Archive for May, 2012

Psst, Pistons fans. Still out there?

The NBA is not the NFL. When times are tough for fans and the team, the building isn’t going to fill itself out like Jessica Simpson 48 weeks into pregnancy. That goes double for a team without a highly marketable star.

But the fact that there’s still a noticeable pulse reacting to the team’s struggles, growth and recent NBA Draft Lottery fate is discernible proof that all those who packed The Palace during the first Ben Wallace run are still looking for signs of daylight atop the Eastern Conference. There’s been a general knee-jerk reaction to many of Joe Dumars’ chess moves over the past year, accurate or not. The Tayshaun Prince re-up? Many opposed, partially based on the fear of blocking younger talent like Austin Daye, and hit on that notion. Most seemed opposed to re-signing Rodney Stuckey, too. For the price, Stuckey certainly proved to be worth his weight.

Now, for the third time in as many years, the Pistons will remain exactly where they should be, picking ninth overall on June 28. This time, reactions ranged anywhere from relatively neutral to downright apocalyptic. Hey, some of it makes sense, no? The retirement of Nicklas Lidström, the struggles of the Tigers, and a lifetime of rooting for the Lions probably brews skepticism naturally.

It’s obvious that the first overall pick would’ve been a rousing success (sorry, MJ), but to expect that is to be exceedingly foolish from a mathematical standpoint. The apparent drop-off after surefire No. 1 Anthony Davis is tangible, also. Brad Beal and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist both appear to be long-term starters who may land in a few All-Star games, and they’re both unlikely to fall outside of the top five, so even if the Pistons had moved into one of those other coveted top spots, prospects sans Davis still looked fairly solid and mostly sure.

Is the worry from the fan contingent related directly to Joe D? Perhaps it’s fair to question Dumars in terms of drafting talent (see: Cleaves, Milicic, White), but has Matt Millen colored everyone a bit negative? Countering those were solid hits on Mehmet Okur (37th overall), Aaron Afflalo (27th), and the aforementioned Prince (23rd) and Stuckey (15th). The past few years have been a somewhat mixed bag, albeit seemingly more makes (Jerebko, Knight and certainly Monroe) than air balls (perhaps Daye, Summers).

As much as NBA Draft expectations are created unreasonable, the ninth overall pick is not created equal from draft class to draft class. Certainly this year proves to have some tantalizers combining size and talent like Harrison Barnes, Perry Jones III and Terrence Jones. Aside from Barnes, both are likely possible fits in Detroit. John Henson or Arnett Moultrie both measure up as probable candidates as well. Considering Stuckey is a quite moveable asset, I personally like Austin Rivers’ skill-set. Picking for position rather than best available player is foolish, but for good measure, next year’s free agency class (of the unrestricted sort) looks to sport more bigs like Josh Smith and Paul Millsap than guards.

To go somewhat full circle, the criticism becomes fair for Dumars is in his trades and signings. The pair of Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva handcuffed the Pistons financially thanks or no thanks to mostly sub-level production. Here’s my argument: Pistons fans need not expect a 10-time All-Star or anticipate a bust, but rather hope for a long-term starter in the vein of Dumars’ last two lottery selections.

In today’s NBA, teams boasting a top 10 overall player or two like the Chicago Bulls or Miami Heat rule the roost. That theory proves to be no different in the West with the Clippers and OKC. But just as the Pistons proved against the Lakers a decade ago, the Spurs are proving (again) that you can be a favorite with players not named James, Paul or Rose. That blueprint, of course, requires pinpoint precision, like drafting great players late (DeJaun Blair), and even trading one of those (George Hill) for another (Kawhi Leonard).

The Pistons’ outlook shouldn’t be bleak. Just know that the room for error on the path to another NBA Title is slim. He might not say it, but the man who guarded Michael Jordan as good as anybody surely knows that, too.

Poor Vegas: Froch Foils Bute in R5

Posted: May 26, 2012 in Arts
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No one is going to send any flowers of condolence to Las Vegas bookies, but a Round 5 KO by the Sheriff of Nottingham, Carl Froch, of Lucian Bute has everyone wondering: How was Bute a 2:1 favorite?

Froch even addressed it post-fight, but it was a closing statement that had his hands making plenty of talking points, potentially winning every round over the undefeated Romanian-Canadian. The hometown wonder electrified the crowd, using his fast hands, and also his head to out-box the technician Bute and take the IBF Super Middleweight Title.

Froch took several body shots, but never feared Bute’s power when the two squared up with one another, delivering blow after blow to the temple of Bute, leaving his legs seemingly liquified even before the final round. Bute seemed to be recovered after a flurry in the third, but Froch peppered the lesser-experienced southpaw late in the fourth and put things back on its eventual course.

With Bute-Ward now etched out, the contract reportedly dictates a mandatory re-match between the two, but you’d be hard-pressed to find one who believes Bute could avoid the left hook and uppercuts Froch delivered. Would a repeat performance queue up another showdown between Froch and Mikkel Kessler, also fresh off an impressive KO over Allan Green at light heavyweight?

For those who’ve asked for it, I’ve got a link provided below for the final Greg Kampe Show of the season.

Sorry about the audio: I don’t pretend to be a professional engineer, but Coach Kampe’s voice (along with my own) were far less audible than of my co-host, Matt, so I tried to do some tinkering and editing with the file.

On the show, Kampe discusses with us the expectations and results of the 2012 recruiting class. We touch on some of the developments the roster has seen, and most important to many, the benefits of a possible Oakland-to-Horizon League move, as I documented extensively here.

Click here if you want to stream the podcast, or you can download it: http://pressrowsnotsafe.podbean.com/mf/web/pum2gb/TheGregKampeShow5-8-12.mp3

Though it had been whispered about behind closed doors as of late, the possibility of Oakland relocating its athletics from the Summit League to the Horizon League has gone from a murmur to full-fledged water cooler speculation among college basketball fans and scribes.

If Vegas could have taken odds on an eventual replacement after Butler made their jump to the Atlantic 10 official, Oakland would’ve undoubtedly been the favorite out of the gate. No one had to mention the Golden Grizzlies by name in the Horizon League press conference, but the questions were markedly pointed towards them.

What now? Silence, more or less. Oakland’s athletics director Tracy Huth has reasonably had little to comment on, and the school hasn’t been contacted by anyone from the Horizon according to Huth. As for a timetable?

“If you had a continuum line, and one end of the point and was tomorrow, and the other end was years from now, it’d be somewhere between there,” Horizon League Commissioner Jon LeCrone said.

Back to the water cooler, so it seems. But there’s plenty of good reason why those in the know tagged Oakland as the presumptive favorite to fill Butler’s absence. Even so, the choice of Oakland has had detracting reasons.

Of the two  more popular ones, the first is the distance, in terms of University of Detroit-Mercy being able to “block” Oakland.  While a two-thirds vote would clear any new school to be admitted by vote, a veto from the board by way of Detroit, as is now on public record of happening once previously, is possible. But a veto could be overturned by an otherwise unanimous vote, and by-laws can, of course, always be altered. That ability to “block” Oakland exists because they’re located within 25 miles of Detroit, but even that could be somewhat of a technicality based on the comments of Oakland men’s basketball coach Greg Kampe.

“If you go as the crow flies, we are less than 25 miles (away),” Kampe said. “If you go through the roads, then we’re 27 miles.”

Po-tay-to, po-ta-to, no? Speaking of by-laws, how about the necessity for a 5,000+ capacity basketball arena?

“It’s specific..we’ve also waived it,” LeCrone said. “I’m trying to find out things that not only work for our league, but work for individual schools as well…It’s more of a feel of what’s an appropriate facility.”

If the question is why Oakland is the best option, then the answer seems fairly obvious. Men’s basketball is to the Horizon League what football is to BCS Conferences, and Oakland appears to be the premiere choice of those men’s hoops programs that can be plucked. Kampe also noted that based on Oakland’s attendance and RPI, they rank in the upper-third when compared to Horizon League schools in the sport. Even in direct comparison, they’ve won roughly twice as many games as they’ve lost in games against Horizon League competition over the last decade or so, also.

The other sports, particularly the “Olympic” ones, bode well for Oakland, also. Soccer, along with swimming and diving have been overly successful. The baseball team, picked to do little in the Summit League prior to the season, is in the thick of the conference race.  Another check-mark or two, arguably.

But much of the concern here is whether the Horizon League is interested in Oakland. So, what about the other side? Is Oakland interested, and better yet, is it a good move?

The resounding answer, seemingly, is yes, and then yes more times than Reggie Hamilton scored 30 points the past season.

Though the aforementioned sports are also certainly of importance, Oakland’s predominant sport is men’s basketball, one which the school has enjoyed unparalleled success in over the last decade within the Summit League. Even with the exodus of Oral Roberts following the 2011-2012 season to the Southland Conference, Oakland has secured the conference’s sole bid to the NCAA Tournament two of the past three years. They’ve accomplished feats that even Valparaiso, a former Summit League (then Mid-Continent Conference) member and arguably the most dominant program the Summit has had in men’s hoops never gathered.

With Oral Roberts gone, they may not dominate, but they’ll be at or near the top a great deal, one would assume. The challengers would likely be North and South Dakota State, and sometimes IUPUI or Western Illinois. Still, despite those programs being good ones, and some very good, the Summit and Horizon League are not (perceived) equals.

“I think the Horizon League profile is a little higher [even though Butler is leaving],” Kampe said. “If you look at the history of their league’s RPI versus our RPI, even though the Summit League had a great year this year and closed the gap, still, there is a gap there.”

Back to the whole Oakland-Detroit hub-hub. Again, it’s known common knowledge that Detroit once blocked an Oakland invitation by the Horizon League. Nevermind that there’s a new athletic director at Detroit. Frankly, this is about what’s good for the Horizon League, not just one school. But half the reason the buzz over this is so prominent is the potential of a rivalry between two nearby schools. Aside from Michigan and Michigan State, the state’s other schools have had their moments, but none have banged the door down. Oakland-Detroit could become the clear number college hoops rivalry in the state, which will bring notoriety, and better yet for both, plenty of people in the stands. And it’s not just good for those two schools in terms of distance, either.

“Let’s talk about saving money: If you come play Detroit and Oakland on the same weekend, you’d stay in the same hotel,” Kampe said. “You don’t have to get a late [hotel] checkout for a game, or leave early.”

Speaking of distance, it’s great for Oakland. The average distance of Summit League schools is greater than double those of the Horizon League. That’s saving in cost, and missed class time for student-athletes, too. Also, as Kampe noted, Oakland fans would have infinitely greater ease in traveling to road games.

Then there’s the talent level. The benefits of recruiting, where Oakland’s staff has already found and developed gems like Hamilton and Keith Benson, are certainly to be had in a league of greater prestige.

“I think here’s a higher profile for a recruit when you say the Horizon League because of what Butler’s done,” Kampe said. “Obviously, it’s going to improve where we can go and what houses we can get in.”

Some of those houses might be in Chicago, one of the country’s better hotbeds of roundball talent.

“I think that when you’re playing in Chicago, you have a better chance of getting into Chicago,” Kampe said. “[A move to the Horizon could mean] it’s really going to enhance, because we’re going to be able to tell a kid you’re going to come home and play a couple games  every year.”

I asked Kampe after a lengthy discussion of the above benefits for both the Horizon League and Oakland, what could be the pitfalls for his program jumping ship. He paused, then answered.

“Well, I think we’ve been fairly dominant over the last so-many years, and that’s not going to happen,” Kampe said. “I think the teams at the top of the Summit League could compete favorable at the top of the Horizon…but I guess the best way to look at it is history.”

“How did Valpo do? Valpo was a dominant team in the Summit League…they’ve yet to make the NCAA Tournament.”

Uh, that’s it? If you made a list and tallied the +/- differential, the positives are tipping, heck, breaking the scales, right? Look, in a perfect world, Oakland sharpens its chops another five years and goes to the Big Dance two or three more times, fattening its resume and talent a bit more.

That’s not how things work though, especially in today’s collegiate sports where, love it it or hate it, conference loyalty is held somewhere in the same regard as boyfriends and girlfriends in junior high. Not often do conferences like the Horizon League get down on bended knee to be part of something special. All things considered, if they pop the question to Oakland, it appears they should, and would, say yes.

 

At this point, the general dichotomy of Sacha Baron Cohen’s seem to be consistent: Eccentric foreign personality suffers a fall from grace, and the next couple hours are ripe with redemption and shenanigans.

It becomes abundantly clear quickly that The Dictator, his newest and the third film, follows suit, but more crucial to his film’s successes than plot resolution have been the methods of intended hilarity in getting there.  Borat was a smash hit, using methods of offensive hilarity aided by Cohen’s relative anonymity during the filming. He retained that under-the-radar status during the filming of Bruno for the most part as well, but the formula for comedy didn’t strike the same chords, ending in a result that was more grotesque for even fans of his first raunchy flick. And frankly, the character of Bruno at its essence was better served in skit form.

Though director Larry Charles returns (he helmed Bruno and Borat, also), Cohen abandons the mockumentary format for a straight comedy showing this time, and coins a new creation with a North African dictator named Aladeen. Borat set the bar high for Cohen, and though The Dictator may not quite clear it, it’s certainly “very niiice” in its own right.

The premise finds Aladeen, an executing, Megan Fox-shagging ruler at the helm of the Republic of Wadiya, and scheming to build WMDs under the watchful eye of the UN. When Aladeen is urged to abandon his hijinx (like a Wii-inspired terrorist game called “Munich Olympics”) by his brother (played by Ben Kingsley), he makes his way to the States where the adventure begins.

While the jokes have been more than subtle in terms of U.S. culture in his previous films, The Dictator wields an abundance of prodding at “the American way.” When he arrives at the hotel in New York City, Aladeen cracks a reference regarding the price of “Twenty dollars a day for wi-fi,” and the wet bar fridge. But the real hits come later in the movie in a speech where Aladeen unleashes satire while juxtaposing democracy in America with his dictator ways.

No longer blindsiding celebrities or politicians, Cohen’s A-List participants are mostly positive this go-around. Kinglsey is serviceable, and Bobby Lee’s Mr. Lao is lackluster at best, but Anna Ferris’ androgynous character Zoey plays well with Cohen in their scenes together. Perhaps their finest is one in which she assists Aladeen in the discovery of self-pleasure, proof of Cohen’s toilet humor at its peak. Although more of a cameo in a short-lived role, John C. Reilly delivers as a torturer early on in the film and draws his share of laughs per usual.

Few had mistaken Bruno for the outrageous brand of humor that Borat yielded, but the former really blew the amplifier out on the gay humor scale. Simply put, the gross far out-weighed the funny. Fans of Cohen’s previous works stand to be of the lesser-offended variety, but I expected similar too over-the-top moments to come at some point. In The Dictator’s defense, it wisely doesn’t come until much later in the film during scenes where Aladeen and Zoey bond (again), and the male genitalia is kept as minimal as likely can be in a Cohen flick.

While Bruno was at times so awkwardly uncomfortable and grotesque that it left viewers squirming in anticipation of its finale, viewers should still be engaged with The Dictator during its credit-rolling outtakes despite a near-identical running time.  And though it’s not as consistently gut-busting as Borat was, The Dictator punches hard with humor enough times that it should be a contender as one of the year’s better comedies.

The Dictator opens nationwide May 16. You can follow Bryan on Twitter at @BryanWXOU.

Dave Birkett joined us on the May 4 edition of  The Corner Pocket as one of our guests to discuss the Lions’ draft as well as some free agency news.

Apologies as we had some studio problems that Friday so the first question talking about Ryan Broyles gets partially snubbed, but here’s the rest in its entirety:

http://pressrowsnotsafe.podbean.com/mf/web/crahq8/BirkettonCornerPocket5-4-12.mp3