Championship Week*

I hope you’re just as excited as I am. *And yes, I have used “Championship Week” as the title of a post before.*
I really think this week is a million times better than next week. Everyone makes a huge deal out of the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, but there are more games during Championship Week, there’s more desperation and excitement and it’s a chance to see some quality players that you’ll never hear about or watch at any point throughout the season or the Big Dance. Everyone wants to skip class or take off work next Thursday and Friday. I’d say take off Tuesday and Wednesday and watch a day’s worth of fun basketball this week.
Did you see that Villanova/USF game last night? The Bulls would never have a shot at making the NCAA Tourney, but what an opportunity for those kids. This is their NCAA Tournament. They can make it to the finals but, if they don’t win, they still aren’t dancing. You like the “Cinderellas” in the Big Dance? You should love championship week. More than half the teams playing are trying to play the role of Cinderella. And there’s still quality basketball being played (even though Villanova has been abysmal. Interesting fact: since 1985, no team has made the NCAA Tournament after losing their final five games — with its loss to USF, Villanova has lost its last five). Or how about the LaSalle/St. Bonaventure game today? Absolutely nuts. But you’d never get the chance to see either of those teams play while you’re flipping back and forth between 15 or so games throughout Thursday and Friday next week. Ever watch DePaul play? Of course not. But if you checked out their match-up with UConn today, you’d have gotten to see two of the Big East’s best players. Obviously, the Huskies have Kemba Walker. But you’ve probably never watched DePaul’s Cleveland Melvin. Check out DePaul for the next few years — Melvin is only a freshman and he’s the Big East Rookie of the Year. Did you see John Stockton’s kid carry his team to victory in the WCC title game? If you didn’t, you missed out. That Gonzaga/St. Mary’s tilt was a quality game. Championship Week is filled with great games. Championship Week is the bee’s knees.
And for the players, Championship Week doesn’t suck, either. All they have to do is show up and get showered with gifts. Here’s a list of what each conference is giving its athletes this week.

Now on to some of my personal rooting interests this week.
Let’s start with the team that has the most to prove: Missouri. The Tigers have dropped their last three. Even though none of them were inexcusable (@K-State, @Nebraska, vs.Kansas), the way the Tigers are playing is troublesome. They shoot 50% in Lincoln, but they were completely out of the game for the last eight minutes of the half. Ricardo Ratliffe finally managed to stay out of foul trouble against the Huskers…and managed only six points and four boards. Pressey and Dixon combined for seven turnovers…and only managed to force six out of the Huskers. **I’m not big on the whole assist-to-turnover ratio. I prefer to look at how many turnovers a guard forces as opposed to how many he commits.** A team that prides itself on depth played ten guys (not surprising) — only four of them managed six points or more, and only three managed to get to double-digits. As a team, they only had 18 rebounds. That’s one game for Kevin Love. This team has a ton of talent, but they’ll be lucky to get out of the first round if the bigs don’t step up.
Then there was the kU game, which really made that obvious. The Jayhawks outrebounded Mizzou by more than 20. Mizzou shot 13% from deep and only 29% from the field. Again, ten guys played and only four managed six or more. Only three scored in double-digits (only one in the starting line-up). The lone bright spot was Laurence Bowers (22 points, 10 boards, five steals). Still, Bowers isn’t big time inside player. He spots up from mid-range and plays outside the lane almost constantly. He’s like Leo Lyons all over again. That’s not a bad thing, but it doesn’t help establish an inside presence that this team will need in order to go deep into March. Now comes the part where people reference Leo Lyons’ senior year when Mizzou got to the Elite 8. I counter with the fact that the 2008 team played great defense. This year’s squad can hold almost no one to less than 45% shooting. Look at any good team they’ve played this season: kU: 61% and 44%//G’Town: 57%//K-State: 52%//A&M: 48%//Vandy: 53%. Outside of Kansas, those numbers aren’t against the best of the best. In order to make a deep run in March, you’ll need to beat teams just as good as Vanderbilt or Texas A&M, and then beat teams even better. I don’t know that this team can do it.

Keeping with the basketball theme, here’s a pretty great shot:

But the ref can’t swallow his whistle there. I don’t care how old the kid is. He traveled. The guys in stripes have to man up and have the balls to tell this kid, “Nice shot, son, but you’ve gotta play by the rules.” The worst part is that I think this was some sort of championship. The guy that walks out and throws up his arms at the :48 mark has medals and a plaque. The white team got robbed.

Now on to the hometown squad. The Cincinnati Bearcats will be dancing. For the first time since the Huggins era, I will get to see my favorite team’s name pop up on the screen on Selection Sunday. For the first time since Mick Cronin took over, there was no late-season collapse. In fact, it was quite the opposite. This team is playing its best ball right now. And Mick Cronin is doing arguably the best coaching job in the country, IMO. I’ve been a critic of Mick just as much as the next guy, but I can’t deny he’s doing an amazing job with this Bearcats squad. This team doesn’t have a star player as its go-to guy. Most of the guys getting the big minutes are senior leaders. The talent level is far from great. But this team just went 11-7 in the toughest conference in the country. They’ve had some losses that seemed to put this team on the brink of imploding. But Mick rallied his guys after each one of those losses, and they’ve now won five of their last six, including wins over Louisville, Georgetown (twice) and at Marquette. That’s pretty impressive. And after that win at Marquette (the one that probably wrapped up their spot in the Big Dance), the Bearcats removed all doubt on Senior Day at Fifth Third Arena with a 22-point drubbing of Georgetown. And what a great send-off for guys like Biggie McClain, Darnell Wilks, Larry Davis and Rashad Bishop. They aren’t guys that will go down as the best Bearcats we’ve seen. They aren’t on any all-time lists in any statistical category. But these guys stuck with a program at its toughest times, saw a fan base completely ignore them in favor of a sweet-talking coach who was using their football buddies as a stepping stone, played in front of a half-empty gym more often than not. And now, after four long years, they get a scene like this:

And they deserve it. Every second of it.
But now it’s time to move forward and look to the Big East tournament. This team isn’t playing for their season right now. They’re playing for their seed in the NCAA Tournament. But, after USF upset a struggling Villanova team last night (thanks to a HUGE ‘Nova meltdown), the fact that there isn’t a ton of desperation makes this week scary. Obviously, Cincinnati will be favored (probably pretty heavily) against South Florida. And the Bearcats should beat the Bulls without much problem, but the fact that they’re favored puts a lot of pressure on UC. But if this team continues to defend like they have, it shouldn’t be a concern. They turned the Bulls over 18 times in their first meeting. USF isn’t tailored to handle UC’s pressure, so the ‘Cats need to get after them early and often. Defense has been this squad’s strong point. Defensive intensity is what will carry them through tourney time. In their last seven games, they’ve held Georgetown (one of the nation’s best shooting teams) to less than 50 points twice, St. John’s to 59, Louisville to 54, UConn to 67 and Marquette to 60. Not all of those defensive efforts translated into wins, but defensive efforts like those will keep this team dancing for longer than their talent would suggest.
As for the match-up tonight, I’d almost rather them play Villanova. The Wildcats are slumping bad, and Cincinnati would have the motivation they need after losing to them earlier this season. Instead, they get a USF team that has nothing to lose, gained confidence thanks to a great comeback last night, and has guys talented enough to give Cincy problems. They’ve also got some size to go with the talent. Augustus Gilchrist could give the Bearcat big men some problems.
That being said, I still think the Bearcats can win, but they need to come out with the intensity they do against the likes of Louisville or Georgetown. If they come out flat or let up at any point, USF could take advantage. But if the Bearcats can win, I’m excited to see them motivated and ready to go against a Notre Dame squad that beat them by eight in South Bend earlier this season. They’ll be up for that game, and it’ll be a good one…but the Bearcats need to take care of business tonight.
And, in honor of the ‘Cats going dancing again, here’s a look at a video from 2005, the last time they were playing in the Big Dance.

Now on to other things.
This whole Jim Tressel deal is really nothing to me. The guy screwed up and screwed up pretty bad. It really makes you wonder if there are any truly “clean” programs in college basketball. Tressel’s credibility and reputation takes a hit, but it doesn’t mean he’s a bad guy. And I’m not going to sit here and crucify him for making a mistake. We all make mistakes, and I’m not going to act like I have any idea what I would’ve done in Tressel’s situation. That being said, when you’re a figure of Tressel’s stature and prestige, the last thing you want is for people to defend you by saying “He’s just like the rest of us.” When people start saying that, that means the head coach of one of the most successful and respected college football programs in the land really messed up. It’s not necessarily fair that we hold figures like Tressel to a higher standard, but, like it or not, that is the case. Tressel knows that. He knows that he’s constantly under a microscope. He screwed up. He deserves to be punished. I just don’t know why we can’t leave it at that.

Hines Ward is on Dancing With the Stars. When Chad Ochocinco did that, the sports world was up in arms about how he should focus on football. But I have yet to hear a peep about Ward doing it. And, for the record, no way Hines Ward wins. Being a dirty player doesn’t help you on DWTS.

Tiki Barber is unretiring. I don’t know why this is such a huge deal. He wasn’t all that great on TV and he, like a lot of NFL players, is probably damn near broke. I read somewhere he couldn’t pay his divorce expenses or something. But I don’t know why, if he’s stayed in good shape, any NFL team wouldn’t take a chance on him. He had 1,662 yards in his last season — the most ever by a running back in his final season in the league. I’m hearing rumblings of sending him to Tampy Bay to give the Bucs a veteran back to help mentor LaGarrette Blount. If Blount learns from Tiki and Josh Freeman continues to improve, Tampa Bay could be a really, really scary team in the coming seasons.

That is, of course, if we even play. But this is an interesting idea: maybe a lockout would be a good thing for the NFL and its players.

CBS and Sports Illustrated did a piece on athletes’ criminal records and programs’ lack of background research on their recruits. One of the guys they highlighted was UC freshman Antwan Darling. Turns out most of their research was faulty, and they basically lied about Darling’s criminal history. The blog about what Darling did is a good one. I don’t necessarily agree with the race card being played toward the end, but it’s very true. A lot of talented athletes, black or white, might now have the resources to hire a lawyer to defend them in a court of law. On top of that, the legal processes can wear on so long that they could lose their scholarship. If you’re a poor kid with sports being your only viable way to get to college, you’d plead guilty to some BS charge, too. It’s not fair, but it’s the way it is.

Remember those stupid “Never Miss a Super Bowl Club” ads for Visa? Well it turns out one of those guys actually did miss this last Super Bowl.
And Daniel Tosh has a similar club…

And because I mentioned him, here’s 16 things you didn’t know about Daniel Tosh.

Speaking of things you didn’t know, it seems like a lot of people in Cincinnati fail to recognize the fact that Dusty Baker is a great manager. And when I say great, I mean one of the best. If you don’t believe me, go ahead and read this, then get back to me. Dusty doesn’t get the amount of credit he deserves for the Reds success, IMO. At least in Cincinnati. But he deserves a ton of credit.
And I’m excited for the Reds this year. I’m cautiously optimistic as a Cincinnati sports fan, but incredibly excited for this team. They’ve got a talented core of young players, none of whom have really peaked yet. Nearly everyone on the Reds roster is young and will continue to improve. The window of opportunity for winning is pretty small. Cincinnati probably won’t have the money some of them will want as they get better and better. That’s why the Reds have to continue improving and win now. I think they can do it. Everything on paper suggests they should. Wainwright’s out for the season in St. Louis, and the Cardinals will have the Albert Pujols thing hanging over their entire season. Cincinnati sports has made me cynical in my 21 years. I have trouble buying in to a Cincinnati team that’s expected to succeed. But this team has me excited. This team has the ability to do something special. I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself, especially with the amount of things that can go wrong over the course of several months and 162 games. But I am really excited about the Reds.

Spring means baseball for a lot of people. For me, it means azaleas, majestic pine trees and Magnolia Lane. That’s because The Masters is just around the corner. Take it away, Harry Connick, Junior:

Everybody thinks Tiger is such a terrible person ever since the whole sex addiction scandal. He may have made a mistake or 200 with his marriage, but he still does some great things. Like flying a soldier from Afghanistan to Dubai to play in a Pro-Am with him. Most of these pro-ams are full of big-time CEOs trying to rub elbows with the best golfers in the world. Tiger takes the chance to spend his with a guy who’s risking his life for our country. He may be far from perfect, but these types of things show me he’s not such a bad dude.

If you grew up in the 90s like me, here are some things you realize now that you’re older.

Some members of the Miami Heat were allegedly crying after their tough loss to Chicago on Sunday. People rip this team because they show that they care? I don’t get it. And then Stan Van Gundy and Phil Jackson are taking shots at them. Phil Jackson has won all his championships with at least three All-Stars on his roster. While he can pretty much say whatever he wants thanks to his resume, it’s not like he’s done it all on his own. Van Gundy, on the other hand, hasn’t won anything. Yet he still runs his mouth more than anyone in the league. I love Phil Jackson, but don’t agree with his criticisms. I think Stan Van Gundy is a pompous jerk who thinks he’s done more than he actually has. Regardless, I don’t understand why you criticize a team for caring. I hope the Heat just roll through to an easy NBA title. Just shut up all their critics and never look back. Dominate the NBA and tell everyone else to shove it. I don’t think it’ll happen, but it’s what I want. And I’d want that even if I didn’t love LeBron and D-Wade.

The Clippers front office may need a lesson on Black History Month. Maybe just a quick one to let them know Black History Month is in February. Here’s a look at their ad:

Not sure exactly how they will determine the kids who are “underprivileged,” but, considering what they’re celebrating, I have an idea.

This school seems more exciting than mine.

But Elder is still way cooler.

That’s all I’ve got. Go Bearcats. Go Tigers.
Carpe Diem.
Altiora.

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~ by nchaney3 on March 9, 2011.

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