Archive for March, 2013

MLS Rivalry Week. Conference tourneys. A leading Fight of the Year candidate in boxing, and a dominate performance by one of the UFC’s pound-for-pound best fighters. Without even speaking of Selection Sunday, we all know this is simply just an appetizer to the main course of what’s to come, as the best time of the year in sports is upon us in the coming weeks. But the last bite this weekend is a delectable one, ESPN’s newest “30 for 30” film, “Survive and Advance.”

Director and producer Jonathan Hock called in to talk again about his latest project. We discuss the film, the college basketball landscape, and his last ESPN film “Unguarded” about Fall River legend and former Boston Celtic player Chris Herren. “Survive and Advance” premieres tonight at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN.

Has anyone been so loved since Forrest Gump?

Aside from a lazy comparison by ESPN’s Seth Greenberg to being a “poor man’s Jimmer Fredette,” Nate Wolters had Matt Nortlander applying the lipstick and the love of nearly every other name on the national college basketball scene within the Twitterverse Tuesday night.

It’s easy to forget that in the lore of last season, where Scott Nagy’s team went and upset Washington and then ran the table in Sioux Falls, Wolters was still on the fringes of the national consciousness, only getting scattered respect heading into their eventual loss to Baylor in the field of 64. The narrative of this year’s college basketball season is now a well-known one: Every top contender has a dark passenger Dexter-style. For Louisville, it’s been an Russ Smith and his monopoly on Louisville’s offense. In Lawrence, point guard has been a love-hate relationship, though more love lately. Gonzaga swept St. Mary’s within its conference, but hasn’t dominated top competition like a top team in year’s past. It’s easy to see why, with the right matchup, they may be much trendier as an upset pick next Sunday and beyond.

Wolters, who had scored 26.8 ppg in his last six games against North Dakota State, was right on target with 27 points in the title game against the Bison.

While it was a great day to be wearing blue and yellow – both South Dakota State’s men’s and women’s teams are dancing – no one else will be happy leaving the Falls. Oakland has built high expectations for itself with multiple NCAA births recently, so a quarterfinal exit was bound to be disappointing. Already without Terell Parks, losing Ceola Clark III meant Western Illinois finished its semifinal loss to North Dakota State without its three best players (Obi Emegano) from last year’s Summit League Championship game.

And it was NDSU that avoided a similar fate. Head coach Saul Phillips said when Taylor Braun injured his foot he believed it could be an injury of the season-ending variety. No doubt Bison fans will be will be disappointed by falling short, but this is a nucleus that has been feared ever since point guard Lawrence Alexander was confirmed to be worthy of mentioning in the upper echelon of the league’s floor leaders.  It returns in its current form for next season, where you’d have to assume Phillips’ team is to be the favorite, no?

No matter how things look with hindsight, Oakland was included in a four-team tier of potential squads that could cut the nets down in Sioux Falls Arena this season. Despite the misfortunes against Fort Wayne to conclude this year’s campaign, Oakland will be firmly entrenched in the field of favorites when March of next year comes knocking. All major contributors but small forward and glue guy Drew Valentine return. Losing great programs to higher-profile leagues has been a trend since the Mid-Continent days, but next year sees the league add Denver, a team that just clinched a share of the Western Athletic Conference regular-season championship. They lose just one senior, 6-foot-5 guard Chase Hallam (10 ppg) and boast a balanced group of scorers. Nebraska-Omaha (my personal favorite for sleeper next season) and South Dakota graduate just a combined three seniors, and that’s not to speak of Western Illinois or South Dakota State.

Assuming no one jumps ship – that would be foolish to do considering teams ditch their current leagues these days faster than Taylor Swift can write songs about ex-boyfriends – what this all means is the Summit League should wield a favorable handful of teams again next season. Perhaps it never becomes the Atlantic 10, a league where not just the top layer are delectable to the nation’s pundits or the RPI, but the landscape seems rich for another great season, doesn’t it?

A few other parting thoughts:

  • I believe it was mentioned at some point on a broadcast this week, but there’s a good chance Oakland guard Travis Bader surpasses J.J. Redick next season as the all-time leading 3-point shooter in NCAA D-I. Considering OU’s style, it’s not hard to see why guys like Reggie Hamilton and Jonathan Jones have had eye-popping numbers. There was another pretty good 3-pointer assassin named Erik Kangas for the Golden Grizzlies not long ago, but another off-season should mean a stronger and more versatile Bader on offense. It’s hard to imagine anyone else outscoring him with Wolters and Gaines both gone.
  • That aside, if anyone has the potential to get buckets for another team like Bader, it could be UNO guard Justin Simmons. Still raw, but it’s hard not to be impressed by his athleticism. Simmons had 11 20-point outings this season, and I think next year he plays smarter and gets harder to stop.
  • As good as television coverage of the tournament gets, there’s always a bugaboo that plagues the exposure. It was far less egregious this year – a bungled graphic on ESPN listing the starting lineups had Taylor Braun as a freshman was one – but it would be nice to see things go smoothly. On the other hand, Midco Sports Network did a nice job otherwise. Smart questions were asked by sideline reporters, and hey, someone knew that SDSU wasn’t San Diego State, so that’s a plus. Here’s hoping were past those days, but in all seriousness, the coverage was enjoyable.
  • Time to make the yearly shout out to all the fans who supported the women’s sessions. Though I’m worried how filled the stands might be without a home team judging by the emptiness of Monday evening’s men’s tilt lacking an SDSU team (we’ll forgive the fans based on the extinction of offense), that hasn’t been the case and the record-setting attendance numbers have continued. As for the static location of Sioux Falls as the host, don’t be fooled: The home-court advantage matters. Moving the tournament around would be infinitely better in the aspect of fairness to non-Dakota schools. But it’s a great town with great hosts, which makes it awful hard to complain otherwise. I’d challenge fans to travel if at all possible, make the trek, then weigh an opinion.

Thanks to all the media, players, and coaches who made it another memorable conference season. Let the real run begin.

Let’s just divide the camps right away.

Those who had a good weekend: Michigan, Gonzaga, Tottenham, Ryan Kelly, the undersized (Mark Hunt), the old guard (Wanderlei Silva), vikings, restless Walking Dead fans. And Joe Flacco’s agent. Especially him.

You might still have a hangover if you care for the following: Arizona, Arsenal, Michigan State, Conference USA (sorry) and I know I mentioned Sparty, but Keith Appling.

Are we going over the cliff here with Michigan State’s pseudo-point guard? The Pershing product was the catalyst for State’s victory over Kansas in the early season, and he surely wasn’t to blame for their close loss to then-unranked Miami. This reason stretch though, it’s fair to say that he’s been somewhat out of form.

Consider over the last five games his numbers: 12-for-48 FGs (25 percent), 2-for-22 3FGs (nine percent), 19-for-28 FTs (68 percent), 13 assists, 14 turnovers (0.9 A/T ratio).

Basically, Appling needs to find his feet. And this happens, doesn’t it? Just a month ago Kansas head coach Bill Self essentially threw guard Elijah Johnson under the bus while the Jayhawks’ collective fan base threw it in reverse. Since, Johnson has had a 2-to-1 A/T ratio in his last five and combined with officials to give KU a spectacular win over Iowa State. This is a season where bad stretches are forgotten like last week’s No. 1 team in the AP poll. Let’s not forget Appling’s basketball DNA, though. It’s no secret that he’s undersized to play the off-guard but is going to give you headaches if you have aspirations of him fitting into the mold of running an elite team at the point. Denzel Washington Valentine was muted on Sunday, but you may remember he was actually quite effective playing the point in stretches when State tamed the Wolverines in East Lansing. Appling and Travis Trice both return next year, but for a player with such great IQ on the floor, it’s worth wondering if Tom Izzo should give him some run at the point more in the future.

Other thoughts on the game? Not all blame should be placed on Appling, as Derrick Nix was less than spectacular. Penn State and late game-fadeaway 3s aside, Trey Burke seems under-appreciated at times. If I could promise Burke he’d go unscathed through his senior year, I’d absolutely advise him to return and coax back anyone else with aspirations of departing. Ingrain yourself into the history of the program. I know he’s going to make money with that rookie contract, I just wonder with his size how good Burke can be at the next level.

Along with Burke, incredible set of performances by some of the best in the sport this weekend: The MC2 (McDermott, McLemore), Welcome Back Kelly, and Otto Porter Jr. Attention, Joe Dumars: You’ve emptied out the small forward position at this team of any future starters. You need one. This guy would fit pretty darn good. If things went chalk today, Detroit would pick No. 9 in the NBA Draft. Unless Porter utterly falls off the wagon for the rest of March, I can’t imagine Porter will last until then. He’s not going to be a star but I think he’s a long-term starter in the league, and a perfect compliment to that team.

Lots of other quick hits:

  • Qatar, minority owner, United Arab Emirates, anyone: I’m all for FIFA’s Fair Play, but what a rough go it is being an Arsenal fan this year, and that’s not to speak of Sunday’s defeat in the North London Derby at WHL. This squad needs saving and an opening of the pocket book for some help this summer, as until the Manchester City-types decide to adopt to a more-reasonable spending model, the second-tier of great teams will even be left behind. Can Gareth Bale carry Tottenham to glory for another two months of Premier League action? Fair to wonder now if he’s been the best player of the season, let alone February. He’s becoming a “Price of Admission” athlete in the sport, much like Neymar and Ronaldo and such. 
  • More on Oakland at a later date, but a disappointing end to them for the regular season being swept by Fort Wayne. Not often will Travis Bader shoot so poorly from outside, but time to acknowledge the ‘Dons as a legit sleeper as Sioux Falls looms this weekend. Big ups to Western Illinois, also. I’ll probably have a Summit-only piece coming up in a few days.
  • Speaking of bad, a real mixed bag in the weekend of combat sports. Boxing? Flat-out thumbs down. Evgeny Gradovich upset IBF Featherweight champ Billy Dib, but not even 50 Cent could save it from being an atrocity. The scoring of a split decision would only be an ominous foreshadowing of scoring to come for Saturday’s UFC on Fuel set in Japan, where some cards from judges were unforgettable in the worst way, but none more mind-numbing than Diego Sanchez’s split-decision victory over Takanori Gomi. Oh, by the way, Sanchez missed weight for the fight as well, leading to it being fought at a catch of 158 lbs. Thankfully, those who stayed awake were rewarded by highlight finishes in the last two fights from Mark Hunt and the legend Wanderlei Silva. Where each of them goes next will be interesting in terms of matchmaking from the UFC brass.

    Many casual fans joked of the height discrepancy between Mark Hunt and Steven Struve prior to their bout Saturday in Japan, until Hunt proved to be a giant killer late in the fight.

  • No one’s made more NFL noise lately as of Monday afternoon than the Chiefs, who are retaining the services of WR Dwayne Bowe and P Dustin Colquitt, and at least in the short term T Brandon Albert, who was tagged in hopes of a longer deal being inked. It means that with the addition of QB Alex Smith, the team should again become, one would assume, one of the most-improved teams in the off-season. I expect in terms of wins and losses, they should join the Lions as two teams who you’d expect to make a push in the right direction again in 2013. How will re-signing Albert effect the two teams? Well, it could open the door for the Chiefs front office to consider Lions’ target CB Dee Milliner with the No. 1 pick instead of someone like LT Luke Joeckel, but I think trading down now becomes a very enticing option. I mentioned on Twitter that doing so and still weighing the prospect of drafting QB Geno Smith if the price is right has to still be in the cards.
  • Some non-sports banter: This week’s The Walking Dead episode was a real treat. The acting was spectacular, from Lennie James reprising his role as a broken man in Morgan, to the prolific on-screen chemistry between Carl and Michonne, who both figure to step forward in prominence with some emotional growth in “Clear.” Rick sorting out his own mental issues through Morgan played out well, and the melancholy and nostalgia both hearkened the episode back to the quality of the show’s first season. That Scott Gimple penned the epsiode, the series’ showrunner for the fourth season after the departure of Glenn Mazzara, seems a good of a sign as any considering the last couple episodes were lacking in sensibility and gusto.

 

As a quick plug, don’t forget to keep up with Punched Out Radio, 4 p.m. ET on WXOU. Co-host Chris Ingram and I had Oakland men’s basketball asst. coach Darren Sorenson on last week in what was some great banter. Look forward to some more great guests this week and every Friday.