during the beginning of the year. Nonetheless, he had a good finish to the year save the NCAA Tournament in which he averaged a paltry 10 points per game.
Stats: 16 ppg, 3 rpg, 2 apg, 38% 3p%

12. Mario Chalmers, Kansas Jr. Guard. The Final Four Most Outstanding Player comes in at #12 on my list. Some would disagree but I believe it's about right. I mean, he did have eight games in which he was held to single digits in scoring. In the tournament though, he really stepped up his game. Chalmers averaged 15 points, 3 steals, and 3 assists on the road to a National Championship.
Stats: 13 ppg, 4 apg, 3 rpg, 3 spg, 47% 3p%

11. Shan Foster, Vanderbilt Sr. Guard/Forward. Most guys who average 20 points in a tough conference will make this list. Foster was huge at times for the Commodores. He scored 20+ point in his last six regular season games including outbursts of 42 against Mississippi State and 32 against Tennessee, both tournament teams.
Stats: 20 ppg, 5 rpg, 2 apg, 47% 3p%

10. Darren Collison, UCLA Jr. Guard. After missing a couple games early in the year, he returned to lead the Bruins to a 29-4 record when he took the floor. His high point came when he hit the game-winning runner against Texas A&M in the tournament. He finished the game with 19 points. Also, Collison scored 20+ points on six occasions, all of which were victories.
Stats: 15 ppg, 4 apg, 3 rpg, 2 spg, 53% 3p%

9. Eric Gordon, Indiana Fr. Guard. He was probably one of the top five most prolific scorers in college basketball this past season but really looked like an inexperienced freshman at times and that is why he is relatively low at #9. When he was healthy, Gordon was held to single digits in scoring only once.
Stats: 21 ppg, 3 rpg, 83% FT%

8. Derrick Rose, Memphis Fr. Guard. This guy is one of the fastest and most exciting players to watch and I have had the pleasure of watching him throughout the season. His averages are extremely good for someone that young in basketball and showed poise at times during the NCAA Tournament. #8 is a good spot for him.
Stats: 15 ppg, 5 apg, 5 rpg, 47% FG%

7. Chris Douglas-Roberts, Memphis Jr. Guard. CDR was the best scorer to reach the Final Four, in my opinion. He averaged a remarkable 28 points per game in the tournament and really stepped it up when it counted. He even drew a couple box-and-ones against him which allowed his teammates to get open and score. Memphis better hope CDR stays for next season.
Stats: 18 ppg, 4 rpg, 41% 3p%, 54% FG%

6. Kevin Love, UCLA Fr. Center. Love has led the Bruins to the Final Four and has averaged a double-double along the way. Without him, I doubt UCLA makes it past the Sweet 16. Not only did he score and rebound, but he also drew double teams that opened it up for other players on his team.
Stats: 18 ppg, 11 rpg, 60% FG%, 35% 3p%

5. Luke Harangody, Notre Dame Soph. Forward. It's ironic that one of the best player in the country had his best game of the year in a losing effort. I am, of course, referring to when Gody had 40 points and 12 rebounds against Louisville. However, it should be noted that he scored in double figures every game except one this season.
Stats: 20 ppg, 11 rpg, 50% FG%

4. D.J. Augustin, Texas Soph. Guard. This player is the best point guard in college basketball. He is my choice for the Cousy Award and has reached 10 assists in a game four times this year. D.J. can also boast the fourteen times he has scored at least 20 points in a game this past season.
Stats: 19 ppg, 6 apg, 3 rpg, 38% 3p%

3. Stephen Curry, Davidson, Soph. Guard. The best scorer in the country comes in at #3. He has scored in double digits every single game and had a 7-game streak of 20+ points. Curry has also scored 35+ points in six games. His run in the NCAA Tournament was nothing short of spectacular and an argument could be made for him to appear higher on this list.
Stats: 26 ppg, 5 rpg, 3 apg, 2 spg, 44% 3p%

2. Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina Jr. Forward. Possibly the hardest worker in the country is #2 because of how important he was to North Carolina's deep tournament run this season. He scored in double figures for points every single game he played in this season and grabbed 15+ rebounds in three games. In my opinion, Psycho T could have easily been number one on this list. It was almost a toss-up.
Stats: 23 ppg, 10 rpg, 2 spg, 81% FT%

1. Michael Beasley, Kansas State Fr. Forward. Believe it or not, this freshman's campaign was even more impressive than that of Kevin Durant last year. He scored in double digits every game except one in a loss to Xavier. Beasley even pulled down double digits in rebounding in all but four games. It's too bad he can't stay a couple more years on a college campus.
Stats: 26 ppg, 12 rpg, 2 bpg, 38% 3p%, 53% FG%

Now is the time for me to hand out the 2008 College Basketball Awards. Enjoy...

The Petey Sessoms Award: Every year, this award is presented to the relatively unknown player coming from a small conference that plays extremely well against the big schools in the NCAA Tournament. I would like to give credit to fellow FanNation member, Agganis Lives, for the idea of this award. So without any further delay, the award goes to Stephen Curry of Davidson. He averaged 32 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals in his four tournament games. The runner-ups for this award were Tyrone Brazelton and Courtney Lee, both of Western Kentucky.

The Bob Cousy Award: This is an annual award given to the best college point guard in the country. My pick, which is the same as the Basketball Hall of Fame's pick, is D.J. Augustin of Texas. I ranked him as the fourth best player in college earlier in this blog. He averaged 19 points and 6 assists this season. The runner-ups for this award are UCLA's Darren Collison, North Carolina's Ty Lawson, Memphis's Derrick Rose, and Davidson's Jason Richards.

The Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award: This particular award goes to the most dominant big man in college basketball each year. There was a lot of competition for it this year but it rightfully is awarded to Tyler Hansbrough of North Carolina. He averaged 23 points and 10 rebounds per game this season and was never held to less than 12 points in a game. The runner-ups for this award were UCLA's Kevin Love, Notre Dame's Luke Harangody, and Indiana's D.J. White.

The Pistol Pete Award: Each year, I give this to the best scorer in college basketball. It does not necessarily go to the player with the best average though. The winner is Kansas State's Michael Beasley. He averaged 26 points per game and had thirteen games in which he scored 30 or more points. The runner-ups were Lester Hudson of UT-Martin and Stephen Curry of Davidson.

The Oscar Robertson Award: This final award goes to that player who led his team in every way possible: scoring, rebounding, passing, playing defense, etc. The winner of the Robertson Award goes to Memphis's Derrick Rose. He is the second freshman to receive an award (the other was Beasley). Rose gets this one due to his all-around good averages of 15 points, 5 assists, and 5 rebounds. The runner-ups for this award were Darren Collison and Russell Westbrook of UCLA, Mario Chalmers of Kansas, and Scottie Reynolds of Villanova.

For the final part of this blog, I give to you the Top Ten Teams of the college basketball season...

10. Xavier (30-7)- The Musketeers are tenth in my rankings after falling to UCLA in the Elite Eight. They were led by Josh Duncan (12 pts, 5 reb) and Drew Lavender (11 pts, 5 ast). I doubt they will make it this far next season due to the losses of both Duncan and Lavender. Nonetheless, they had a very good run this year and had impressive wins over Indiana, Virginia, and Dayton (twice).

9. Wisconsin (31-5) - After claiming the Big Ten Championship, the Badgers proceeded to advance to the Sweet 16 before falling to Davidson. In my opinion, they had the best team in the conference and, despite not having the most talent, won games that got them such a successful season. They were led by Brian Butch (12 pts, 7 reb), Trevon Hughes (11 pts, 3 reb, 3 ast), and Marcus Landry (11 pts, 6 reb).

8. Tennessee (31-5) - Most teams would look upon being the best team in their conference and making it to the Sweet 16 as an accomplishment. Sadly, for the Vols, this year was full of expectation and they failed to meet most of it. They were led by Chris Lofton (16 pts), Tyler Smith (14 pts, 7 reb, 3 ast), and Wayne Chism (10 pts, 6 reb).

7. Louisville (27-9) - The Cardinals, after a extremely slow start, finished the season strong and proved to be the team everyone had expected entering the year. They finished 12-3 after their sixth loss at UConn. Some of those twelve wins included Marquette, Georgetown, Pitt, Notre Dame, and Tennessee. They were led by a plethora of players including Padgett (11 pts, 5 reb), Clark (11 pts, 8 reb), Williams (11 pts, 7 reb, 5 ast), Smith (11 pts, 4 reb), and Caracter (8 pts, 5 reb).

6. Davidson (29-7) - The Wildcats had a very impressive season for one of the smallest schools in Division I. After getting ripped off and been given a 10 seed, they rallied behind sharpshooter, Stephen Curry (26 pts, 5 reb, 3 ast), and senior leader, Jason Richards (13 pts, 8 ast, 3 reb), to advance all the way to the Elite Eight before falling at the hands of eventual champion, Kansas. They finished with a perfect conference record of 20-0.

5. Texas (31-7) - The Longhorns lost their conference championship and lost their regional final. However, their season was nothing short of remarkable for what was considered to be a down year following the loss of superstar Kevin Durant. They were a guard-heavy team led by D.J. Augustin (19 pts, 6 ast), A.J. Abrams (17 pts), and Damion James (13 pts, 10 reb).

4. North Carolina (36-3) - After clinching a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, the Tar Heels proceeded to demolish their opponents until the Final Four was reached. They then were routed by the champion Jayhawks. They were led by Tyler Hansbrough (23 pts, 10 reb), Ty Lawson (13 pts, 5 ast, 3 reb), and Wayne Ellington (17 pts, 5 reb). North Carolina were the ACC Tournament Champions and the Charlotte Regional Champions.

3. UCLA (35-4) - Yes, I'll admit it. I picked this very team to win the NCAA Tournament. They had a good run, too, before falling short in the Final Four for the third straight year. Nonetheless, they were regional and conference champions and claimed a #1 seed in the tourney. They were led by Kevin Love (18 pts, 11 reb), Darren Collison (15 pts, 4 ast, 3 reb), Russell Westbrook (13 pts, 4 reb, 4 ast), and Josh Shipp (12 pts, 3 reb, 2 ast).

2. Memphis (38-2) - The Tigers had the most wins for a college team in history yet they didn't quite get what they wanted as they lost to Kansas in the National Championship. The Achilles' heel of this team took 39 games before it caught up to them as they gave away the game on free throws. Memphis was led by Chris Douglas-Roberts (18 pts, 4 reb), Derrick Rose (15 pts, 5 reb, 5 ast), and Joey Dorsey (7 pts, 10 reb).

1. Kansas (37-3) - National Champions. I'm pretty sure that sums up the entire season for these guys. Nothing is more gratifying than winning it all before leaving the school for either the NBA or the working world. They beat the best of the best in defeating two #1s in the tournament. They were led by Mario Chalmers (13 pts, 4 ast, 3 reb), Brandon Rush (13 pts, 5 reb), and Darrell Arthur (13 pts, 6 reb). Congratulations, Kansas.

Now, I could write a couple thousand words describing how fantastic March Madness was and recapping all the entertaining games and plays that occured. However, I think that one simple video from YouTube would bring it all together very nicely. Enjoy and have a great week!

----- -----

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Jayhawks Cut Down the Nets

As all of you know, Kansas defeated Memphis 75-68 in overtime last night. If you did not know that, where the hell have you been? At any rate, we got to see a nice little collapsing done by the Tigers in the last 2:12 of regulation. They were up by nine points and just needed to make their free throws to win the National Championship and go 39-1. After making all four free throws in the first two times they were fouled, Memphis shot themselves in the foot. They went 1-5 on free throws in the end of regulation and gave Kansas a chance at the end only being down by three. The Jayhawks came down and got the ball to the Most Outstanding Player, Mario Chalmers, who sank a tough three-pointer to tie the game and send it into overtime.

In the extra session, Kansas made sure they took advantage of Joey Dorsey not being in the game. Their first eight points of overtime were scored on either dunks or layups. The momentum shifted and the Kansas Jayhawks were National Champions. Now I'm about to tell you the little reasons as to why Memphis lost and why Kansas won this game.

I know Kansas was playing pretty good defense, but Derrick Rose needed to assert himself on the offensive end much earlier in the game than midway through the second half. For awhile, Rose looked as if he didn't want any part of playing in the game. He was passing up shots left and right and wasn't even attempting to drive on his man. Their somewhat large lead in the last two or three minutes was credit to his stepping up on offense when Kansas went box-and-one on Chris Douglas-Roberts.

One of Kansas's goals for the second half was to get the big guys for Memphis in serious foul trouble. They accomplished that goal. Joey Dorsey fouled out with 3:36 to go in the game. Kansas outrebounded the Tigers 11-4 for the rest of the game. I can't help but think that wouldn't have happened had Dorsey still been in there.

Next I would like to take the time to credit the Jayhawks with fantastic defense. When the shot clock was dwindling down they put enormous pressure on Memphis's offense. This caused tough shot attempts that usually did not go in. In transition, Kansas recorded a lot of steals by picking the Memphis guards' pockets. Mario Chalmers and Sherron Collins had four and three steals in the game, respectively.

The announcers kept mentioning how terrible Kansas was shooting from deep. What about Memphis? They were only two percent better. The difference, however, is that the Tigers shot TEN MORE three-pointers than the Jayhawks. Not it looks as if Kansas didn't shoot that bad considering what Memphis was doing, right? I thought Coach Cal could have gone to his bench a little more though. Only six players logged more than five minutes in the game. Last time I checked, Memphis goes a whole hell of a lot deeper than that. Mack and Kemp were the two, especially, that could have been very useful down the stretch.

Bottom line is this: the game was won and lost on coaching decisions. In my opinion, Bill Self outcoached John Calipari and that was the difference in the game. Two big things down the stretch made this clear. The first was when Memphis was up three right before Chalmers hit the game-tying three-pointer. Calipari should have had his team fouling so Kansas could only get two points. He had three timeouts; he could have used one to make it very clear to his players (Derrick Rose, I'm looking at you) that they needed to foul in that particular situation. The second thing was the strategy for the last play in regulation after Kansas tied it up with two seconds to go. They could have thrown the ball to halfcourt, which they did, AND CALLED A TIMEOUT! This would give them the chance to draw up a game-winning play from 45 feet, instead of 90.

It's not all bad for Memphis though. Derrick Rose proved that he is a freshman and will make mistakes in huge games like this. All that aside, he had a pretty fantastic end to regulation. He finished the game with a MOP-worthy 18 points, 8 assists, 6 rebounds, and 2 steals. Chris Douglas-Roberts was also sensational with a game-high 22 points. On the opposite side of this, Darrell Arthur was fantastic scoring 20 points for the winners. Chalmers, Brandon Rush, and Sherron Collins all finished in double figures for scoring.

So congratulations to the Kansas Jayhawks and to Bill Self for coaching a great game and having his players ready to go. Congratulations to the Memphis Tigers on a successful season. 38-2 is nothing to be ashamed of. I'll have a blog coming out later this week with team and player ranking to finish the season. Have a good week!

----- -----

Poll Results: When asked who would win the Charlotte Regional, 50% of voters were right in saying North Carolina would come out victorious. The other 50% said Tennessee would win it. They were, in fact, wrong.