Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Starting Thursday, you can watch Athlon count down their Top 25 at athlonsports.com each day throughout the month of May. And you can expect something similar from Lindy's, Sporting News and the others very soon (Athlon's magazine hits shelves the last week of May). So if the NBA Playoffs aren't doing it for you...123 days.
And while we won't be blessing you with a long and drawn out countdown this year just so I can make the irrational argument that Tennessee's going to win it all when I'm at my most irrational just before kickoff - and while I'm sure we'll revisit this before the end of August, and will also be available to go back and look at next January just for fun when it's all said and done - in an attempt to get my opinion, for what it's worth, down on "paper" before it's swayed by any and all of these publications, we proudly present the post-spring practice SESB 2008 college football Top 25. Man, that'll look great in bold.
The SESB 2008 Post-Spring Practice College Football Top 25
6. Ohio State
8. West Virginia
14. Arizona State
15. Texas Tech
18. South Florida
20. Penn State
21. Virginia Tech
22. Wake Forest
Man, what if somebody comes across this and actually thinks I know what I'm talking about?
Monday, April 28, 2008
Because I know this - if you let Al Horford talk down to Paul Pierce and get in his face at the end of Game 3, and then you let Joe Foreign Guy get in Kevin Garnett's face in the first half tonight, and there are no repercussions...I didn't like what I saw. At all.
(Edit: Here's video of both altercations:)
It's the Hawks. Don't try and sell me on home court advantage or "raucous crowds" in a city that hasn't cared about basketball since Dominique left. Don't try and tell me about youth and athleticism. And nobody wants Boston to go on and get Banner 17 more than me. And maybe they will. But I didn't see that championship killer instinct, at all, tonight. If these kids had pulled that mess on Larry Bird, it's over.
And sure, Kevin Garnett isn't Larry Bird or Michael Jordan. But you know who else didn't take that stuff? Kevin McHale, and the rest of the guys wearing green. It's not about talent, it's about team. If the Celtics are as good as they're supposed to be as the team with the best record in the NBA, and the Hawks are what they are - a 37-45 team that hasn't made the playoffs in nine years and got blown out by 23 and 19 in Boston in the first two games of this series, and you let them pull this rookie (in Horford's case specifically and for the rest of the team in the playoffs as well outside of Joe Johnson) stuff, and you don't respond with straight murder...it makes me worry.
(Let's clarify that by "straight murder" I mean not a contract hit on Horford the next time down the floor, but by playing the way you're supposed to and running this inferior team out of their own building. That's what the 80s Celtics teams would've done, that's what great teams do against 37-45 teams that get upitty, and when that guy got in Kevin Garnett's face tonight - not just any Celtic, but Kevin Garnett, the definition of intense on a basketball floor, I thought "this game is over." Instead, the Hawks won and now feel like they can play with Boston.)
So we go back to Beantown on Wednesday night for game five in a series that's now more interesting than the rest of them, in what was supposed to be the easiest wash of the first round. And while the youthful Hawks will continue to play footloose and fancy free, there will be pressure on Boston. Again, the Hawks are 37-45 and Boston has every reason to win Game 5 and then win the series and move on - and hey, maybe in two months we're laughing about all this in the NBA Finals - but the weight of expectation will get very heavy if things get tight in the second half of Game 5. From the second quarter altercation on tonight, I watched with a vested interest that wasn't there in the first three games, because now things might be a little in doubt.
Maybe not with Atlanta for Boston...but if you don't man up and respond with dominance to something like that tonight...I hope we can find it further on down the road.
Sunday, April 27, 2008
Why Ainge fell to the latter stages of the fifth round, nobody knows. But I do know that if I was going to handpick an opportunity for Ainge to go into with the best chance of not only making the roster but competing for snaps, the Jets would be at or near the top of that list. It's a tough crowd, no doubt, but I make the point that they cheered when Chad Pennington was hurt and are similarly unsatisfied with Kellen Clemens at this point to say that I can very easily see Ainge stepping in and making noise here. Joey Clinkscales, ex-Vol, is the Jets director of scouting, which I'm sure helped here. And on the whole, the Jets weren't very good last year. But while lots of teams could've taken Ainge as a viable backup option, he'll have a chance to be in the mix with the Jets, and I can easily envision him becoming the focal point for that volatile fan base in calling for new blood under center. These are, of course, the same fans who'd turn on him in an instant if he failed to perform, so it's pressure either way, but still...I think this is about as good as you could ask for from Ainge. Vol fans have only had Peyton Manning to cheer for at the quarterback position in the NFL, so who knows...
Saturday, April 26, 2008
In some sort of sick self-fulfilling prophetic way, if you start the day talking about roller coasters and how well things are going for all of your teams, by the end of the day things will have changed. The Braves fall to 0-8 in one run games and lose to the hated Mets, the Titans only frustrate on draft day with picks that I don't care to spend any more time on right now, and then the Celtics find a way to put some drama in their playoff series with the Hawks by allowing Josh Smith to flirt with a triple-double and surrendering 100+ points in a Game 3 loss. As Indiana Jones once said, "Oh rats."
Actually, if there's some sort of twisted silver lining in all this fun today, it was Al Horford's 4th quarter antics against the Celtics. While the Hawks did do a good job closing the game out, and Horford is every bit the great player he was at Florida as an NBA rookie (17 points 14 boards tonight), he hit a shot late in the 4th with the game relatively in hand, after Paul Pierce went for a steal and fell down. After hitting the shot, Horford stopped, bent down, pointed and screamed something at Pierce on his way back down the floor. Not that the Celtics need extra motivation to beat the Atlanta Hawks, but at least now this should make things more interesting in Game 4.
And finally...congratulations to former Vol Luke Hochevar, who won his first major league game today for the Kansas City Royals. Because we always like to end on a good note.
So the Titans folks in the front office and Jeff Fisher are lauding Chris Johnson's gamebreaking speed and ability to score a touchdown every time he touches the ball. Fair enough. But here's what's troubling to me after doing a little research:
Johnson ran for 1423 yards at East Carolina in 2007, but he only cracked the century mark five times. His numbers are inflated by two things: a gargantuan performance against the "mighty" Tiger High defense at Memphis (301 yards), and the real money-maker, his Hawaii Bowl work against Boise State (223 yards). That's impressive, no doubt. But his other 100 yard performances - against Houston, UTEP, Tulane - add more fuel to the fire that this has the makings of a mid-major player playing well against mid-major competition.
In East Carolina's four non-conference games against Virginia Tech, North Carolina, West Virginia and NC State, Johnson had a combined 51 carries for 186 yards (3.6 per carry). That's not making me feel any better.
True, ECU did a nice job of getting him the ball in the passing game. True, maybe the Titans can line him up wherever and use him as a change of pace, and he plays better with better players around him than he enjoyed at ECU. And as I type this, I'm watching all the receivers come off the board in round two and waiting for pick 54 to come around with no idea where the Titans are going now...and honestly, at this point I think they might just take another RB just to piss me off.
Nobody's more optimistic than me. And I'll love this kid if/when he gets on the field and cheer for him like all the rest. But the armchair GM in me is still shaking his head.
(In totally unrelated news while I wait for the pick...IGN.com, whose rankings I heavily respect, gave Grand Theft Auto IV its first perfect 10.0 score in a decade and is calling it the best video game since Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, which is generally considered as the consensus pick as the best video game ever made. Hmmm...)
Jacksonville has picked Derrick Harvey and Quentin Groves. I fear this as both a Vol fan and a Titan fan.
Then, with Limas Sweed on the doorstep, the Steelers, our old friends from the AFC Central, steal him away. Not that we've seen that we could assume that's where the Titans were going to go, but still...now all of the top-tier receivers are off the board.
ESPN, who's usually great at commercials, keeps showing these Baseball Tonight commercials with the guys from the set inserted into classic baseball moments. If I hear about John Kruk's egg salad sandwich one more time, I'm going to throwup.
And then, with the Titans pick in, DirecTV somehow inexplicably cuts away from the ESPN ticker to show me Corona and NASCAR HotPass. We come back, and now I have no idea who the Titans have picked. And no, I can't wait 30 seconds for Boomer to tell me. The aforementioned roller coaster has taken a dive. Now I'm seeing Mike Tomlin and they're not telling me what just happened. WHO DID WE PICK?! I can't wait to be disappointed!
...who did we pick?
...who did we pick?
...for the love of God, who did we pick? It's great to know that Brad Cottam is now the #12 best player available on Kiper's board, but I'd like to end this suffering and watch the Celtics with a much greater assurance that they'll make me feel better. WHO DID WE PICK?!
Because at this point, I refuse to look it up online. I want ESPN to tell me when they're good and %$#ing ready. You're reading my insanity as it happens, right here, right now.
WHO DID WE PICK?! DON'T GO TO COMMERCIAL!! #$@!
Baltimore takes Ray Rice at 55. What about the Titans at 54?!
.........after four commercials and some awkward silence from the ESPN folks, who are now talking about the %#%!%! music - Green Bay took Brian Brohm, which really is stunning and now we've gotta talk about that, I'm sure, for the next 15 minutes - I'm still waiting. I'm going to find out from the freaking team scroller, which was on the M's when the Titans actually picked about eight minutes ago. Screw you, ESPN.
After all this, Jason Jones, DE Eastern Michigan, better get to Canton one day. Maybe tomorrow we'll draft someone from Eastern Illinois. It's going to be an angry sermon in the morning.
With all due respect to Chris Johnson's 4.24 at the combine...(facepalm).
You know what this sounds like? You know who he'll be confused with? Chris Henry, running back Arizona, picked in the second round last year after not taking a wide receiver in the first round. Or Chris Brown, running back Colorado, picked in round three in 2003. And those first two guys have been, thus far, forgettable.
They're trying to spin this for the Titans and say that he'll be the lightning to LenDale White's thunder. First of all...isn't that what Henry was supposed to do? And second of all...do we really like LenDale's thunder all that much in the first place? And to re-re-emphasize the greatest point - the Titans are picking 24th, and no wide receivers are coming off the board. Your greatest need is wide receiver, and they're all available. So you're telling me that the best option for the franchise is to pick this kid from East Carolina when you've already got a #1 running back, and that zero - absolutely none of the wide receivers in this draft - can help you more than this kid can?
They're making the point about the lack of productivity from first round wide receivers in recent years, and that's true...but once again, look at the depth chart right now:
Titans Wide Receivers
Alright, all together now: "Who?"
Even if you don't think Devin Thomas (who I never thought would still be on the board), DeSean Jackson, Limas Sweed or Malcolm Kelly is a positive contribution to that group...we can't trade down? We can't go in another direction?
Hopefully, I'll be linking back to this blog years down the line when Chris Johnson is a household name and not just the third punchline to the point I made earlier. The Titans pick again at 54 in the second round. We'll see where it goes from here.
So we've had severe thunderstorms here in the Ceres area, which knocked out the DirecTV satellite feed from picks 10-12. So imagine my surprise and mixed elation when the feed returns, and I discover that Jerod Mayo has gone at #10 to the New England Patriots. Guess that decision to turn pro early was a good one, eh?
Everyone's general dislike of the Patriots aside, well done for Mayo, getting to be the first piece of the "faster, younger, better?" Patriots defense and an opportunity to compete for instant playing time or even a start on an 18-1 team. I missed the commentary from the talking heads on the pick, but I know Kiper loved him. Good for Mayo, and now all the more reason for the Titans to go wide receiver.
Delivering the historical relevance you know and love from this blog:
Tennessee First Round Draft Picks - Last 20 Years
1988 - DB Terry McDaniel - 9th - Raiders
1988 - WR Anthony Miller - 15th - Chargers
1989 - LB Keith DeLong - 28th - 49ers
1990 - none
1991 - OT Charles McRae - 7th - Bucs
1991 - OT Antone Davis - 8th - Eagles
1991 - WR Alvin Harper - 12th - Cowboys
1992 - DB Dale Carter - 20th - Chiefs
1992 - DE Chris Mims - 23rd - Chargers
1993 - DE Todd Kelly - 27th - 49ers
1994 - QB Heath Shuler - 3rd - Redskins
1995 - RB James Stewart - 19th - Jaguars
1996 - none
1997 - none
1998 - QB Peyton Manning - 1st - Colts
1998 - DB Terry Fair - 20th - Lions
1998 - WR Marcus Nash - 30th - Broncos
1999 - LB Al Wilson - 31st - Broncos
2000 - RB Jamal Lewis - 5th - Ravens
2000 - DE Shaun Ellis - 12th - Jets
2001 - none
2002 - DT John Henderson - 9th - Jaguars
2002 - WR Donte' Stallworth - 13th - Saints
2002 - DT Albert Haynesworth - 15th - Titans
2003 - none
2004 - none
2005 - none
2006 - DB Jason Allen - 16th - Dolphins
2007 - DT Justin Harrell - 16th - Packers
2007 - WR Robert Meachem - 27th - Saints
2008 - LB Jerod Mayo - 10th - Patriots
Last year, the Vols had more players on NFL rosters than any other school outside of Florida State and Miami, and has had more players drafted in the last ten years than any other school besides Ohio State. If ever you wonder why we tend to recruit well...well, those numbers don't hurt.
In my churches that I pastor here in southwest Virginia, on a small circuit with congregations ranging between 15-40 people every Sunday morning, we take celebrations and prayer requests from the floor. And every single Sunday without fail, the prayer requests outnumber the celebrations at something like five or six to one. Even when I mention this and bring it to light, it doesn't change things for more than a week - our needs and what's wrong can so often feel more pressing and rise to the surface quicker than our blessings and what's right.
So as I sit here today, on one of those rare days when all the sports world converges with the NFL Draft, the playoffs in the NBA and the NHL, and plenty of Saturday baseball, including Braves at Mets - this is one of the good days.
Tonight, the Celtics will go to Atlanta for Game Three of their opening series with the Hawks, which thus far has lacked drama, just the way we like it. The Celtics have been the best team in the NBA all season and have shown no signs of slowing down in the postseason thus far. Of all my beloved teams on this blog, Boston currently sits at the top of the heap when it comes to the championship potential and the dreams being realized.
But one year ago at this time, we were a different kind of excited. A year ago this weekend, we were getting ready for ping pong balls. A year ago, we were fired up about the chance - and a less than 50% chance at that - of getting either Greg Oden or Kevin Durant in the NBA Draft, and then being fully prepared to buy into a multi-year rebuilding project around one of those two guys, with the hope that maybe, maybe someday in the future, we'd have a chance to contend.
And when the balls didn't fall our way, we were left destitute and broken. Having already suffered through a season where we barely won 20 games and two straight misfires on the postseason, five years since our last trip to the conference finals and 20+ years from our last banner, it seemed like the ping pong balls and their random chance were our last hope. We were much in need.
But the last 365 days for the Celtics are an example of many things - the shape of modern sports, the win-now mentality that prevails across the board, the value of a dollar and a superstar - but above all, it's proof that things can turn around. There's always tomorrow, and one of these tomorrows is going to become today.
Sports fans who invest themselves into their team deal with the roller coaster the rest of their lives. Just using the Celtics as an example - my grandparents were there for Russell and Cousy, rode the slide, were there for Bird, rode the slide again, felt the bottom fall out over the last two decades, and now we're on pace to finish on top again. If a franchise like the Celtics can have 16 World Championships and still be relying on ping pong balls last year, and can still make such an improbable turnaround in one year...it's always the roller coaster. It's not always up and it's not always down...but it always moves forward as long as your team is playing.
That being said...things are pretty good right now.
The Celtics are the pinnacle, though that'll certainly be challenged the deeper into the playoffs we go. And really, the Lady Vols are so far above everyone else that I don't spend much of any time with them on this blog because they're a given until the Sweet 16 every year. The Braves are 12-11 and saw Tim Hudson get chased in the third inning today at Shea, currently trailing the Mets 4-2 in the 6th (and as soon as I type that and check again, now it's 4-3. See, good things are happening). And even though the Braves have missed October the last two years, the memories of the last 15 years still ring true, and Atlanta is still a contender. Before those 15 years, Atlanta was terrible, going worst-to-first in 1991. I remember, even if faintly, the worst years. I remember having to find a playoff team to cheer for every October, because the Braves with Dale Murphy wouldn't be there.
I also remember having to find a bracket team in March. I remember being very fond of UCLA and even owning a pair of authentic UCLA home white shorts from EastBay in the mid-90s. I remember riding the roller coaster another notch up and being so excited just to make the dance under Jerry Green in 1998. And then I remember going back to the empty bracket under Buzz Peterson.
Three years ago, Tennessee Basketball was an afterthought. An absolute afterthought, and when Bruce Pearl showed up, we were all hitting the reset button and preparing ourselves for another long rebuilding process and hoping to make the NIT in his second season. That's not an exaggeration, that's exactly what we were hoping for.
Three years later, everything has changed. And even though the Sweet 16 remains the barrier, I could type this wearing my SEC Champions hat, and more importantly, I know that next year - especially now with Tyler Smith returning, but even without him - the Vols will be in the conversation. The Vols will be able to compete for championships.
You can't always be the Celtics. You won't always be the best or the most talented. The men's basketball team certainly isn't that. The football team in Knoxville hasn't been in that breath since 2001. Talent ebbs and flows for any program or franchise in any sport, ask the Yankees.
But what's key, I believe, are the two words I've been using more than any others - competitive and relevant.
The final goal is never to be competitive, the final goal is always to win championships. But no one in any sport shows up to every preseason camp as the most talented team. But a select few do show up with the ability to compete.
This has never been more true than with Tennessee Football. Preseason rankings or whatever else you want to use aside, this much I know to be true: the Vols will enter the 2008 campaign the same way they've entered most of them for the last 20 years: good enough to beat anybody they play. Maybe not as talented across the board as we were in the late 90s to just show up and win with the T on the helmet in a college football - and especially SEC - landscape that's increasingly competitive. But there's no opponent, anywhere, that's so much better than us that we've got no chance. The Vols are relevant, the Vols are competitive, and if you win, you get to the end result.
Which brings us full circle back to the NFL Draft. As Matt Ryan walks across the stage and picks up his Falcons jersey, and every Atlanta fan hits his own personal reset button, the Titans wait at #24. Under Jeff Fisher since their origin as the Titans 10 years ago, they've been in that competitive/relevant category more often than not. As I've said before, last year I think the Titans got as far as they were going to go, and haven't made significant improvements thus far in the offseason to stay or increase that threshold. So the Draft, as always, carries great weight for Nashville and all Titans fans as we try and stay among the conversation and compete.
You can see the roller coaster in the faces of Jets fans on one end, and the Giants fans in their Super Bowl gear on the others. This is why sports are great. And right now - for the Vols, the Braves, the Celtics, and hopefully the Titans today - life is pretty great too.
Thursday, April 24, 2008
Among the three beloved franchises on this blog, the Atlanta Braves ranked highest at 21st overall (out of 122 NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL teams) and 6th in baseball. The Braves scored especially high marks on player and coach value, with Bobby Cox ranked 6th overall in that category. The Celtics finished 43rd and the Titans 50th, both highly respectable.
According to ESPN, the team with the most satisfied fanbase belongs to the Indianapolis Colts, who didn't finish first in any individual category, but scored in the Top 25 in everything except stadium, and they're getting a new one. The least satisfied fanbase? You guessed it - the New York Knicks, with an embarassing display in almost every category.
The leaders in every category:
Bang for the Buck
1. New Orleans Hornets
2. Buffalo Sabres
3. Indianapolis Colts
4. Jacksonville Jaguars
5. Golden State Warriors
(last - Boston Red Sox)
1. San Antonio Spurs
2. Green Bay Packers
3. Pittsburgh Penguins
4. Dallas Mavericks
5. Anaheim Ducks
(last - New York Knicks)
1. San Antonio Spurs
2. Green Bay Packers
3. Detroit Red Wings
4. Detroit Pistons
5. Dallas Mavericks
(last - Seattle Sonics)
1. New Orleans Hornets
2. Jacksonville Jaguars
3. Tampa Bay Rays
4. Kansas City Royals
5. Milwaukee Brewers
(last - Toronto Maple Leafs)
1. Green Bay Packers
2. Minnesota Wild
3. Columbus Blue Jackets
4. Seattle Seahawks
5. Dallas Mavericks
(last - Florida Marlins)
1. New England Patriots
2. San Antonio Spurs
3. Portland Trail Blazers
4. Detroit Red Wings
5. Green Bay Packers
(last - New York Knicks)
1. New England Patriots
2. Detroit Tigers
3. San Antonio Spurs
4. Los Angeles Angels
5. New York Islanders
(last - Atlanta Falcons)
1. Carolina Hurricanes
2. New England Patriots
3. San Antonio Spurs
4. Detroit Pistons
5. Detroit Red Wings
(last - Detroit Lions)
1. Indianapolis Colts
2. San Antonio Spurs
3. New Orleans Hornets
4. Green Bay Packers
5. Anaheim Ducks
(last - New York Knicks)
To see all the info and track the rankings back thru 2003, check out the database at ESPN.com right here.
Sunday, April 20, 2008
The State of the Vols: Post-Spring Practice
This is going to sound weird, but aren't you more comfortable with the Vols right now than you have been in the last three seasons?
Think about it - after the 2005 disaster, you weren't feeling exceptionally good about anything in the spring of 2006. After a 9-4 "turnaround", last spring we were trying to figure out who at all was going to catch the football with zero experience returning, similar to how it looked on the offensive line and exactly how it looked at defensive tackle.
There are variables this spring, no doubt - Dave Clawson's offense, Jonathan Crompton, the ends and the linebackers. And those first two are typically huge deals, putting in a new offense with a new quarterback (though Chris Low made the point on ESPN.com's recap feature about Saturday's spring games at Missouri, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Tennessee, Texas A&M, USC, Virginia Tech and West Virginia that maybe it's for the best that it's all brand new with a brand new quarterback). But despite the new pieces on offense, this is as good as I've felt about the Vols the day after the Orange & White Game - which I haven't even seen, by the way, only read about and watched highlights and the TiVo will catch it tonight on SportSouth - since 2005.
Not to make this comparison on the 10th anniversary...but it's similar to how I felt in the preseason of 1998. We had some weaknesses then and everybody else was talking about Florida and Georgia and writing us off...but even if we didn't have an abundance of raw talent, I liked our team and I liked them at every position. (Also of note: UT signed an agreement with Dish Network, who brought us the Spring Game and is also sponsoring the much anticipated "Perfect10n" DVD later this year to celebrate the 98 team, this on the heels of the 07-08 basketball highlight DVD to be released in June. Among the football celebrations will be two (Dish Network) Legends of the Game from the 98 team at every home game, and the real anniversary celebration the weekend of the Alabama game (Saturday, October 25) with a function at the Tennessee Theatre and something special, I'm sure, during the Bama game.)
Crompton has never been the starter going into a season, but he does have valuable game experience and went 13 of 20 for 266 and 3 TDs in the O&W (Chris Low: "Everybody, from Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer, to first-year offensive coordinator Dave Clawson, to Crompton's teammates, were all in agreement when they exited Neyland Stadium on Saturday, Crompton was ready.") Plus he puts that tuck-and-run dimension in our offense that we haven't seen since Brent Schaeffer. He won't be confused for Tim Tebow, and we haven't seen the finished product...but I feel good about Crompton. And the percentage of Tennessee idiot fans who were generally unhappy with Casey Clausen and Erik Ainge, and retrospectively dog Tee Martin...hey, can't get any worse for you guys right?
You like the backfield. Arian Foster needs only 684 yards to become Tennessee's all-time leading rusher, the beneficiary of being the #1 option for roughly three and a half years. And has been the case throughout his career, he won't be the only option - Montario Hardesty and Lennon Creer remain more than capable. You like this a lot, and I'm sure Dave Clawson does too.
And unlike last year at this time, you like the wide receivers. Not only for what you know about already - that Lucas Taylor, Austin Rogers and Josh Briscoe are capable - but for what else we might learn about Gerald Jones. That for guys like Quintin Hancock and Denarius Moore, the best might still be in front of them. That Ahmad Paige was the most improved player this spring, and that Kenny O'Neal is still out there. This time around, there's proof to go with potential. How much - and the impact of Clawson and Latrell Scott vs. Cutcliffe and Trooper Taylor - remains to be seen, but it's a positive at this point. Even at tight end, where Luke Stocker stepped up big this spring and Jeff Cottam should be back by fall.
And despite all this, it was the offensive line who made the cover of the spring prospectus as the most balleyhooed (I'll use that word any chance I get) unit for the Vols this season. Josh McNeil, Anthony Parker, Jacques McClendon, Ramon Foster and Chris Scott have less name recognition than some of the great Vol lines of the past, but they carry a world of experience and four sacks allowed from 2007, best in college football. Again, maybe some of that was Cutcliffe, and he deserves credit - but these guys know what they're doing, and it should work well under Clawson too. No superstar pieces, but along the line you have to like everything you see.
There are more questions on defense, sure. Demonte Bolden and Dan Williams return to anchor the middle and could improve, while Antonio Reynolds and Xavier Mitchell are gone and leave two holes. While their experience and occasional playmaking will be missed, what everyone is talking about is a return to the good ol' days coming off the end: speed. And lots of it. Robert Ayers and Ben Martin give the Vols more speed off the rush end than they've had in recent memory, and Wes Brown is experienced too. This line may not be dominant, but the ability to get to the quarterback - which hurt the Vols more than anything else in their three regular season losses - should increase in 2008.
Linebacker is the biggest hole, but there's still one proven commodity in Rico McCoy, game experience in Ellix Wilson, and a winner to be named later between Adam Myers-White and Nevin McKenzie. And yeah, you can tell the college football magic is working on me already as I'm turning gaping holes into small molehills. I'm not saying we're the most talented team in the country. I'm just saying I like what I see right now more than I've liked it at any point in the last few years. It doesn't mean much - I liked it in 2005, and we all know how that turned out. But still...
And the secondary, of course, is the bread and butter defensively. Demetrice Morley, "Eric Berry son!", and whoever the best two at corner are among Vinson, Willingham, Gaines, Rogan and Johnson - you like this too. The Vols should do some atoning for the sins of the '07 defense this season.
Daniel Lincoln is back. Britton Colquitt will be in October. Dennis Rogan returning kicks.
You can't win championships in April. And the task now goes to offseason programs and more growth. But right now, even drinking the orange kool-aid of college football like I do...right now I like this. And we'll see where it goes from here.
Is Tyler Smith the difference between rebuilding and reloading?
Bruce Pearl calls him his most important recruit - an impressive distinction given that the Vols are picking up Scotty Hopson (#2 SG) , Renaldo Woolridge (#10 SF), and Philip Jurick (#13 C) among the Top 65 players according to Rivals.com, plus PG Daniel West - but the general consensus right now appears to be that if Tyler Smith returns, the Vols are a Top 10 team, and if he goes pro, the Vols fall back into that messy SEC top-tier picture instead of standing above it. And next year, when we don't talk about how unusual it is to be talking about basketball almost a month after the season ended, you'll know we've really arrived.
ESPN.com has Tyler Smith rated as the #39 overall prospect should he enter the NBA Draft, which would be early second round if form held. I think the potential for Smith is much higher if he stays, as he'll get more touches and more opportunities to fill up the stat sheet in the absence of Lofton and JaJuan (man, it'll be weird to not type those names next year).
We're still waiting on his decision, but the point to make here is that even if he goes pro, thanks to Pearl's deft recruiting touch and picking up Hopson at the buzzer, the Vols shouldn't fall too far from the top. And they'll at least be in the relevant conversation. Which is further proof that this isn't a Jerry Green (or others in the SEC in the last ten years that aren't Kentucky/Florida) scenario where the Vols ride one recruiting class to glory, and when they leave the program takes a step back for several years to rebuild. The Vols have ascended - even though we're not one of those six star programs yet and we still haven't solved the Sweet 16, you have every reason to believe that the Vols will have more chances to break the wall down next year and in the foreseeable years to come. This too, I like.
Titans/NFL Draft: Can we get some help?
More than half of the mock drafts you'll find on the internet have the Titans taking a wide receiver at pick #24, a shade lower than what we've seen over the past few years and the bittersweet portion of making the playoffs. And while no one can seem to reach a consensus on which receiver it could be - Malcolm Kelly, Limas Sweed, DeSean Jackson - WR seems to be the general idea.
It troubles me, then, when I hear some other experts talking running back. And others still promoting defensive line. Look, I'm all for the Titans drafting Jerod Mayo (if he's still around) at 24 for selfish reasons. Beyond that, if they don't go wide receiver, I might physically harm myself.
Last year, when everyone screamed for weapons for VY and after the Titans hadn't addressed those needs via free agency, the Titans went defensive in the draft again, taking Michael Griffin in the first round. So after another year where I feel like the Titans got the most they were going to get out of this lineup (and subsequently sent Norm Chow packing)...once again we have a pretty sizeable void in the free agency world, unless you count Alge Crumpler as a wide receiver, and yet again we come to draft day, and whereas I used to put all my faith in Jeff Fisher and the front office on draft day...now I'm a little shaky.
From 1998-2000, the Titans straight murdered the draft, especially the early rounds. Killed it. Got Samari Rolle in the second round and Benji Olson in the fifth in 98, nailed Jevon Kearse at pick #16 in 99, then got Keith Bulluck at #30 the following year. And there have been other jewels - Al Haynesworth at 15 in 2002, and the jury's still relatively out on VY and LenDale White from 2006.
But for a franchise that's celebrating 10 years as the Titans, the presence of a quality wide receiver in that decade just isn't there. You could make a small argument for Derrick Mason, but I don't buy it and give lots of that credit to Steve McNair (who gets a big tip of the cap upon his retirement and a thank you from Titans faithful for transcending the franchise, being its face upon arrival, and taking us to the doorstep of the title).
Instead, the Titans have shown a great deal of interest in signing veterans who are, shall we say, past their prime. Carl Pickens and Yancey Thigpen. Eric Moulds and David Givens. And I think we can all see me writing "Alge Crumpler" in this space next season if things don't go well. Steve McNair had Eddie George and the same hardnosed defense, and VY is a long way from Steve McNair right now. We need weapons.
The answer may not be Kelly, Jackson or Sweed. But I do share Haynesworth's frustration about the addition and subtraction with this team, and it is with fear and trembling that we go into next weekend and the draft. The Titans have to get better to stay competitive for championships. I still trust Fisher and the guys to make the best decisions for the team...I'd just, you know, like them to agree with me a little more often.
NBA Playoffs Opening Round - Game 1's
I can't tell you how great it is to be sitting here and watching the Celtics in the playoffs for the first time in three years. The Playoffs are the only thing that competes with football in terms of the number of opportunities - you need 16 wins to get the job done, just 16. So much pain and joy rides on every opportunity.
With the Celtics up 14 near the end of the third quarter and me becoming more and more okay with cheering for Rajon Rondo on a regular basis, here's what we've learned in 48 hours:
- This is still a league run by superstars...which is good, because the stars have been out to play thus far. LeBron put in 32, a momentum-changing alley-oop early, and two key buckets late to put away the Wizards in Game 1. All that talk from Gilbert Arenas about being the best end of game player in the league was all for naught in the last five minutes on Saturday.
- Tim Duncan scored 40 points in 51 minutes, hit his first three in two years to send the game to double overtime, and helped the Spurs win one of the most exciting opening round playoff games in NBA history over the Suns. This game and this series has an NBA Finals intensity, and boy did it show yesterday. In case you missed it, here's the end of the 4th quarter and highlights from both overtimes condensed into 9 minutes:
- Chris Paul said and proved that Jason Kidd couldn't guard him, going a sick 15 of 23 for 35 points and 10 assists in New Orleans' Game 1 win over Dallas. And much like much of the world is just finding out about Paul, the same for Dwight Howard with his 25 points and 22 rebounds in Orlando's opening win.
- Same story but an unexpected actor in LA, where Pau Gasol atoned for all those Memphis Grizzlies Playoff sins with 36 points and 16 rebounds, as Denver had zero answer for him. I'm now convinced that this is the easiest series to see a sweep in.
- And just for good measure, now we've got the wrench in the equation, as the Sixers went into Detroit and came out with home court advantage, coming back and then holding on for a 90-86 win over the Pistons.
So far, the NBA couldn't have asked for more, and we're only two nights in. The fun continues this week, as we'll go Cavs/Wizards and Rockets/Jazz tomorrow night before filling out the rest of the week with tripleheaders. It's a good time to be a basketball fan.
We haven't even talked about the Braves yet...
...and what I've been meaning to say for several days is now much easier that the Braves have won four straight, swept the Dodgers and are now back to .500 at 9-9. You don't expect a .500 team 18 games into the season to have these numbers, but the Braves are actually +31 in runs scored, 96-65. Fun stat: 7 of the Braves' 9 losses this season have been in one run games.
So yeah, we could've won more. But when you consider that in 18 games, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, and Mike Hampton have all already missed at least one start, plus bullpen injuries, and the Braves are still 9-9 and +31 in runs...I like this. Combine that with the fact that Chipper Jones is .458 with 6 homers, and John Smoltz is 3-0 with a 0.56 ERA...getting healthy and staying healthy will have something to do with it, but the Braves look the part of the contender they should be.
WWE: King of the Ring returns on RAW
Tomorrow night on a special three hour RAW, the King of the Ring Tournament returns after a two year absence (and away from its usual June PPV spot). It's unknown which eight men will comprise the field, or what the stipulation for the winner will be, but the entire tournament will take place tomorrow night. And while the main event for Backlash next week is just a WrestleMania rehash (plus JBL), the Shawn Michaels vs. Batista feud could have some legs...though they may have jumped the gun on it by inserting Chris Jericho as the special guest referee. But at least he appears to be headed back towards the heel turn.
Hey, remember when you cared about the NHL Playoffs?
Yeah, me too. I can tell you more about the guys on NHL '94 for the Genesis right now than I can any of these players today. The Predators went home again in the first round today, and we shed a silent tear. Maybe next year, Nashville.
Saturday, April 19, 2008
2008 ESPN Thursday Night College Football Schedule
August 28 - NC State at South Carolina
September 4 - South Carolina at Vanderbilt
September 11 - North Carolina at Rutgers
September 18 - West Virginia at Colorado
September 25 - USC at Oregon State
October 2 - Pittsburgh at South Florida
October 9 - Clemson at Wake Forest
October 16 - Florida State at NC State
October 23 - Auburn at West Virginia
October 30 - South Florida at Cincinnati
November 6 - Maryland at Virginia Tech
November 13 - Virginia Tech at Miami
November 20 - Miami at Georgia Tech
November 27 - Texas A&M at Texas
December 4 - Louisville at Rutgers
Thursday, April 17, 2008
The NBA Playoffs represent the longest postseason in any sport, running this season from April 19 to mid-to-late June, depending on the length of the series in the earlier rounds. The playoffs are annually compelling whether or not your team is in it, although for me this is a childhood flashback and the first real time I've seen my Celtics walk into the playoffs with a realistic shot of winning it all. My grandparents raised me on the C's, but I was too young to appreciate Boston's three championships in the 80s; my first real memories as far as what I saw when it happened revolve around Magic hitting a sky hook and breaking Boston hearts when I was 6. I missed the prime of Larry Legend's career and all the titles therein. But now, Boston is more than just relevant, and won't be surprising anyone if they advance they way they did back in 2002. This is the most excited I've ever been about the playoffs; it's the thing that's carrying me between the Sweet 16 and UCLA, and I hope to be invested in that for another two months.
But even if you're not a Celtics fan, there's more to get excited about with these playoffs than any other that I can remember. Even when the league drew its highest ratings with the Jordan Bulls, was the outcome ever really in doubt in those playoffs? This season, no matter how good Boston has been, they're not the overwhelming favorites. And thanks to the insanity that lives out west, no one is. I would argue that half of the teams in this thing walk into it feeling like they've got a legitimate chance to win it all. Seeding is worthless out west (the 2008 NBA Western Conference is the most competitive conference from seeds 1-8 in the history of professional sports). And even among teams that don't feel like major contenders, you've still got LeBron, you've still got Arenas, you've still got Dwight Howard...this is basketball at its very best.
(By the way, ESPN, is it really breaking news when Isaiah Thomas is not retained as head coach by the Knicks?)
A preview of the opening round series:
#1 Boston vs. #8 Atlanta
CELTICS - Starters
G Rajon Rondo
G Ray Allen
F Paul Pierce
F Kevin Garnett
C Kendrick Perkins
CELTICS - Bench
G Sam Cassell
G Eddie House
F James Posey
F Leon Powe
C Glen Davis
HAWKS - Starters
G Mike Bibby
G Joe Johnson
F Josh Smith
F Marvin Williams
C Al Horford
HAWKS - Bench
G Acie Law
G Mario West
F Josh Childress
F Solomon Jones
C Zaza Pachulia
Let's start with this: if the Hawks win, it would be the biggest postseason upset in the history of professional sports. These aren't the '07 Warriors, who were 42-40. The Hawks backdoored their way into the playoffs (Philadelphia and Atlanta, the 7 and 8 seeds in the East, are on a combined seven game losing streak) and are brutally young. Still, I'm glad they're in and the city (hopefully) will support them - they made the moves like a contender, trading for Mike Bibby, they've got at least one proven playoff threat in (ex-Celtic) Joe Johnson, and they're loaded with raw youth and lots of upside for the future.
That future probably isn't now, though. The Celtics sport the best record in the NBA (66-16) and beat the Hawks by double digits in all three meetings this season. The Playoffs are the reset button for all 16 teams who get in (especially out West), so Boston must refocus now and reassert its dominance. This part shouldn't be hard - Pierce, Garnett and Allen have all played in the conference finals before and know what it's like to get through the first round. But before we start talking about 16 wins for Banner 17, let's remember to take them one at a time, and let's also know that any dreams of Boston dominating the field, I feel, are unrealistic - I think this is the only round where you'll be able to use that word. Detroit looms in the conference finals, and either matchup in the second round draws game conflict - you've either got to stop LeBron, who we'll see attempt to take it to another level in the playoffs again this year, or you get the Wizards, back at full strength playing together, and a team that went 3-1 against the Celtics this season, at stat you'll start hearing a ton of as soon as the Wizards get a one game lead on the Cavs in that series.
For now, Boston just needs to restart the engines and go. We'll give the Hawks one game for their youth and upside potential, and for the simple fact that we've never seen this Boston team in the playoffs, so there's nothing tangible to stand on. Yet.
SESB Pick: CELTICS in 5
#4 Cleveland vs. #5 Washington
CAVS - Starters
G Delonte West
G Devin Brown
F LeBron James
F Ben Wallace
C Zydrunas Ilgauskas
CAVS - Bench
G Damon Jones
G Daniel Gibson
F Wally Szczerbiak
F Joe Smith
C Anderson Varejao
(injured - Sasha Pavlovic, ankle, 2-3 weeks)
WIZARDS - Starters
G Gilbert Arenas
G DeShawn Stevenson
F Caron Butler
F Antawn Jamison
C Brendan Haywood
WIZARDS - Bench
G Antonio Daniels
G Nick Young
F Dominic McGuire
F Darius Songalia
C Andray Blatche
For the third straight year, the Cavs and the Wiz get matched up in the opening round of the playoffs. Two season ago, everybody learned who Gilbert Arenas was when he went toe to toe with LeBron and almost pulled it off. Last year Arenas was hurt, and that favorable matchup helped propel the Cavs towards the NBA Finals.
This time around, it's the Cavs who are hurting - both literally with Pavlovic, who won't play in this series at all, and figuratively - since essentially blowing up the pieces surrounding LeBron and trying again in the great trade deadline of 2008, the Cavs have been hovering around .500. There's potential there, sure, with Ben Wallace and some pieces coming off the bench, but we haven't seen it yet. We know that LeBron can transcend in these moments, especially against weaker competition...but then again, this is easily the most competitive on-paper matchup in the Eastern Conference, and potentially in the entire first round.
If LeBron is of the Jordan mold, the Cavs win this series. Despite Washington's relative health and fun-to-watch quotient, they're not so good that LeBron and these pieces shouldn't get the job done. However, that remains to be seen. These two teams are talking already - and for DeShawn Stevenson, no one even knew who he was two weeks ago until he started calling LBJ things like "overrated" and then told Charles Barkley to "chill" after Barkley called Washington "the dumbest team in the history of civilization" for those comments.
When your team is a contender, all the other playoff series instantly become more fun to watch as well, especially the one that determines your next opponent. With or without that, I think this one is highly entertaining, and has experts divided. But if we get down to Game 6 or Game 7, it's much easier for me to envision the Cavs blowing up than the Wizards, who I think will play looser and ultimately better down the stretch. I believe that there's still only so much LeBron can do, and if the Cavs can't stop Washington, it won't matter how many points he scores. Mild, mild upset, but one Celtics fans and the NBA league office would probably rather not see, as Bron Bron goes home in the first round.
SESB Pick: WIZARDS in 7
#3 Orlando vs. #6 Toronto
MAGIC - Starters
G Jameer Nelson
G Maurice Evans
F Hedo Turkoglu
F Rashard Lewis
C Dwight Howard
MAGIC - Bench
G Carlos Arroyo
G Keyon Dooling
F Keith Bogans
F Brian Cook
C Adonal Foyle
(injured - Tony Battie, shoulder, out for season)
RAPTORS - Starters
G TJ Ford
G Anthony Parker
F Jamario Moon
F Chris Bosh
C Rasho Nesterovic
RAPTORS - Bench
G Jose Calderon
G Carlos Delfino
F Jason Kapono
F Kris Humphries
C Andrea Bargnani
Here's your chance to learn that Dwight Howard is much more than that slam dunk guy, and that Toronto's not half bad either. Howard should be on the plus side of the matchup with Chris Bosh, but I think it'll be the supporting casts for both teams that help decide this one.
Orlando was swept out of the playoffs last year as the eight seed, but don't be fooled - you don't hear a lot about the Magic, but they're not just one of these East also-rans. Boston and Detroit have the two best records in basketball, so to be third in the East is no crime. And make no mistake - this is the best Orlando team in the post-Shaq era, both statistically (52-30) and on the floor.
The Raptors aren't used to postseason success either, and this is the league's biggest "who?" roster - plenty of people still don't know Bosh, and the second most identifiable player might be Bargnani, who's inconsistent at best. What you will have here are two good teams with two solid home court advantages - I think winning on the road will be difficult for either squad given their playoff inexperience.
Orlando is simply the better team, so we're going with them - I wouldn't be surprised to see them pushed here, but I'm really interested to see exactly how good they can be. If this series doesn't push them, the next one certainly will.
SESB Pick: MAGIC in 6
#2 Detroit vs. #7 Philadelphia
PISTONS - Starters
G Chauncey Billups
G Richard Hamilton
F Tayshaun Prince
F Rasheed Wallace
C Antonio McDyess
PISTONS - Bench
G Rodney Stuckey
G Arron Afflalo
F Jarvis Hayes
F Jason Maxiell
C Theo Ratliff
SIXERS - Starters
G Andre Miller
G Willie Green
F Andre Iguodala
F Reggie Evans
C Samuel Dalembert
SIXERS - Bench
G Louis Williams
G Kevin Ollie
F Rodney Carney
F Thaddeus Young
C Calvin Booth
The Detroit Pistons, the forgotten sons of the NBA, have made the Eastern Conference Finals five consecutive seasons, a remarkable feat. And it's mostly the same cast, which makes me not understand how people sound so surprised when they do well. Outside of San Antonio, you won't find a more battle-tested unit than Billups, Rip, Tayshaun, Sheed and McDyess. The bench has gotten younger and thinner, but this is without a doubt the best starting five in the NBA.
So, can we pencil them into at least the second round? Philly is an interesting story, starting the season 16-28 and then going on a 24-10 tear to make the playoffs and threaten for the five seed, before losing four straight games to close the regular season. They may not have Iverson anymore, but they can run with Miller and Iguodala.
The Pistons have been here so many times, I always expect them to come out a little sleepy. I don't think Philly is good enough to win this series on any level, but I do think they'll steal a game or two along the way before the Pistons fully wake up, just in time to advance to heavier competition.
SESB Pick: PISTONS in 6
#1 LA Lakers vs. #8 Denver
LAKERS - Starters
G Derek Fisher
G Kobe Bryant
F Lamar Odom
F Vladimir Radmanovic
C Pau Gasol
LAKERS - Bench
G Jordan Farmar
G Sasha Vujacic
F Luke Walton
F Ronny Turiaf
C DJ Mbenga
(injured - Andrew Bynum, knee, questionable)
NUGGETS - Starters
G Anthony Carter
G Allen Iverson
F Carmelo Anthony
F Kenyon Martin
C Marcus Camby
NUGGETS - Bench
G Taurean Green
G JR Smith
F Eduardo Najera
F Linas Kleiza
C Steven Hunter
(injured - Nene, groin, questionable)
If you like points, welcome. If you like superstars, welcome. And you see 1 vs. 8 and you think it won't be competitive, but this is the Western Conference, and you throw seeding out the window in every series. This one should be highly entertaining.
The Lakers average 109 points per game and are led by Kobe Bryant, and whether or not he wins the MVP, his fingerprint on this season will be left starting now, in the playoffs. Even surrounded by Gasol and Odom and their nightly double-doubles, and whether or not Bynum gets back, this is Kobe's team, and his first real solo team with a chance to go the distance. It rises and falls on his shoulders.
Meanwhile, Denver brings two 25+ point scorers to the table in Iverson and 'Melo, and George Karl said in Sports Illustrated a few weeks ago that when this team is hot, no one in the NBA can beat them. And he might be right. Denver averages 111 per game, the highest scoring playoff offense (the Lakers are third).
The differnce here is defense - the Lakers play some, the Nuggets don't play any. And that's an understatement. I'm interested to see if the Lakers and especially Kobe play with some undue #1 seed burden, especially if Denver wins one of the first two games. The Nuggets should play fast and loose but don't always play together at crunch time, but they can really use that to their advantage if they get one early. However, Kobe has shown all signs that he's matured, and if that's the case, the Lakers should be fine. And yeah, you're right, I do want to see them in the Finals.
SESB Pick: LAKERS in 6
#4 Utah vs. #5 Houston
(Rockets have home court advantage)
JAZZ - Starters
G Deron Williams
G Ronnie Brewer
F Andrei Kirilenko
F Carlos Boozer
C Mehmet Okur
JAZZ - Bench
G Jason Hart
G CJ Miles
F Matt Harpring
F Paul Millsap
C Jarron Collins
ROCKETS - Starters
G Bobby Jackson
G Tracy McGrady
F Shane Battier
F Luis Scola
C Dikembe Mutombo
ROCKETS - Bench
G Luther Head
G Aaron Brooks
F Steve Novak
F Carl Landry
C Chuck Hayes
(injured - Yao Ming, shin, out for season)
(injured - Rafer Alston, hamstring, day to day)
Here we go again. These two teams danced this dance last year, and once again Tracy McGrady failed to get out of the first round. It's not all on him, but I'm not sure he knows that (he said as much last year). This will be T-Mac's seventh trip to the postseason, and he's never been out of the first round. Two of the last three years he's made it to game seven. Last year was really the first time you looked at the matchup and thought Houston had the better of it, and they've got homecourt in the same matchup again this year...
...but it isn't the same matchup. I know they won 22 games in a row and most of them without him, but the absence of Yao Ming isn't to be taken lightly. I know Mutombo has plenty of playoff experience, but is that who you want against Boozer and Okur? Utah is the best team that no one's heard of - the casual NBA fan still doesn't know Deron Williams and still thinks Boozer is "that guy from Duke" - and you think about Utah and how un-sexy they are and what not, and you miss that this is an excellent offensive and well coached team. Utah is arguably the best NBA franchise to never win a championship, and in this conference in this season, don't think that they're not good enough to do it now. Don't think the league office isn't sweating a Detroit-Utah NBA Finals.
Still, it comes down to this, as it probably too often does for me in sports: I'll believe it when I see it. For Houston and T-Mac, I'll believe it when I see it. I think Utah is a real threat. I think Houston could be. But given the choice between the two, what we saw last year, and history, it's an easy pick for me.
SESB Pick: JAZZ in 6
#3 San Antonio vs. #6 Phoenix
SPURS - Starters
G Tony Parker
G Manu Ginobili
F Bruce Bowen
F Tim Duncan
C Fabricio Oberto
SPURS - Bench
G Jacque Vaughn
G Michael Finley
F Ime Udoka
F Matt Bonner
C Kurt Thomas
SUNS - Starters
G Steve Nash
G Raja Bell
F Grant Hill
F Amare Stoudemire
C Shaquille O'Neal
SUNS - Bench
G Leandro Barbosa
G DJ Strawberry
F Boris Diaw
F Sean Marks
C Brian Skinner
Another rivalry in progress, and just the same that the league and ABC want T-Mac to prevail, despite the Spurs dynasty in progress, the Suns are the second best option from the West if you can't have the Lakers in the Finals as far as television ratings go, especially if they have Shaq - a Lakers-Suns Western Conference final would be ideal. And it's not out of the question.
But again - what's the evidence that you pick against the Spurs in the postseason? And what's the evidence that Phoenix - with or without Shaq - is championship worthy? They've been an outstanding regular season team for the last three years, and yeah, maybe they got the short end from the referees in this matchup last season. But it's a stretch to make me go against the Spurs, again, in this series. Like all the Western Conference matchups, it should be highly competitive and entertaining...but in the end, the Spurs should really be everyone's pick until proven otherwise; they've earned that right. But oh yeah, we're going seven.
SESB Pick: SPURS in 7
#2 New Orleans vs. #7 Dallas
HORNETS - Starters
G Chris Paul
G Morris Peterson
F Peja Stojakovic
F David West
C Tyson Chandler
HORNETS - Bench
G Mike James
G Jannero Pargo
F Bonzi Wells
F Julian Wright
C Melvin Ely
MAVS - Starters
G Jason Kidd
G Jason Terry
F Josh Howard
F Dirk Nowitzki
C Erick Dampier
MAVS - Bench
G Jose Juan Barea
G Eddie Jones
F Jerry Stackhouse
F Brandon Bass
C Juwan Howard
You look at these lineups and if you haven't watched the NBA this season, you think the Hornets have no chance. And maybe the Mavericks are still coming together with their best basketball in front of them in the Jason Kidd era redux. But the Hornets are up there with the Wizards and the Jazz as a team that's incredibly fun to watch that no one's seen. If I had an MVP vote, I'd give it to Chris Paul. And the rest of them ain't bad either - David West, Peja, Chandler. This team is every bit as good as their record and their seeding...
As for Dallas, how will they respond in the playoffs this time around? Even as a seven seed, they'll still be carrying the burden of both last year and this year's expectations, especially after trading for Kidd. If Dallas gets out of round one, I think they become very dangerous.
...but I don't think they get out of round one. New Orleans has no playoff experience while many of the Mavs have been to the Finals, but still, I think the Hornets are the real deal, and are the type of team that can ascend to another level and gain national attention in the playoffs. They may not go all the way, but I think they'll get past round one and the Mavs, again, in seven.
SESB Pick: HORNETS in 7
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Tennessee Titans 2008 Schedule
Week 01 - vs Jacksonville (1:00 PM)
Week 02 - at Cincinnati (1:00 PM)
Week 03 - vs Houston (1:00 PM)
Week 04 - vs Minnesota (1:00 PM)
Week 05 - at Baltimore (1:00 PM)
Week 06 - bye
Week 07 - at Kansas City (1:00 PM)
Week 08 - vs Indianapolis (Monday Night Football - 8:30 PM)
Week 09 - vs Green Bay (1:00 PM)
Week 10 - at Chicago (1:00 PM)
Week 11 - at Jacksonville (1:00 PM)
Week 12 - vs NY Jets (1:00 PM)
Week 13 - at Detroit (Thanksgiving Day - 12:30 PM)
Week 14 - vs Cleveland (1:00 PM)
Week 15 - at Houston (1:00 PM)
Week 16 - vs Pittsburgh (1:00 PM)
Week 17 - at Indianapolis (1:00 PM)
Some thoughts off the cuff...the Titans get a huge break because even though they were a playoff team last year, they finished third in their division, which means while Indianapolis draws New England and San Diego under the NFL's format where you play two other in-conference teams who finished in the same place you did in their divisions, the Titans get Kansas City and the Jets. The rotating portion of the schedule brings the AFC North and the NFC North against the AFC South this season, which again, could be worse. There's also just not a particularly brutal stretch on the grid this season, which hasn't been the case in the last two seasons, until you get to the very end. If the AFC is as competitive as it was last year, you don't want to see vs Pittsburgh/at Indy to close the season. But all in all, I like the way this looks.
Saturday, April 12, 2008
- Images of new player models
- Images and comparisons with turf and stadiums for this year (including a very cool shot of Neyland Stadium)
- The official word on new features direct from the website:
Here's a taste of what you can expect to see in NCAA Football 09.
In the coming weeks we'll take a deeper dive into each of the features below, so check back for more detailed information.
It's Wide Open
- Bigger holes, cutback lanes, and open receivers, making the game feel more wide open than ever before
- Directional pump fake on the R stick
- New college specific tackling engine
Home Field Advantage with new mini-game components
- Pre-play confusion and difficulty making adjustments when on the road against tough teams
- All new toughest places to play with dynamic rankings
All-new Mascot Mode with User Controlled Celebrations
- Mascot Games
- Interactive TD celebrations
College Atmosphere & Pageantry
- All-new Dynamic Crowd System
- College sidelines are packed with additional players, mascots, cheerleaders, and more
- All-new authentic fields with new textures, lighting, and field degradation
- New college player models, including more than 50 alternate uniforms
- User Customizable Stadium Sounds & Music
- Breakaway crowd reactions
Depth & Innovation
- Online Dynasty is here!!!
- Roster file sharing online
- Improved recruiting system in Dynasty mode highlighting ease and accessibility
- New post game presentation and play by play commentary
- 1-4 player offline co-op
- Return missed field goals
- Bluff your play art to confuse opponents
- Formation audibles
- Smart routes
- Bobble catches
- Better passing control
- Post play continuation
- All-New Mini Games
- Random play selection in practice mode
- Quick replay
- CPU vs. CPU (watch mode)
- Smooth 60 FPS on PS3
- Even teams option in play now
The new features are always just a bonus, as I've said before, because the majority of people who play this game would take the version from last year with new rosters and gleefully play away. This game is a win going in every single year.
That said, the stadium lighting stuff actually looks a lot cooler than it sounds when you see the images. Stuff like dynamic crowd systems will need to be seen to be believed, but it will be nice to have alternate uniforms out of the box instead of waiting all freaking year for EA to release them around December for an extra fee as downloadable content, when you're almost done playing the game.
Online dynasty might be what I'm most excited about, and is one of those obvious options that's been out there for years and now seems like it'll finally be put to good use. That and EA's "at last" consent to use roster file sharing - meaning someone else can put all those names in and we can all reap the benefit without having to circumvent the system. All in all, anytime EA makes the annual gameplay tinkering improvements while adding to the atmosphere with the crowds, and making the changes that fans have been calling for all along...at this point, this is all very, very promising.
It's in the game July 15.
Friday, April 11, 2008
Just as soon as we got March Madness out of our systems, here comes college football. And while the Vols will be scrimmaging tomorrow before playing the (Dish Network) Orange & White Game next Saturday - further proof that Mike Hamilton will earn, son, including charging UT students for football tickets (which made me furious until I learned that the only SEC schools who still give free home game tickets to students are Vanderbilt and South Carolina) - ESPN is pulling out all the stops in about twelve hours.
GameDay - and not the B team, the real deal with Chris, Lee and Kirk - will be live on location in Gainesville tomorrow, starting at 11:00 AM on ESPN2 and then picking up on ESPN at noon, before televising the Gators' spring game live at 1:00. And yeah, maybe you're pissed because it's the Gators...but you'll watch, won't you? I'll TiVo it gleefully, because now that the Final Four is done and with another unbearable week between now and the start of the NBA Playoffs, and especially now that they've taken my Sunday at The Masters away from me...I need to see the helmets and pads popping, even if it's the Gators. We'll scout 'em.
141 days...and only seven until the Orange & White.
Wednesday, April 09, 2008
The best sports movie (thus far) of our generation, and no, it doesn't matter that it's about cards. While everything you're getting ready to see after this I was too young to fully appreciate at its release and feels like an 80s movie even though one of them isn't, Rounders feels like it belongs to my generation, because it does.
First of all, you have to remember that when this movie came out, No Limit Texas Hold 'Em was a virtual unknown to the casual card player or those who'd never stepped foot into a casino. This is well before the World Series of Poker became an ESPN staple crop, or you saw a ton of celebrities playing it, or I could turn on my XBOX 360 and play with people all over the world in about 30 seconds. All of the excitement that the game generates is replicated in this movie, except for many of us, we'd never seen it before. So from the opening scene where Mike McD gets busted out, to the dramatic final showdown, the card playing in this movie was equal parts new, exciting, and realistic - the winning hand at the end of the movie isn't four aces, for example.
The actors in this movie are much bigger stars now than they were then - Matt Damon had been Will Hunting, but that was really it and he wasn't the megastar he is today. And Fight Club didn't come out until the next year, so it wasn't cool to think Ed Norton was awesome just yet. Famke Janssen hadn't been Jean Grey, we only knew John Malkovich as Cyrus the Virus (which actually makes his brief but important role as Teddy KGB - which is what I'd name my kid if I were Russian - even more intimidating), and John Turturro was playing a much different role than The Jesus two years before he was Pete in O Brother Where Art Thou? Throw in Martin Landau and Gretchen Mol, who you hate in this movie in exactly the way you're supposed to, and you've got a ton of great actors before you know they're great. When you combine that with the story and the cards, you've got something special.
The first time I saw this, I wasn't expecting much other than the fun ride of a card movie, much the same way I went into 21 and got about exactly what I was looking for. Rounders, instead, hooks you from the beginning with Mike's big loss, and makes it where you can't wait for him to get back to the table by the time he does. Worm lives up to his name. And the way they win and then lose back the money they owe is classic, all building to the final showdown. The ending isn't perfect, which actually makes the movie better, but it's much much different than the Ron Shelton twists, and in this case incredibly rewarding, even though Mike ends up right back where he started. I feel like this movie is out there and a huge percentage of people who would love it don't even know about it. There's nothing wrong and everything right about it. And while it hasn't become transcendent into culture and my memories the way everything from here on out has, perhaps one day it will. And even if it doesn't, I'm still okay with it being the best sports movie of my generation.
Favorite Quote: While "In the poker game of life, women are the rake" is an absolute classic, the line early about "Listen, here's the thing: if you can't spot the sucker in the first half hour at the table, then you are the sucker." sets the tone for the rest of the film.
4. Major League II (1994)
Comparing this movie to the original from 1989 is really apples to oranges based on one thing: Major League is rated R, Major League II is PG-13. And to me, the second movie actually benefits from that fact. The first one is a classic and would easily be on this list if we weren't doing the "one from each series" rule. And even though this is originally based on me being eight when the first one came out and thirteen for the second and probably not getting the majority of the R-rated humor, watching them both now at 26, I still prefer the second one.
It builds, of course, on the first one, and the main core - Wild Thing, Taylor & Dorn, Cerrano and Willie Mays Hayes, and Lou, with smaller roles from Rachel Phelps and one scene from Rene Russo, plus the complimentary parts from Harry Doyle and Randy Quaid as that guy in the stands - is all back. I don't care that Omar Epps is in this one instead of Wesley Snipes. What I do care about are the additions - most notably, Rube, who has some of the funniest stuff in the whole film, and Knoxville's finest, David Keith, as Jack Parkman. Also, Elsa from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is in this, which I'm pretty sure is the only other place I've ever seen her.
And lots of the points you can make about those guys are built on the first movie, but improved. Charlie Sheen is the master of movies like this; while we all enjoy his more serious stuff from the 80s, these movies and Hot Shots! allow him to pull off stuff with a straight face that's just incredibly funny - his deodorant commercial in this is almost as good as the preview for Willie's Black Hammer/White Lightning movie with Jesse Ventura ("Mine fell first." "Mine are the deadest!") And it doesn't get old that Pedro Ceranno grows up to be the President of the United States on 24.
The jokes in this thing are still good even if it's PG-13, it still draws an audible laugh from me every time I see it. And I don't know, it's just something about seeing this team back again, making another run at the title, that mirrors how you feel at the start of a new sports year. If you take away the pieces, it won't work (see Major League III) but with all of them together, it's even better the second time around.
Favorite Quote: The whole movie
3. Caddyshack (1980)
What can you say about this that hasn't been said already? This movie isn't my generation, but it's funny in all of them. Between Ty Webb's rapid-fire sarcasm (the line that made me fully appreciate this movie when I got older is "You're crazy!" "That's what they said about Son of Sam."), Carl Spackler's lunacy (the other day in Ceres I was talking about the Dalai Lama and immediately said "Big hitter, The Lama", which drew only the blank stares I'm used to), and Al Czervik's over the top nature combined with the way Judge Smails reacts (this is a family blog, which really limits what we can say here or about this whole movie, and I don't even like Rodney Dangerfield that much, but every single line he has in this movie is gold)...this might be the most consistently funny movie from start to finish in the history of film. Really. On this list, this movie should really be 2B, because if I'm in the mood for something funny, I go here, and if I'm in the mood for something more serious, I go to the next option with equal frequency. If you need me to explain further why this movie is great, you haven't seen it.
Favorite Quote: Again, the whole movie
2. Rocky IV (1985)
Alright, let's get this out of the way:
Why it's better than Rocky: Because he wins at the end.
Why it's better than Rocky II: Because honestly, everything before the fight in this movie is kinda slow
Why it's better than Rocky III: Because when Mick dies, there's no real way to get even, because you can't fight age and Clubber didn't kill him. When Apollo Creed dies, vengeance be thine.
Why it's better than Rocky V: Because the name of the movie isn't Rocky V
Why it's better than Rocky Balboa: Go back to the top of the list.
Remember, favorite not best. And I mean, while I realize these movies get more and more ludicrous as time goes on, if you're going to go, you go all out: fighting Ivan Drago in Moscow on Christmas for no money just about does it.
This movie isn't just about the USA and evoke patriotism - it's us against the Commies. And as anyone born before the fall of the Berlin Wall will tell you, the Russians are the bad guys. Anything's better when the Russians are the bad guys - that's how it's supposed to be. If you played war growing up before the Persian Gulf War, the Russians were the enemies, and our culture glorifies such a thing so that I played World War III as a kid with my GI Joes and thought about how awesome it would be to finally throw down with the Russians. Plus, you get to hear their national anthem, which as we learned from this and The Hunt for Red October, is pretty freaking sweet.
And this is as close as we get, really. But we'll take it. Because when Drago kills Apollo Creed - and let's all remember how shocking it was when that fight ended, and you're thinking he's hurt bad but ultimately he's fine (like Ray Jackson in Bloodsport), and then the camera cuts to a funeral - the guys making this movie knew exactly what they were doing. Let's put Rocky in Siberia and let him train. Let's put him in another situation he can't escape from and he can't win, against a genetically engineered superfighter about 15 years ahead of his time. Then, let's beat the crap out of him round after round after round, but he won't go down. There's really very little skill in Rocky by this point, no switching hands, no element of surprise, none of that. It's just taking a beating and staying up.
Now, if this movie has a flaw, it's this, as Bill Simmons and others have pointed out before - the most insane and ludicrous part of a movie that has equal shares of both is the Moscow crowd turning on Drago. If they ever showed this movie in Russia, there might be rioting. I want to see a director's cut where the crowd doesn't like Rocky until after the fight is over, and then he makes that speech. Not a moment before. I want to see a cut where Rocky puts Drago down and there's total silence. That's how it should've ended.
But that's the best I can do. If the last 30 minutes of this movie came on right now, I'd drop everything I was doing to watch it. This is the pinnacle of competition in sports movies.
Favorite Quote: "You got him hurt bad. Now he's worried. You cut him! You hurt him! You see! You see! He's not a machine, he's a man! Want it more than he does. No pain. No pain. No pain!"
1. Bull Durham (1988)
Not only is this my favorite sports movie ever made, but it's easily one of my ten favorite movies of any genre. Equal parts comedy and drama, and not just a favorite but one that belongs on any "best" list. I'm not sure this will ever be topped in my lifetime.
The Ron Shelton formula really works best in this movie, with an ending that's not exactly what you'd expect but ultimately satisfying for Crash, Annie and Nuke in their own ways. And while you can think what you like about Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins on the political front, in this movie they're both incredibly good. The three of them carry the film (a theme played out in the other Shelton movies, except Tin Cup where it's four of them).
This thing has no wasted time or scenes - it's tight at under two hours but it moves from point A to point B with no problems and lots of entertainment. The humor is both intellectual and slapstick. The story is appealing to men and women. Like Caddyshack - if you need it explained, you haven't seen it.
Favorite Quote: "Relax, all right? Don't try to strike everybody out. Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they're fascist. Throw some ground balls - it's more democratic. " - Crash Davis
Tuesday, April 08, 2008
2008 National Champions
"Anything less than a National Championship is a failure." - Candace Parker. Woe to the person who follows Pat Summitt, whether that's next year or in another decade. Or two.
But as we wind it down towards the inevitable, I'm also running out of ways to describe the greatness of the Lady Vols. Pat Summitt will get to 1000 wins next year, which has never been done. 8 National Championships in the last 21 years. ESPN is running down some of this stuff right now, and if anybody does it right, it's us - no rebuilding, only reloading. Five seniors leaving, no tears will be shed.
The press is still on up 14 with 2:00 to play, and you've gotta love it. More people hate UConn than the Lady Vols on a national level because I'm convinced they too are afraid of Pat Summitt, and Geno just has a certain worm-like quality about him.
Here comes Vicki Baugh out onto the bench with crutches, which is great to see and we hope her injury isn't too serious as she feels the love from the orange faithful.
Mike Patrick makes this point too - that the quality and depth of women's college basketball is so much greater than it was in the 90s, and even in the early part of this decade...and yet the Lady Vols still win back to back National Championships.
This doesn't get old.
10:29 PM - 58-44 Lady Vols
Vicki Baugh goes down and Nicky Anosike is crying, which isn't something you see everyday.
Candice Wiggins throws up her second airball of the night, and keeps looking at her hands when she does it like the wide receiver that dropped a wide open pass. They don't have the answers. 23 Stanford turnovers now, and even though the Lady Vols haven't fully pulled away, a lead hovering between 8-12 starts looking a lot better when you get under 6:00. Unless you're Memphis, zing! You get the feeling that one more bucket would put this thing away at 56-44 with 5:00 to play...but even clanging another one, the Lady Vols are there with another offensive rebound. We've leaned on Stanford all night long, and now either the Vols or the clock will push them over.
Looks like it's Candace Parker who'll do it with a free throw line j.
Stanford's getting no more rolls off the rim, the Lady Vols are taking their time, and the orange faithful are getting loud. Time to start making more room in the TBA rafters.
More Meat Loaf!
10:16 PM - 52-43 Lady Vols
I'm running out of ways to say it, and hopefully it won't come back and bite them (and I don't think it will), but the Lady Vols have had several opportunities to put this thing out of reach, and whether it's missed layups or turnovers they haven't been able to do it. This game is quickly moving from entertaining to sloppy. The theme of the second half is "clang".
"Pat Summitt was so mad..." - there's a Chuck Norris comparison in there somewhere. Holly Rowe says she's like a mom. I wasn't nearly as afraid of my mom as a child as I am of Pat Summitt right now.
I wonder if Stanford feels like I did watching the men play Louisville in the Sweet 16 - you're only down single digits, but it feels like a mountain in front of you because you're cold and the other team is making it tough. Copy and paste, we're in the same place.
10:05 PM - 50-40 Lady Vols
Calhoun's of Knoxville > Outback Steakhouse
Eh...Stanford misses free throws, Lady Vols turn it over. UConn is kicking themselves, and good for them. Here's another Stanford turnover (#18), but the Lady Vols can't convert. Stanford is actually out-shooting the Lady Vols at this point, 50% to 46%.
Lady Vols get the short end of the stick on a call, but The Masters soothing music makes everything better. But that's okay, my district decides to call a meeting on Sunday afternoon 90 minutes away from my house. You think pastors don't watch golf?
That might be the first three second call I've seen in basketball on any level this year.
Mike Patrick says that Stanford doesn't get many runs, and to my recollection they haven't had any - six points makes a run, much like three wins makes a streak (see Major League). And unless the Lady Vols decide to be extra good to them, there's been no evidence thus far that one is coming anytime soon. The Lady Vols were up five at the first break and eight at the second one, and thereabouts we remain.
9:56 PM - 46-35 Lady Vols
See...score, halftime, score, rebound, foul shots. Just like that, this thing goes from "Tennessee is killing them" to "we've got a ballgame!" in about thirty seconds. But Auguste puts in a big answer, and Shannon Bobbitt should've made it worse, but she was the classic "too open" and misses on the three. You still just feel like Tennessee is playing so much better than Stanford, but they just can't quite pull away.
I'll say this, and it's been true for years - nobody celebrates a drawn charge or a loose ball hustle play like the Lady Vols, floor to bench, who still huddle up with the best of them, and with their own score-steal-score, it's back to 10.
Then Candace Parker gets pissed after not getting a call, and goes right back at it for an and-one. I bet other teams hate to play us. Make up call on the other end...same story for 25 minutes, can the Lady Vols push this lead out towards 15+ and put Stanford away, or will the Cardinal keep hanging around?
9:30 PM - Halftime - 37-29 Lady Vols
To clarify, I meant jump shots for Anosike, who's clearly capable of getting points inside. The Lady Vols have held this 5-10 point lead throughout, which breeds false comfort. You'd love to see them pull further away, because Stanford remains a score-steal-score away from being right there.
But it's really defense that's making that even a possibility. Appel has been the best player on the floor for Stanford thus far, as they keep making just enough plays to stay close. But they're making Stanford pay for doubling down on Parker, mostly via Shannon Bobbitt. It's scary to think what the Lady Vols do if Parker's not wearing long sleeves.
During the break, I also read that Ben Hansbrough is transferring from Mississippi State. I tell you, it's getting to be like football round these parts as soon as the season ends with all these defections.
Tennessee is hitting plenty of free throws and, again, keeping this thing at a healthy distance. As I'm sure you've heard plenty of over the last month, the first five minutes of the second half will be crucial (though it was interesting over on the men's side the way, on Saturday, Kansas kept walloping on UNC thru the first five minutes of the second half, then Carolina made their comeback), but unless they come out of the locker room aflame, you've gotta like everything about this one so far. Except that Stanford shot at the buzzer.
Nicky Anosike is a triple major?! What are they, Mike? Don't leave me hanging!
Maybe Tara Vanderveer will punch Rebecca Lobo for me.
9:09 PM - 21-15 Lady Vols
I think it's a shame that less than 24 hours after Kansas wins its first National Championship in two decades, the lead story is about their coach wanting "security" from the program. Some would view that as a thinly veiled threat to the KU administration to pay up. And not that Bill Self hasn't earned it, clearly. But it's still unfortunate - their one shining moment is already over.
Looks like Summitt and Pearl have been working together on guarding that inbounds pass, down to putting a big on the inbounds (wo)man.
The Bottom Line tells me that Ronald Steele, Marreese Speights, and Anthony Randolph are all leaving the SEC for the NBA, which right away makes me think "Tyler Smith is better than all those guys". Only Randolph hired an agent, so who knows. The men were ranked #10 in Luke Winn's off the cuff Top 10 for 2009, assuming Tyler Smith returns, so even though we lose Lofton and JaJuan, there's plenty still left in the cupboard.
It's a shame that while fewer folks are tuning in for this tonight with UConn back home, you've got an entertaining ballgame thus far with plenty of points and few bad shots. Nicky Anosike reminds me of Torry Harris in Kevin O'Neill's offense. "Shoot under no circumstances."
8:58 PM - 17-9 Lady Vols
Meat Loaf in an AT&T commercial! His name was Robert Paulson, and he needs work.
Look at the size on the floor for Stanford...and a nice catch by ESPN on the shot clock accidentally being reset when a shot didn't hit the rim.
First horrendous call of the night - if that's a jump ball, my name is Robert Paulson. Neither team is taking full advantage of the other's mistakes, but you still have to like where the Lady Vols are right now. Great point about Stanford, down seven, facing their biggest hole of the tournament thus far. I always wonder in situations like this if a team gets down double digits early to the Lady Vols, if there's a part of them that panics even more because it's the Lady Vols.
Nice, nice up and under by Appel. Off a steal there were about three fouls on both sides that some officiating crews would've called, but I like that they're letting them play. I also like 5'2" Bobbitt going to the hole on 6'4" Appel.
8:48 PM - 12-7 Lady Vols
Stanford has a 6'4" presence to matchup well with Anosike. That'll be a huge matchup. Also huge was Hornbuckle hitting a shot early to avoid the doughnut until the final seconds again tonight. Stanford's controlling the pace early, and I wonder if Pat wanted them to run right with them or try and slow it down.
At 7-7, Parker takes a bad shot (which is actually noted, which almost never happens in the women's game), but right now the Lady Vols pretty well without her with two threes from Bobbitt...
...and then they get a steal and did a psuedo-alley-oop to her. The Lady Vols are on pace to score 100 points.
8:32 PM - Tip-Off
Speaking of uniforms, while I do think Stanford's black is solid, it goes against the point about knowing who you're watching when you turn it on. This is why if the Vols - ladies or men, basketball or football - ever go to something in black, it needs to be a "one night only" sort of deal. Because as cool as it would look - and it would, especially black pants with black helmets - there's nothing better than the orange. Four months later, I'm over it and I hope the football team breaks out the orange pants again soon. Because you can't get enough.
We'll have to see if Candace Parker has that Daniel-son thing going again tonight where when she gets hit, she's obviously in pain and you feel it with her.
I have no idea who Sarah Lenore is, but I bet the Stanford people are pissed because she's putting the country twang on the anthem. I especially liked the part about the land of the fray.
Alexis Hornbuckle is 5'11" and plays guard. So does Wiggins. I remember when a 5'11" girl played post, and I'm not that old.
And Holly Rowe isn't wearing her Janet Jackson hat, so I'm disappointed. And I still want to punch Rebecca Lobo in the face. You know women's basketball has gained some equality when I'll use a sentence like "punch her in the face" without thinking twice. Taurasi too.
Here we go...
8:15 PM - Pregame
I love the fact that Tennessee is one of those teams that have their own color that clearly stands out in an arena or a crowd - no one else and no other fans wear our orange, so you know who you're dealing with when you see it.
This is the 13th time we've seen the orange in the National Championship Game, playing for their 8th championship. A stroll down memory lane:
Lady Vols in the National Championship Game
1984 - 1 Southern Cal 72 - 3 Tennessee 61
1987 - 2 Tennessee 67 - 1 Louisiana Tech 44
1989 - 1 Tennessee 76 - 1 Auburn 60
1991 - 1 Tennessee 70 - 1 Virginia 67 (OT)
1995 - 1 UConn 70 - 1 Tennessee 64
1996 - 1 Tennessee 83 - 1 Georgia 65
1997 - 3 Tennessee 68 - 1 Old Dominion 59
1998 - 1 Tennessee 93 - 3 Louisiana Tech 75
2000 - 1 UConn 71 - 1 Tennessee 52
2003 - 1 UConn 73 - 1 Tennessee 68
2004 - 2 UConn 70 - 1 Tennessee 61
2007 - 1 Tennessee 59 - 4 Rutgers 46
You can see, for one, why we'd like to see UConn again...although the Lady Vols have taken them out in some memorable tournament games along the way, the Huskies are 4-0 in their four title game meetings against Tennessee.
But that's for another day, because tonight it's Stanford, who beat the Lady Vols 73-69 in overtime back in December. Perhaps the Lady Vols can get hot and build the second part to another streak of three tonight. Maybe Candace Parker is better than Candice Wiggins. 'Ace vs. 'Ice, as ESPN is showing, is nice. (Holy crap, they just showed Tyler Summitt! That dude is shaving!) But more than individual talent, can the Lady Vols be the best team on the floor tonight? This is the first women's basketball game to ever make the TiVo - hopefully we're 40 minutes away from the University of Tennessee feeling all good about herself once again.