Archive for the ‘Arts’ Category

Punched In: Can’t Look Away

Posted: April 1, 2013 in Arts, NCAAB
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Legacies: They can be about sweet triumphs, or forgettable fades into the sunset. Ebbs and flows, endings of vast unpredictability. This weekend seemed to leave a sweeping variety of all sorts of images and the impact on various legacies.

Sometimes, though, moments of initial or significant, repetitious poise in critical instances are fleeting when the final images are so vivid. And so, farewell Elijah Johnson.

I could have reminded all the Michigan fans who doubled as my good friends watching Friday night’s Sweet Sixteen tilt about how Johnson played well in three victories over Ohio State in the last two seasons. Or, if anyone had forgot, how he went NBA Jam at Iowa State this season in a victory that likely shouldn’t have been, but was with Johnson (and the referees).

When you’re a displaced, passionate fan, you’re often left singing more praises than criticisms of your team or program. Somehow, though, those extremes have been accentuated in some sort of Michigan-centric fashion since I’ve planted my feet in this soil. A heartbreaking first-round upset to Bradley at the Palace in 2006. The snuffing out of Steph Curry and Davidson’s run in 2008 at Ford Field en route to a National Championship.

Now, after Johnson’s final game as a Jayhawk in Friday night’s loss to Michigan, he’ll exit stage right remembered as a failure and a hack in these parts for the way he went out. I’m not so sure he’ll be remembered so favorably elsewhere, or in my own mind. I’m at least grateful that Kansas will get a chance to erase the stench that was left, unlike Johnson. Its legacy deserves better.

As for the immediate future, intrigue awaits for both programs in a similar fashion. Both are set to likely lose underclassmen as NBA Draft lottery picks, and even more as potential first-round picks in the case of Michigan. The pair are also bringing in very good recruiting classes and will be depending on some fresh blood to keep it rolling in 2013-2014. A familiar fate for the Jayhawks, and a new test for Michigan. I suspect either way they’ll be playing on the biggest Monday of the season.

Still relatively unknown, “GGG” is about to become a household name to even the casual boxing fans.

Hopefully the lasting legacy of this Michigan season is one that, like for Kansas in 2008, leaves everything else irrelevant in the wake of a title, this time one that will leave flags flying forever.

 

  • So many other lasting images from this weekend’s tourney games. Florida, who wiped away SEC opponents more handily than they did the memorable run of Florida Gulf Coast, got flushed as well quite handily in what ends somewhat of a less-than-memorable campaign. Wichita State’s victory, the first MVC team to reach this stage since the days of Larry Bird. And the sickening Kevin Ware injury. This season may not produce the richest crops in an NBA sense, but the storylines have still been there.
  • Saturday was so ripe with tourney action, it was easy to forget that its boxing action should have reminded the younger generation why it was a sport that put our fathers and their fathers on the edge of their seats. On pay-per-view, it was easy to miss another epic knockout from middleweight Gennady Golovkin, who put down Nobuhiro Ishida with impressive ease. If you’ve followed anything from me or our boxing talk on the radio, you know about “GGG” by now. But even the casual boxing fans are going to know the name soon. His style is like a fireworks finale, and now that he’s passed the test against legitimate competition, I’m betting a date with one of the top names in the division like Sergio Martinez could be on tap before the end of the calender year. As for Saturday night’s Rios-Alvarado II, if you haven’t already subscribed or re-newed HBO for “Game of Thrones”, here’s another reason. It gave March’s Bradley-Provodnikov bout some company in the Fight of the Year candidacy.
  • Speaking of, I won’t get around to watching the Season Three premiere of GoT until tomorrow, but its return couldn’t have come at a better or worse time, depending how you look at it. It couldn’t have lost the 9 p.m. ET slot, though, after what we got from the competing season finale of AMC’s “The Walking Dead.” The half-season has produced some great television, like the penultimate episode and “Clear,” and some very underwhelming ones which dwelt on a poorly-developed character in Andrea (and in some respects, the Governor) and seemed too static at times. Without subjecting myself to any spoilers, it became even clearer after talking to those who’ve read the graphic novels that the way the corresponding action has played out in the television series over the past episodes has been even more confounding. As I’ve told some friends, to expect the same level of consistency from TWD as we’ve seen from shows like GoT or “Mad Men,” which returns next Sunday, is to set yourself up for perpetual disappointment it seems.

 

Punched Out Radio returns this Friday at 4 p.m. ET. Plan to talk more TV, and of course look at the open of MLB season, so tune in. Play ball!

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.

It’s worth considering the notion that Kansas City’s waistline can’t expand any further to make room for more fat coach jokes, particularly during the holiday season.

Mark Mangino, Charlie Weis, Romeo Crennel, and now Andy Reid. Let the laughs begin, right?

Fact is, no one’s been laughing during a period of time where only another team down I-70, the St. Louis Rams, has been mired in as much mediocrity. How did things get so bad, a transition from beloved characters (Dick Vermeil, Will Shields) to comic book-esque villains like foul-mouthed Todd Haley and Scott Pioli?

So perhaps it’s someone who’s dealt with it himself who can dig one of the NFL’s more storied franchises in the Chiefs out of tragedy. Somewhat like the team Reid left, and another team picking in the top five of this year’s NFL Draft, the Detroit Lions, the Chiefs have cornerstones to build around with upward trajectory in sight. Jamaal Charles is a speed back who figures to fit appropriately into Reid’s history of speed backs with the potential to catch a vast number of balls out of the backfield. Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson are Pro Bowl pieces in the front seven, and Eric Berry is around to fill the playmaker role ala Brian Dawkins at safety.

Though many said the same about Pioli previously, it’s a fine grab by Clark Hunt and the Chiefs, giving them a guy who instills a greater level of confidence than Herm Edwards did at the helm. Reid has his quirks (pass first) and flaws (a bit gadget-play obsessed), but he at least temporarily clears the dark shroud that’s grown increasingly opaque this past season. Now, the rest of the NFL figures to wonder how Reid and his yet-to-be-named GM will handle the first pick in the draft.

Speaking of, a few quick picks for this weekend:

  • Seattle 24, Washington 17 – Chances are the Rookie of the Year award is decided in this one. Here’s the tantalizer in Russell Wilson indicators for this game: Do you go buy Wilson’s unimpressive away split (9/8 TD-INT ratio), or believe that he’s not the same QB he was in the season’s first half? There’s no doubt that CenturyLink Field serves as a distinct advantage for the Seahawks. A few factors play into this pick: Brandon Browner returns from his four-game suspension, returning the secondary to full strength, and KR Leon Washington gives the Seahawks the advantage in the third phase. 
  • Houston 23, Cincinnati 20 – Both teams seem to be going in opposite directions, but I don’t think they’ve crossed each other at the pass just yet. The Bengals have feasted on a number of weak teams in the second half, and Andy Dalton seems to make too many critical mistakes at the worst times, and for a quarterback who works best when he has plenty of time, that may prove problematic with J.J. Watt coming full throttle. Both quarterbacks might make a mistake that has their fan base face-palming, but I think a clock-eating drive and a game that sees Houston lean on the run game allows the Texans to win this one on a late field goal.
  • Texas A&M 38, Oklahoma 27 – A conservative prediction, this one could get uglier. Johnny Manziel is the chic story in Friday night’s game, but the Aggies will really punish Oklahoma on the ground. Texas A&M has plenty of motivation, and Manziel erased doubt that he can deliver against a top-notch defense when they put Alabama to rest.

If you’re out or watching otherwise, I recommend you save space on your DVR for a few other contests this weekend:

  1. CBB – Ohio State @ Illinois (Saturday, 2:15 ET, Big Ten Network)
  2. CBB – Georgetown @ Marquette (Saturday, 2:00 ET, ESPN3)
  3. Serie A, AS Roma @Napoli (Delayed, Sunday, 9:00 ET, beIN Sport)

If you were fattened up and loosening the jean buttons from the holidays, this weekend was a good one to hit the recliner or run the treadmill to some good battles. We got one of the most visually-scintillating Premier League matches of the year, a Saturday, bloody Saturday in Las Vegas, and one of the more memorable Week 17’s in the NFL in recent memory.

 

The Good

  • NFL’s final regular season week – If you’re not a fan of (insert eliminated team), the narratives for Sunday’s football slate was one of the best in recent memory. OK, so not as much if you’re an AFC fan, but Dr. Feelgood was in the office for lots of nice storylines. Whatever happened, we had a Cowboys-Redskins winner-takes-all contest to serve as last call, but it really lived up to the billing. Chuck Pagano led the Colts to a victory over a Texans squad that Indy played close with earlier this season. Even in a forgettable season for the Lions, Calvin Johnson had a chance to top 2,000 receiving yards (he came short), and made for good viewing fodder as the Bears kept their playoff hopes alive…until a more deserving Vikings team one-upped them in the late afternoon slot.
  • Take the playoffs All Day – He didn’t know, he didn’t care. Just like the younger generation probably doesn’t remember Bo Jackson, your kids won’t remember the year Adrian Peterson came nine yards shy and changed the way we view ACL recovery seasons. For that matter, Jamaal Charles suffered an in-season ACL tear, but he came back and only topped 1500 yards for a team that may as well have traded the farm for Shane “Footsteps” Falco to play QB1.
  • Revenge greater than anything ABC could dream up – Sure, Cain Velasquez probably put Junior Dos Santos out to pasture in the first round with a right that left him more disheveled than Gus Fring in a nursing home, something felt right about a UFC Heavyweight title clash going the distance. Was it one-sided? Sure, but Velasquez kept a moderate level of punishment up that would’ve been far less interesting if he hadn’t been on the other side of the coin in the first bout.

The Bad

  • Junior Dos Santos, period – No one’s saying the guy was unbeatable, and anyone saying the same about Velasquez is just as trigger-happy, yet where was MMA’s best boxer? JDS looked predictable, a one-dimensional boxer who would’ve gotten crushed against anyone with any concept of angles and defense, let alone size and power. Maybe Dos Santos gets someone like Antonio Silva next, blows him up as bad as Velasquez does and repairs his reputation as a stand. But even Daniel Cormier seems to stand a better chance at derailing someone like Dos Santos after Saturday’s evidence presented.
  • NFC East, A Year in Review – Dallas, we know it’s not all your fault. More on that in a minute. But the Eagles-Giants game this week was really a microcosmic one in regards to both team’s seasons. For the Eagles, maybe Michael Vick would come back this week and demonstrate a level of value for other teams to buy into him as a QB1 next season, but nope. The real tragedy is for the Giants, a team that played like the kid who always shows up two minutes after the bell rings for class but the teacher lets them in anyway. This time, the door was locked and they’ll be watching from the outside. At least Minnesota was more deserving of the playoff spot they would have occupied, as opposed to Chicago.
  • Defense in the BPL – Brilliant as Arsenal’s offensive output was Saturday night during their seven-goal assault on Newcastle in  London, the Theo Walcott hat trick was just a talking point as the continued defensive mishaps that have plagued even the elite teams in football’s elitist league. That’s not even to speak of the winning side, who allowed three goals of their own. Wide back Kieran Gibbs far-post defence was as absent as humanly possible. Teams like Manchester United will be aided by returns to fitness of Vidic and such, but an assessment of shortcomings for the Premier League’s best even seem to point mostly to the back four of most squads.

The Ugly

  • The New Tony Award – Best fourth quarter INT. Tony Romo has been scrutinized brutally, but it’s going to come hard and heavy this week and forward. That playoff botch might be the one he never lives down, but even as a sympathizer. the misread in the flat was like watching a fiery car crash. At some point, “Still, would they be 4-12 without him?” just doesn’t carry as far with re-runs like that.
  • Speaking of car crash, a parting image: Joe Lauzon.

    Joe Lauzon, bloody mess during and after his UFC 155 lightweight bout.

6-foot-8 lengthy forwards don’t exactly grow on trees at the mid-major level, so Greg Kampe’s staff pulled down quite a branch on this one.

Scoop goes to Steve Bell of BankHoops via Twitter, and a source confirmed that former Saginaw High and West Virginia forward Tommie McCune has committed to Oakland and will begin taking summer classes there beginning this Monday.

McCune, who averaged 0.4 points and 0.6 rebounds per game in 13 contests last season, will will presumably sit out the 2012-13 season due to NCAA eligibility rules, but will present matchup problems galore for Summit League opponents if he lives up to his billing when he takes the court. He was ranked No. 102 on Rivals150 for the class of 2011, making him the highest rated player Oakland has landed according to high school rankings by the site.

West Virginia MetroNews had this from Mountaineers basketball coach Bob Huggins regarding his departure from the program:

“He said, ‘Coach, I love it here,'” Huggins said.  “He said ‘I love the people, but I need to play and I’m looking around, saying I can’t sit here and waste another year and not play.'”

He becomes the second transfer that Oakland’s staff has landed over the off-season, along with Dayton transfer Ralph Hill. Other notable transfers in recent history for the Golden Grizzlies have included Reggie Hamilton (UMKC), Laval Lucas-Perry (Arizona/Michigan) and Larry Wright (St. John’s).

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During my time at MichiganPreps, I ranked McCune tenth in Michigan’s 2011 high school class, just behind LaDontae Henton (Providence) and Patrick Lucas-Perry (Penn). McCune, with 3-point shooting capabilities and a lanky frame, has the ability to be a nightmare in Oakland’s conference at the forward position. He averaged 16 ppg and 9 rpg for Lou Dawkins’ Trojans his senior year, and had double-digit offers from BCS programs before committing to WVU. He’s got good handles for his size, and the ability to play out on the wing or play in the post, especially in the Summit League.

Here’s the obvious: The Boston Celtics winning the Eastern Conference Finals would be damaging to the Miami Heat.

Here’s the reality: The Celtics winning the series in Game 6 tonight is far more meaningful.

To the C’s, there’s one clear benefit to putting things away Friday night, and that’s not having to return to Miami. Period. At this point, the Big 3 of Boston already have quite a few miles on those knees; a couple more isn’t going to make any difference. No one’s going to remember 10 years from now how many games it took, just that these guys finished the job.

Well, except for Miami fans. And, likely, all the Heat haters, and there’s plenty of them. No doubt, losing the final game of the series in Miami would hurt, bad. No team wants to do that. But this Chris Bosh injury is an X-factor. And a big factor on the court.

Without Bosh, Miami’s frontcourt cupboard is emptier than the Jim Leyland Fan Club gathering. This was a team designed to surround the top trio with some young talent (Chalmers, Cole) with discounted veterans like Shane Battier. Losing LeBron James or Dwayne Wade for a large portion of a series hurts, but based on this team’s make-up, Bosh is arguably just as critical. As James told reporters, without Bosh on the floor, Kevin Garnett is able to essentially play center field and ignore the pick-and-roll partner the in lieu of Bosh. He’ll provide another body in terms of energy and stamina, and while no one’s going to mistake him for one of the league’s best rebounders, he provides that, too.

There’s a good chance things would’ve turned out differently had Bosh been around the whole series (Avery Bradley would’ve also made a difference), but the excuse is already built-in for the Heat, though they won’t view things that way. So here’s Boston’s chance to deal another blow to their egos. If the Thunder turn away the Heat, no matter the amount of games, they dropped an anvil on the Spurs and have emerged as a legitimate power now, rather than later. Few will view that as a sizable disappointment.

Losing in Game 7 means the Heat split the pair of games that Bosh played full minutes in. Splitting the mini-series, in essence. A win tonight, in that sense, puts that notion to pasture. To fall to a team many felt, as unjustly as it might’ve been, were too old and whose window had closed for NBA Title hopes, means something different than to fall to OKC. It’s the difference between losing by a car length to Matt Kenseth and getting lapped by a Viagra-popping Mark Martin.

It’s about the guarantee Bosh, James and Wade made to collect a handful of rings when they came to Miami. The pressure on them, and obviously James, is very real, and mounts ten-fold with a loss now rather than later. It’ll make a summer in South Beach for James and Co. as cold as can possibly be.

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.