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Random Thoughts for the start of June

Posted by mizzou1028 on June 1, 2011

It’s June 1, and hopefully a new month means more success for the Rockies.  They were an MLB worst 8-20 in May, including a 2-10 stretch to end the month.

– On Monday the Rockies managed to lose 7-1 despite collecting 14 hits against the Dodgers.  That’s tough to do.  The optimistic side of me says at least they got 14 hits.  The pessimistic side points out the 0 for 11 with runners in scoring position.

– The bottom line: more offensive consistency is needed.  On Saturday the Rockies shelled Jaime Garcia for 12 runs (he had a 1.93 ERA coming in).  They scored a combined nine runs in the four contests prior to that.

– To add insult to injury, Felipe Paulino is pitching lights out for Kansas City since the Rockies gave him away for cash.  Paulino was 0-4 with a 7.36 ERA in 18 appearances for the Rockies this season.  He gave up at least one run in five of his last seven appearances with the club, capped off with a 14th inning home run by Prince Fielder in a loss at Milwaukee.  In two appearances with the Royals, Paulino has tossed nine scoreless innings in two appearances.  Kansas City is so happy with him they’ve placed him in the rotation. Not sure if Paulino wasn’t happy in Colorado or if something is afoot, but it has to be frustrating for the Rockies.

– The good news tonight for the Rockies?  A complete game shutout from Ubaldo Jimenez tonight in LA.  Jimenez gave up just four hits and struck out seven against the Dodgers.   His ERA is now under 5.00 for the first time this season (which says a lot about how much he’s been struggling), and he has now been close to his old self in three of his last four starts.  He is throwing harder and I thought for the first time tonight looked like the pitcher we saw during the first half of last season.  If this is a trend and not an aberration, it will a major key for a Rockies turnaround.

– The other good news for the Rockies is we’re only a third of the way through the season.  They still have time to turn it around, but they have to start hitting and they also need better production from the bullpen.

– Thank you ESPN for showing Giants-Cardinals tonight instead of your usual east coast fare.  Then again, perhaps a major penalty should be issued for showing the Mets on Sunday night baseball this weekend.

– I never thought I wouldn’t want to watch Sportscenter but it is rapidly getting to that point during the NBA Finals.  Way too many Miami Heat  press conferences I don’t care about, and today there was very little mention of hockey ahead of game one of the Stanley Cup Finals.  I know most sports fans prefer the NBA to the NHL, but I think the coverage of the two leagues should be equal.  Certainly not lopsided the way ESPN does it, where the ratio is 30 minutes of NBA to three for the NHL (probably not exaggerating).

– Speaking of the hockey, game one was absolutely fantastic.  Great goaltender battle between Roberto Luongo and Tim Thomas.  Both goalies played huge roles in helping their teams kill penalties.  The only disappointing thing is that it didn’t go into overtime, because that would have been unbelievable with the 0-0 score and the play of the two goalies.  .  Still, Raffi Torres’ goal with 18 seconds remaining has to be one of the all-time clutch goals in Stanley Cup Finals history.

– This has to be a tough pill to swallow for Boston, which shut down the league’s top rated power play and got great play against Vancouver’s offensive stars, and they still saw the game stolen from under them in the closing seconds.  It will be very interesting to see how the Bruins respond in game two being that they are still on the road.

– If I’m of the Ohio State Buckeyes, I’m not sure if I would be more embarrassed to hear about the cars for Terrelle Pryor, the loads of benefits being given to other players, or the cover up orchestrated not only by Jim Tressel but also by the rest of the athletic department.  The 5-game suspensions for the players at the start of the season seemed like a real joke at the time given that they were still allowed to play in the Sugar Bowl last year.  Given what we know now, those actions seem downright laughable.

– It is not exactly a secret that this kind of thing goes on at numerous college campuses around the country.  It’s generally a question of who gets caught.  It begs  questions that are way too numerous to list here, but chief among them: how much is a head coach responsible for knowing and enforcing.  I think while it is not practical for a coach to know where every player is at every moment of the day, Tressel had a huge staff at OSU plus a whole department responsible for compliance.  I think if Tressel wanted to put a stop to that culture at Ohio State he could have.  He just chose to look the other way.

– and of course, no one is happier about Ohio State’s fall than Michigan fans.  Party in Ann Arbor!

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NCAA Tournament picks

Posted by mizzou1028 on March 17, 2011

I don’t usually do well in these things.  I’ll say that right up front, but then again no one does well in these things.  There is a reason why the secretary who doesn’t know the basketball is round usually wins.  The NCAA tournament is the most unpredictable event in sports, and that’s what makes it must see theater every year.

Before we get started, I think the committee did their worst job in years this go around.  In my opinion Clemson, Georgia (as a 10 seed!), UAB and VCU all were at best questionable inclusions and at worst horrible crimes.  I think Colorado, Virginia Tech, Alabama, Saint Mary’s and Boston College ALL had better resumes than the above mentioned four teams, in particular UAB and VCU.  UAB proved Tuesday night why they don’t belong after getting run off the floor by Clemson, and VCU finished fourth in the Colonial.  I know VCU beat USC tonight, but I am still at a loss for why they are in.  I think for Colorado to not get in with six top-50 wins is ridiculous.  To be fair their non-conference schedule was probably the reason, but even with that they are clearly a better team than UAB or VCU.  You think UAB goes 9-7 in the Big 12?  I don’t either.

Now, on to the picks, just don’t trust them.  (Click here for my full bracket)

East Region:

I’ve got pretty much chalk here, with no first round upsets in this region.  I actually think this is the deepest region, which is somewhat unfair to Ohio State, the top overall seed in the tournament.  The only real upset potential here is Marquette as an 11-seed, but I really like Xavier in that matchup.  I think Clemson has no chance against West Virginia in the 12-5 game after the quick turnaround from the Dayton trip.  I also really don’t like Villanova coming off five straight losses going against a hot George Mason team.  In the second round, I have the higher seeds winning with one exception: I have Washington upsetting North Carolina in the second round.  I just don’t like the way the Tar Heels played in the ACC tournament, falling behind big in every game.  I also think Washington has momentum after winning the Pac-10 tournament, and I think their guards, especially Isiah Thomas, can run with North Carolina.  I think they’ll trip up after that tough, as I don’t like the way they match up with a more physical Syracuse team.  In the sweet 16, I have Ohio State and Syracuse advancing, with the Buckeyes advancing to the Final Four.  Tough region or not, Ohio State is very good and they are built to not give games away.

West Region:

I have three lower seeds winning in the first round here.  First, I have Tennessee beating Michigan in the 8-9 game, which of course doesn’t qualify as much of an upset.  I also have Penn State winning as a 10 seed against Temple.  I have really liked the Nittany Lions all year and I think they’ll win one game in Tucson.  I also have Missouri winning as an 11-seed against Cincinnati.  I know the Tigers have stunk on the road this season, but I think this is a really good matchup for them.  I think Marcus Denmon will be the difference.  I also think Cincinnati should be seeded much lower than six and would be if they weren’t in the Big East.  I thought about picking Memphis to upset Arizona, but I think the Wildcats are too talented for the young Tigers.  In the second round, I have the top four seeds advancing to the sweet 16.  I think Arizona-Texas will be the best second round matchup, but I am choosing to think we’ll see the Texas from a month ago and not the one that lost at Nebraska.  In fact I like the Longhorns to upset Duke in the sweet 16 in Anaheim.  I think Duke was at the top of a very mediocre ACC this season, and while Kyrie Irving is coming back there is no way he’ll be 100 percent.  I think the Longhorns are more than talented enough to take them out.  I also have UConn beating San Diego State in a mini-upset.  The Aztecs are a very good team, but after UConn ran through the Big East tournament, they’ve shown they can beat anyone.  Besides, Kemba Walker is a game changer.  I also like the Huskies to get past Texas and make it to the Final Four because of Walker.

Southeast Region:

This is the weakest of the four regions in my opinion.  Hence why I have four upsets in round one.  I have Old Dominion winning the 8-9 game against Butler in what actually shapes up to be one of the best games in the first round.  Old Dominion is actually a deserving at large from the Colonial, hence the pick.  I also have Gonzaga beating St. John’s in the 6-11 matchup.   Steve Lavin’s club has only been good at Madison Square Garden, and this game is in Denver at altitude.  My two biggest shockers though are Kansas State losing to Utah State in the 5-12 game (I think the Aggies are the best non-BCS team in the field and the Wildcats have been too streaky) and Belmont taking out Wisconsin in the 4-13 game.  I think the Badgers play a slower style that has the potential to allow an athletic team to run on them.  Belmont is a team that no one knows about but they have some players.  I think the get Wisconsin.  In the second round, I like the trend of upsets to continue, with Gonzaga stunning BYU.  I know Jimmer Fredette is really good, but he’s one player.  I like the Bulldogs to keep going on a hunch.  I also like Utah State to get past Belmont in a 12-13 game.  After that I go chalk, with Pitt and Florida meeting in the Elite Eight.  Florida mainly gets there mainly because the other teams they will play are favorable matchups for them.  I think the Panthers have some flaws, but I think they are the best team in this region mainly because they’re battle tested from the Big East.  I think they get past the Gators and move to the Final Four.

West Region:

Only one first round upset here, but it’s a doozy.  I have Richmond beating Vanderbilt in the 5-12 game.  I think the Commodores are talented, but Richmond has some great 3-point shooters and I think they will be able to run in this game.  A hunch says the Spiders win.  I believe the upset potential with Richmond doesn’t end there.  I also think they’ll stun Louisville in the second round.  I really like Rick Pitino’s team, and I know the made the final of the Big East tournament, but they have a tendency to fall behind big in games and they have many times been able to come back.  I think that will burn them in this tournament and it could be early.  I do have the top three seeds advancing to the sweet 16, with the top two, Kansas and Notre Dame, meeting in the Elite Eight.  I think the Jayhawks are very talented and deep, especially with the Morris twins, but I think the Irish run their offense better than any team in the country, and if they are hot from three as they often are, I think they’ll get enough treys to upset KU and move to the Final Four.

Final Four:

I have three Big East teams here, and I think that makes sense since it was far and away the best conference this season.  For many Big East teams, the competition here is not as good as what they just saw in the Big East tournament.  I think a Notre Dame-Pitt national semifinal has the potential to be very physical, but again I think the Irish will get free for threes thanks to Pitt’s tendency to slack on perimeter defense.  I like Notre Dame to win that matchup.  In the other game, while UConn’s run has been amazing, I think it will come to an end against Ohio State.  I think the Buckeyes are the best team in the country, and they will play like it when it matters most.  They have the inside game with Jared Sullinger and they also have the guard play.  In the title game, I think Ohio State will be too much for any opponent that they end up seeing.  I like the Buckeyes to win the national championship because they don’t crack under pressure, and they will not panic in a tournament setting.  Besides, they are the best team, it makes sense.

Just don’t be surprised if these picks are all wrong.  They almost always are.

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Random Thoughts

Posted by mizzou1028 on March 10, 2011

Obviously I’ve been a delinquent when it comes to posting new content lately.  Here goes with an attempt to catch up quickly:

– I really think the NFL and the players union don’t realize the bomb that they are sitting on.  The NFL is unquestionably the best sports league in America by a country mile, yet the owners and players are dangerously close to killing the golden goose.  In an economy where people can’t afford to pay season tickets, the two sides are fighting over a $9 billion pie.  Not exactly a good way to engender goodwill with the fans.

– The NHL has still not recovered from its lockout that erased the 2004-05 season.  It took Major League Baseball three years to erase the damage done by the 1994 players strike, and at that it was only the McGwire-Sosa home run chase that did that.  The NFL and the players are assuming that the fans will come back as soon as a deal is struck, even if games or an entire season are lost.  That may be, but there is no law that says the NFL must remain uber-popular.  If the two sides aren’t careful they may see themselves looking up at some of the other professional sports leagues.

– It is doubly disappointing that the Broncos finally seem to be headed in a very positive direction under John Elway and John Fox, but it may be long time before we see any of these efforts on the field.  Ultimately my money is on football being played in September, but if this thing gets dragged through the courts that is no guarantee and it will get really ugly to boot.

– Congratulations are in order for the Northern Colorado Bears on the first ever NCAA tournament appearance.  Two years ago this team won four games.  That’s a turnaround that’s certainly worthy of a mention.

– It’s awesome to see that there is some good college basketball being played in this state.  The CU Buffs are showing that they might be very dangerous in the NCAA tournament thanks to the play of Alec Burks and Cory Higgins.  This team should easily be in the top half of the new Pac-12 next season, especially if Burks returns for another season.

– Of course I will always watch as much college basketball as I can in March, but my hopes aren’t as high for my alma matter.  Missouri has enough talent to be a contender, but for whatever reason they haven’t been able to get it together and have fallen from top 10 team to a club that is very likely to get bounced out of the NCAA tournament in the first round.  At least they’re going to get in, so I shouldn’t complain too much.  Plus this team only has one senior so next year could be very bright.

– While I will always watch college over the NBA, I have found myself to be more interested in the Nuggets now than at any other time this season.  I have found this team to be very refreshing after they chucked out the player who shall not be named.  There is actual effort on defense and much more team play.  The Nuggets are 6-2 since the trade, and might have enough in them to win a playoff series.  The Knicks have lost twice to the Cavaliers.  Just saying.

– As for the Avalanche, it’s hard to find anything positive to say.  The team has won once in the past month.  They traded their best goalie, Craig Anderson, who is now playing much better in Ottawa than he did here.  They also inexplicably traded young star Chris Stewart to St. Louis.  They have been clobbered twice by Edmonton, the worst team in the league, during the past two weeks.  I am one who doesn’t think the NHL doesn’t get enough coverage, but with the Avs there isn’t much to say except the negative right now.

– I am very excited about the Rockies’ prospects this season, provided they can avoid the slow starts that have plagued them in recent seasons.  If they can come out of the gates fast I think winning the NL West is very doable thanks to a solid rotation (yes it is possible in Colorado), and in my opinion the best lineup top to bottom in the division.  Of course nationally no one will give them any credit and ESPN won’t show any of their games.  If Carlos Gonzalez played in New York he would be front and center nationally.  I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say he could be a legitimate triple crown threat one of these years.

Coming next week: My NCAA tournament picks.  Use with peril when it comes to your office pool.

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We will miss you Chauncey

Posted by mizzou1028 on February 23, 2011

Everyone on ESPN and all the national outlets are gaga about the Carmelo Anthony trade.  As a Nuggets fan, I am just glad this saga is over.  There are enough other places where you can read about his impact on the Knicks, and since I don’t care one bit about that team we’re just going to focus on Denver.  I think the Nuggets actually did very well getting four players, three draft picks and cash from the Knicks, when everyone knew that Anthony was just going to sign with the Knicks as a free agent this summer. If tonight is any indication (a blowout win over Memphis) I think the Nuggets might even find that they will be a better team without an unhappy Anthony.  It seems from tonight that the players remaining are just relieved to have this saga behind them.  I think the Nuggets did well, but there is someone caught in the middle, someone who through no fault of his own got nothing he wanted: Chauncey Billups.

For people nationally, Billups’ inclusion in the trade to the Knicks is not considered a big deal.  Sure he won multiple championships with the Pistons, but he is not on the radar nationally as a star.  This is a shame really because he is one of the true good guys in the league, and perhaps the biggest reason he isn’t considered a star is because he isn’t selfish and doesn’t market himself that way.  Unlike Anthony, Billups doesn’t crave Sportscenter highlights and marketing visibility.  For those of us here in Denver, Billups is a local icon, and for many (including me) was perhaps the only reason the Nuggets were remotely worth watching this year.

For those of you who don’t know, Billups is perhaps the best high school player ever in Colorado, winner of multiple state titles.  He led the CU Buffs to a rare NCAA tournament appearance in the 1990s.  He was the third overall pick in the draft by the Celtics.  Simply put, he is the local boy done good.  Before Billups got traded to the Nuggets, annual first round playoff exits were the norm and the team had no leader (no, Anthony doesn’t qualify.  You must be a team player to be a leader).  It says a lot that the Nuggets went from first round flameout to conference finalist the instant Billups arrived (in a trade for Allen Iverson, another me first scorer).  Billups is one of those players who lets his play speak for itself, brings championship experience that most teams don’t have, and makes his teammates better.  He is a player who I would call a glue, and I think the Nuggets are going to miss him a lot more than they will Anthony.

While I like Ty Lawson and the newly acquired Raymond Felton at the point guard position, Billups will missed for both his on court play (he’s one of the few guys on the Nuggets who played defense with any consistency), and more so for his leadership.  Let’s hope that some of Billups’ experience rubbed off on Lawson during the last year and half, because the Nuggets are going to need him to be one of the new leaders of the team.  I do think the new mix of players will actually give the Nuggets some nice pieces, especially Danilo Gallinari, who can score his share of points.  I am hopeful that without the cloud of the Carmelo saga hanging over the team, the locker room will become more relaxed and the Nuggets will start to play better as a team.  I am happy to tell Anthony not to let the door hit his backside on the way out, but Chauncey will be sorely missed.

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Is Carmelo the next to leave Denver?

Posted by mizzou1028 on August 20, 2010

It’s pretty obvious that Denver is a football town, especially this time of year, but Carmelo Anthony is doing his best to steal headlines and garner attention, and not in a good way.  In a summer where the country was swept by LeBron mania (or had it shoved down its throat, depending on your level of NBA interest), Anthony has had in front of him a 3-year $65 million extension that he has been sitting on.  He is due to make $17.1 million this coming season and has a player option to make $18.5 million in the 2011-12 season.  Needless to say, the Nuggets are doing everything they can to try and stroke Anthony’s ego and make him feel like the franchise player.  Anthony has so far not signed the extension, which at first didn’t seem like a big deal but has now snowballed to the point where numerous reports say he wants out and will only sign the extension if he is traded to a team of his choice.  Anthony hasn’t said much himself to clarify the situation, save for the following statement from his Twitter account (unedited by me, note the incorrect use of “their”): “Funny how people come up with there (sic) own analysis of a situation,” he tweeted. “I tell you boy … Unbelievable.”

Most NBA experts think it is not a matter of if Anthony will leave Denver, but when.  Much of this is of course based on speculation, and as such there is no consistent theme to the stories.  SI.com is reporting that Anthony would be willing to sign the extension if he is traded to the Knicks, Nets or Rockets.  An ESPN.com story by Ric Bucher talked about toasts at Anthony’s wedding by Chris Paul and Amare Stoudemire, talking openly about joining forces in New York with the Knicks.  The thinking goes that Anthony is an east coast boy, born in Baltimore and a proud Syracuse alumnus.    There are lots of quotes from anonymous sources, usually ones who are “close to the situation”.  There is also the practical evidence that Anthony’s south Denver house is on the market, to the tune of a cool $9.5 million.  There is also a potential lockout looming in 2011, meaning the free agent market next summer may not be as desirable for Anthony is it was this summer for LeBron and his buddies.

This makes the situation tough to predict and dissect because ultimately we don’t know what Anthony is thinking. As it stands now here are the possible ending scenarios for this saga, in no order whatsoever.

– He signs the extension and stays with the Nuggets: For all we know, Anthony could be taking his time to make sure staying in Denver is the right decision for him.  House on the market aside, Anthony could be concerned about the potential lockout and may ultimately decide that the guaranteed money that is on the table for him now is the way to go, even it means he stays in Denver.  It is possible that whatever contract Anthony garners as a free agent could be significantly less than his current offer from the Nuggets.  There is also the possibility that Anthony is waiting to see who the Nuggets hire as their new general manager (Mark Warkentein and Rex Chapman were fired from the front office last month).  If that’s the case, the possibility exists that Anthony could be talked into staying.

– He says he will not sign the extension and the Nuggets trade him: The Nuggets could decide to cut their losses and deal Anthony to avoid losing him as a free agent.  They would explore the best deal among the teams that Anthony wants to be dealt to.  It is possible the Nuggets do this to cut their losses and would also be a signal that they would be starting the rebuilding process.  It is more than likely that the Nuggets would get little more than cap relief in return for their superstar for there is a proven track record of teams not getting equal value for their stars in trade in all sports.

– The Nuggets could decline his trade request and make him play out the final year of his contract: This would obviously be a very risky move, not only because they might then get nothing for Anthony if he leaves after the season, but they could also be dealing with an unhappy superstar.  In a funny way, the looming threat of a lockout could play into Denver’s favor in this scenario because it might ultimately scare Anthony into signing the extension if he feels the market next summer won’t be player friendly.  Then again, it is also possible that this would allow Anthony to bide his time and simply sign with whatever team he wants to play for next July.

I am still hopeful that Anthony will sign the extension and stay in Denver, but the realistic side of me says that is probably unlikely.  After all, even more money didn’t convince LeBron to stay in Cleveland.  I think Anthony feels that he is not viewed in the same class as LeBron, Wade, Kobe, etc.  My response to that is that Anthony has not won the way the others have.  He has only gotten the Nuggets out of the first round of the playoffs once in seven seasons.  If he wants to leave because he feels the Nuggets haven’t been loyal to him, that’s his problem because the Nuggets have done more than enough to show him that he is their franchise player.  If he wants to leave because he feels like another place is his best chance to win a championship, well, it’s not like the Nuggets haven’t tried.  Their payroll is well above the luxury tax because they’ve tried to get Anthony help.  Ultimately, whether it’s in Denver or somewhere else, Anthony will need to prove he is a winner.  Where will it be?  I hope it’s Denver but I don’t have any more of an idea than anyone who isn’t Anthony himself.  Regardless, it has long been clear that players run the show in the NBA, not coaches and executives.

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An Apology? Not In My Book

Posted by mizzou1028 on May 13, 2009

By it should be pretty obvious that Mark Cuban is well, a maverick owner, no pun intended.  I’ve certainly lost count of the times that Cuban has been fined for various antics and comments over the years, and we’ve certainly been accustomed to seeing Cuban in a Mavericks t-shirt cheering on his team courtside like a maniac fan.  I do respect many things about him, such as the fact the man responds to every e-mail (I know because I’ve gotten prompt answers from him to two queries in the past year.  Granted, he declined my request to appear on our talk show, but at least he responded).  However, I have to draw the line when the man is yelling at fans in the stands, specifically family members of the opposing team.  In this case, he shouted at Kenyon Martin’s mom following Denver’s one point win over the Mavericks in game three of their Western Conference semifinal series.

We know the cameras caught Cuban shouting at Martin’s mother, and varying reports say that Cuban called Martin either a “punk” or a “thug” in the exchange.  There is simply no place for this, period, especially from a team owner.  It is perhaps due to this exchange that certain Mavericks fans felt entitled to act like hooligans in game four.  Martin’s mom had a full cup of beer thrown on her in game four and the culprit was not ejected from the American Airlines Center as he should have been.  Other family members of Nuggets players, including La La Vasquez, wife of Carmelo Anthony, had to endure countless jeers and obscenities from the Dallas fans.  It is obvious that security did not do their job because Vasquez felt compelled left the arena before the game was over. 

Perhaps too late, Cuban did issue an apology on his blog.  While the apology is a nice gesture, the fact that it is in a blog and not face to face, or at the very least over the phone, makes it woefully insufficient.  I suppose it is public this way, but it seems to me to be, well, a chicken apology.  Honestly, how hard is it for Cuban to pick up the phone and call her?  Or, how hard would it have been for Cuban to nip things in the bud before game four and apologize then, especially when he could have done it face to face?  Better yet, why didn’t Cuban get on the jumbotron and urge his fans to behave with class?  Or made sure his security personnel were on the lookout?  Regardless, this strikes me as the Mavericks owner being scared of even talking to Martin or his mother face to face, so he’s taking the easy way out.  Think about it, if you’ve done something wrong and feel bad about it, are you going to apologize through a third party?  Of course not.  If you’re a sensible person, you’re going to clear the air face to face.  

It is my hope that the Nuggets close out the Mavericks at the Pepsi Center tomorrow night.  Not just because I’m a Nuggets fan, but because I really don’t want this series to go back to Dallas.  No fan base is perfect, but I can say with confidence that our fans in Denver aren’t stupid enough to pour beers on opposing fans, especially when that fan is a family member of a player.  (You know it’s bad when Nuggets coach George Karl says he would use a stronger word than hostile to describe the Dallas faithful in game four).  I know for a fact that Nuggets owner Stan Kroenke wouldn’t come close to engaging in an argument with anyone on an opposing team, let alone a fan just trying to enjoy the game.  I guess the point here is the owner is responsible for ALL aspects of the team, and that includes the in game environment at the arena.  Cuban could have prevented the game four foolish in the stands, and instead perhaps instigated it by mouthing off.  Further, his apology comes well short because he’s not man enough to do it face to face.  

I look forward to the positive example Kroenke and the Nuggets fans will provide tomorrow night.

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The Nuggets? Maybe, Just Maybe

Posted by mizzou1028 on April 24, 2009

I have to admit that I am starting to become a believer in the Nuggets for the first time in a really long time, probably dating back to before I was in high school.  Even as they tied a franchise record for wins this season, I remained very skeptical throughout.  Heck, the one Nuggets game I attended at Pepsi Center this season, I watched them get run out of the gym by LeBron James and company to the tune of a 30-point defeat.  For years I had soured big time on the Nuggets, and really the NBA as a whole, for a variety of reasons that I have discussed in past posts.  Frankly, it’s taken until this point, two games into the playoffs, for me to turn the corner on this team.  In a nutshell, I generally find the NBA to be a much more boring version of the college game.  The reason why I might be getting interested again?  Two words: Chauncey Billups.  He has really breathed some fresh air into the Nuggets after coming in a trade for Allen Iverson.  It seems that Billups has really made everyone on the team better, and his performances the last two games against the Hornets in particular (67 points in two games) have been outstanding.  If Billups keeps playing like he has, the Nuggets might actually have a shot to not only win playoff series for the first time since, well before I was in high school, but they might have a shot at going deep in the playoffs.

Billups epitomizes what the Nuggets should be about, and what they haven’t been about for more than a decade prior to this year.  For starters he plays defense.  I mean, real genuine defense, something that has not been present in Denver for a very long time.  Not only does he play defense, he demands that his teammates do the same.  It says a lot about Billups’ character and leadership ability that the other players actually listen to him and follow his example.  In addition to defense, Billups has a reputation from his days with the Pistons that earned him the nickname Mr. Big Shot.  Billups stepped up big time for the Pistons and made seemingly every big shot when they won the NBA title in 2004.  his ability to perform in the clutch gives the Nuggets an ingredient that has been missing in the past five years when they’ve been unceremoniously bounced from the first round each year.  His numbers in the first two playoff games against New Orleans have been terrific, but it’s been the stuff that doesn’t show up in the box score that has really made the difference for the Nuggets.

From what I’ve seen of Carmelo Anthony this season, he really seems to be much more of a team player.  In retrospect, I think his experience in Beijing at the summer Olympics really helped him mature and become more of a team player.  This season he has seemed much less of a selfish player and much more apt to play within a team concept.  Witness his 13 point effort in game one.  Despite the lack of a big scoring game from Anthony, the Nuggets still benefited from a big night on the boards from him, good rhythm within the passing game, and thanks in large part to Billups a stellar effort on defense.  It appears that Anthony may be finally starting to show the maturity of his fellow draft classmates LeBron James and Dwayne Wade.

When the Nuggets gave away Marcus Camby in the offseason, I thought it was a dumb move of epic proportions.  I didn’t see how they were going to be able to replace his shot blocking ability.  Turns out I was really wrong.  Little did I know that the addition of Chris Anderson, who had been out of the league for two years due to major drug issues, would more than solve the shot blocking problem.  Anderson has been in many ways the best hustle player the Nuggets have.  In addition to blocking shots he rebounds, and most of all he plays with such a burst of energy every time he’s on the court it really has a contagious effect on the rest of the team.  I really think he should have won the league’s sixth man of the year award this year.

The other role players on the team have certainly done their parts too.  Kenyon Martin has been much more impressive this year on both ends of the court.  Nene is a much different player now that he’s fully recovered from knee issues.  Guys like Dahntay Jones and Anthony Carter have stepped up big as well.  Considering the Nuggets have won exactly one playoff series in the past 20 years (the 1994 upset of Seattle), it is a very good feeling that they have managed to take a 2-0 lead on a very talented New Orleans team.  I know I’ve said this before, but the Nuggets are trying to win me over again.  If they manage to win this series against the Hornets, and especially if they can keep going beyond that, I might just be a believer again.  Heck, I might even watch their games on a more regular basis.  To be honest, I still don’t think they have the horses to compete with the Lakers or the Cavaliers, but hey, you never know.

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Thoughts on the Sweet 16

Posted by mizzou1028 on March 26, 2009

So far I’ve actually done better in my NCAA tournament pool than normal.  I was actually in first place after round one with 28 of 32 first round games correct (I missed on Arizona, Dayton, UCLA and Wisconsin).  I didn’t fare near as well in the second round however, although I got 12 of 16 teams still remaining in the field (I had Utah, West Virginia, Florida State and Texas moving on past the second round).  Someone in our office pool at work got all 16 second round games right, which I have never seen before.  Needless to say that person is way out in front now.  I think this year’s tournament is still shaping up to be as wide open as ever, and while I stick to my original Final Four of Pitt, North Carolina, Memphis and Louisville, with Memphis winning it all, I offer some thoughts on the matchups to come this weekend.

East Region:

– Pittsburgh vs. Xavier: I have to admit that I am surprised to see the Musketeers still alive and kicking, since I had them losing to Florida State in the second round.  Thing is. the Seminoles didn’t make it that far, and Xavier gave a very impressive performance against Wisconsin in the second round.  Pitt struggled big time in round one against 16 seed East Tennessee State and also needed to hold off a charge from Oklahoma State in round two, so this could be interesting.  Pitt looks to be most vulnerable of the number one seeds heading into the regional semifinal, but I also think they lucked out in their matchup with Xavier.  Pitt has size inside especially with DeJuan Blair, and they are well used to physical play in the Big East.  Xavier has good guard play but does not have the size or depth inside to contain Blair and company.  I like Pitt, and I don’t necessarily expect this to be close.  

– Duke vs. Villanova: The Blue Devils nearly gave one away to Texas in the second round, benefiting from several Longhorn mistakes down the stretch.  Villanova got a big scare from American University in round one, needing to rally from a 14-point deficit to win, but then destroyed UCLA in round two.  I still think Duke has been too reliant on the three this season, and as hot as the Wildcats are coming in to this one, I don’t like the odds for the Blue Devils here.  This should be a great game, but I think Scottie Reynolds steps up big and wins this game for Villanova.  

I still like Pitt to beat Villanova in the regional final in a Big East rematch.  

South Region:

– North Carolina vs. Gonzaga: The Tar Heels showed how talented they are with two easy first round wins, although LSU kept it close for awhile in the second round.  Ty Lawson is healthy now to give North Carolina an even bigger talent edge.  Gonzaga has won two tough games against fellow mid-majors, and needed a last second shot to beat Western Kentucky in round two.  I like the Tar Heels to win this one easily.  Their athleticism will just be too much for the Zags.  

– Oklahoma vs. Syracuse: This should be a terrific game.  Blake Griffin has been phenomenal for OU in their two wins so far, while Syracuse has shown no ill effects whatsoever from all their overtimes in the Big East tournament.  Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone flabbergasted Arizona State in round two, and I expect it will do the same to the Sooners.  Oklahoma needs a monster game from Griffin inside, but they’ll also need to knock down the threes against the zone, something that is not one of their strengths.  Syracuse has one of the best penetrating guards in the country in Jonny Flynn, and he won’t be afraid to attack Griffin and company on the offensive end.  I think the defense of the Orange will be the difference, and I see them squeaking out a close one against Oklahoma.

Whether they end up playing the Sooners or the Orange, I like North Carolina in the regional final.  The Tar Heels have way too much talent not to make the Final Four.  

West Region: 

– UConn vs. Purdue: The Huskies have arguably been the most impressive team in the tournament so far, especially with the way they ran a red hot Texas A&M team out of the gym in the second round.  Purdue has been quietly solid, having won a close one against a good Washington team in the second round.  Still, as good as the Boilermakers are playing right now, it won’t be near enough.  Purdue doesn’t have anyone who can guard Hashim Thabeet.  UConn wins easily.  

– Memphis vs. Missouri: This will be entertaining.  Both teams play a fast paced style and like to play pressure defense.  Memphis easily handled Maryland in round two after struggling in their first round game against 15 seed Cal State Northridge, while Missouri nearly blew a big lead to Marquette in round two and rallied to win.  Both teams rely on forcing turnovers and creating easy buckets in transition, so I think both teams will be successful in that area.  I like Memphis in this game (even though I’m a Missouri alum) because of their ability to score in the half court, and their overall defensive ability.  This will be close, but I think Memphis prevails.  As a Missouri alum, I plea to Mike Anderson to say in Columbia and not be tempted by the Alabama job.  You’ve got a good thing going Mike, let’s keep it that way. 

I think Memphis-UConn would be a fantastic game.  I think while UConn has been dominant in this tournament, I still have a hunch that Memphis’ defense will be able to help turn the game in their favor.  That is a matchup I would definitely pay money to see.  In the event that Missouri upsets Memphis, I would take UConn against the Tigers.  

Midwest Region:

– Louisville vs. Arizona: The Wildcats easily got through Utah and Cleveland State as a 12 seed.  I honestly thought they would lose to Utah, but Arizona has shown that they have talent to win if they get the right matchup.  However, Louisville is not it.  While Louisville did struggle with a good Siena team in round two, they’re still as complete as any team in the country.  A Rick Pitino team with several days to prepare is usually bad news for opponents.  I like Louisville to win, although Arizona might keep it close early.

– Michigan State vs. Kansas: These teams met in January, with the Spartans blowing out the Jayhawks in East Lansing.  This will be on a neutral court, and Kansas is much improved since that meeting.  Both teams looked solid in their winning their first two tournament games, so I expect this to be competitive.  If Kansas can get another good game inside from Cole Aldrich, this should be very interesting indeed.  In the end though, I think the Spartans are the better defensive team and that will come through in the end.  I do however have to admit that I did pick North Dakota State to beat the Jayhawks in one of my pools simply because I can’t stand Kansas, so take that with a grain of salt.  Still, I like Michigan State to win a close game here.  

I think Louisville win the regional final regardless if the opponent is Michigan State or Kansas.  The Cardinals are too athletic at both ends of the floor for either team.  

I still like my Final Four that I picked before the tournament started.  I still like Memphis to stifle Lousiville in one national semifinal, and I like North Carolina to beat Pitt in the other.  In the end, I still pick Memphis to win it all because of their defense.  Regardless, this is a round of 16 that I am looking forward to like no other in recent years.

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My Final Four Picks

Posted by mizzou1028 on March 19, 2009

Clearly picking the NCAA tournament is a very inexact science, but it’s one of my favorite times of the year.  This year things are wide open, but I’m also having a hard time seeing a lot of big time upsets.  Nevertheless, we’ll give it a stab.  As always, picks are to be taken with caution.

East Region:

First Round Surprises: I only see one lower seed winning in the first round here.  I’ve got 11 seed VCU upsetting UCLA.  Virginia Commonwealth upset Duke in the first round two years ago, and they hung tough with Oklahoma in non-conference play during the regular season.  The main reason I am making this pick is I am really not sold on UCLA.  I’ve watched the Bruins play several times this season, and they are maddeningly inconsistent.  Plus, they make the cross-country trip to Philadelphia.  I don’t like those odds for the Bruins.

– Second Round: I do have a big shocker here.  I have 7 seed Texas beating 2 seed Duke to move on to the sweet 16.  I think the Longhorns are way too talented to be a 7 seed.  I know they have really underachieved, but when you’ve got the Big 12’s all-time leading three point shooter in A.J. Abrams, a talented swingman in Damion James, a beast inside in Dexter Pittman, and an array of talented guys off the bench, I think the Longhorns are prized for a surprise run.  I also think Duke is way too dependent on the three, and that’s not a good recipe for tournament success.  I also like Florida State to beat Xavier in a 5-4 second round matchup.  The Seminoles have one of the country’s best players in Toney Douglas.

– Sweet 16 and regionals: While I think Texas will take down Duke, I don’t think they have quite enough for Villanova.  The Wildcats, like many Big East teams, are going to prove their worth in this tournament.  The Big East is clearly the best conference this season and it will show.  On that note, I like top seed Pitt to easily handle Florida State, setting up an all-Big East regional final.  Pitt is a dynamite team with great guard play and a tremendous force inside in DeJuan Blair.  I like Pitt to win a close one in the regional final against Villanova and make the Final Four.

The pick: Pitt

South Region: 

– First Round Surprises: I’ve got two here.  I think Western Kentucky, a 12 seed, will beat the 5 seed Illinois.  For the life of me I can’t see how a mediocre conference like the Big Ten has seven teams in.  Western Kentucky has a nice team with good tournament success in the past, and I like them against an overrated Ilini team that will be without its best player in Chester Frazier.  Frazier says he’ll be ready for round two, but that won’t be necessary.  I also like Michigan, the 10 seed, to beat 7 seed Clemson.  I know what I just said about the Big Ten, but Clemson is such an enigma, sometimes they’re awesome and sometimes they’re beyond awful.  I think their performance will be somewhere in the middle, and I like the Wolverines to handle the Tigers.  

– Second Round: I actually have the top four seeds (North Carolina, Oklahoma, Syracuse and Gonzaga) moving on to the Sweet 16 here.  I just think they’re the best teams in this region.

– Sweet 16 and regional final: I like the top seeded Tar Heels to hold off Gonzaga.  Ty Lawson will be healthy by then, and even though the Zags are athletic, they won’t pose much trouble for the star studded Heels.  I also like Syracuse to beat Oklahoma, a mini 3 over 2 upset.  I thought Syracuse showed tremendous character in their awesome 6-OT win over UConn in the Big East tourney, and while Blake Griffin gives OU a chance to win any game, I don’t think he’ll be enough against the Orange.  Besides, Oklahoma couldn’t beat either of the top two teams in their own conference, Kansas or Missouri.  In the regional final, I think North Carolina’s athleticism will be too much for Syracuse and their zone defense.

The pick: North Carolina

Midwest Region:

– First Round Surprises: I’ve got three lower seeds winning here, including my biggest shocker of the entire tournament.  I’ve got 13-seed Cleveland State beating the 4-seed Wake Forest Demon Deacons.  I like the Vikings because they proved to be a better Horizon League team than Butler, who was ranked in the top 20 most of the year.  Cleveland State also beat Syracuse in the Carrier Dome during the non-conference portion of the year.  Wake Forest has amazing talent, but the Deacons have just been too inconsistent.  I like the upset.  I also have a couple of smaller upsets here based on seeding: USC over Boston College (10 over 7), and Siena over Ohio State (9 over 8).  After Siena made the sweet 16 last year, I’m not prepared to pick against them again.  Many pundits are picking 12 seed Arizona to beat the fifth seed Utah, but I like the Utes.  I don’t think Arizona belongs in the tournament at all after going 9-9 in conference play (in a year where the Pac 10 is down too boot), and I think Utah is better than people are giving them credit for.

– Second Round: I’ve got an upset here, as i like West Virginia (the 6 seed) to take out the three seed and defending national champ Kansas.  I almost picked the Jayhawks to lose in the first round to North Dakota State, but I thought my status as a Mizzou alum may have been clouding my judgement, so I have them losing in round two instead.  In all seriousness, I really like West Virginia, and I think the Jayhawks don’t match up well with the Mountaineers.  West Virginia’s rigorous Big East schedule will pay off and they will not be afraid of Kansas.  I also like top seed Louisville to move on, as well as Utah, who I like to squeeze by Cleveland State.

– Sweet 16 and regional final: I think Louisville will be able to handle Utah pretty easily, and I also like the 2 seed Michigan State to beat West Virginia.  The Spartans are a lot better now than they were early in the season, and Tom Izzo’s teams have proved over the years that they’re never an easy out.  That being said, I don’t think they have quite enough to topple Louisville, who just happened to win the rugged Big East Tournament.  Rick Pitino’s crew was under the radar most of the year, but there is a reason why they are the top overall seed in the tournament.

The pick: Louisville

West Region:

– First Round Surprises: I’ve got three of them here, including 11-seed Utah State surprising Marquette, the 6 seed.  Utah State has proven to be a tough out in the past, and while Marquette comes from the Big East, they just haven’t been the same team since Dominic James was shelved for the year to injury.  The Golden Eagles are just 1-5 without him in the lineup.  Plus, this will be a de facto home game for the Aggies in Boise.  I also like Maryland to beat Cal in a 10-7 matchup, while I like Texas A&M to beat BYU and get the mini-upset in the 9-8 matchup.  The Aggies were as hot as anyone before stumbling in the Big 12 tourney, and I think they’ll rebound here.  A&M beat BYU in a 9-8 matchup last year as well.

– Second Round: The only lower seed I have moving on here is Purdue, who I like to beat Washington in a potential 5-4 matchup.  Both teams have struggled against elite competition, so this is more of a hunch than anything else. I like the top three seeds, UConn, Memphis and Missouri to move on.  Mizzou could have a tough second round matchup against Marquette (who is only seeded as low as they are because of James’ injury), but since I have them playing Utah State, the resurgent Tigers move on without too much trouble.

– Sweet 16 and regional final: I think UConn will handle their opponent easily whether it’s Washington or Purdue.  I also like Memphis to squeak one out against Missouri.  It is interesting to note the the last loss for Memphis came to UAB when Mike Anderson was the coach.  Anderson of course now coaches Missouri, but I think Memphis has to guard play to answer Missouri’s pressure defense.  I also like the 2-seed Memphis to beat UConn in what would be a great regional final.  I believe Memphis should have gotten a number one seed because of their tremendous defense (the Tigers give up three points less per 100 possessions than anyone in the country).  UConn may have Hashim Thabeet inside, but Memphis will be able to be physical enough to defend him.  I like the Tigers in this region.

The Pick: Memphis

Final Four:

I think if these four teams make it we’re in for some great basketball.  I do like North Carolina to beat Pitt because I think the Tar Heels are more athletic and they have a coach with championship experience in Roy Williams.  I also like Memphis to surprise Louisville, again because of the Tigers’ defense.  A Memphis-North Carolina title game would definitely be interesting.  Memphis lost the title game to Kansas last year, while the Heels are trying to get titles for Tyler Hansbrough and Ty Lawson.  In the end the Tar Heels may have more athletes, but I believe defense wins this event.

That’s why I like Memphis to win the national title.  Take it for what you will.   Enjoy the hoops!

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Random Thoughts

Posted by mizzou1028 on February 12, 2009

– I am getting really sick of hearing about steroids and baseball.  We know players cheated.  We know there were more players hopped up on performance enhancers in the 80s, 90s and early 2000s than we’ll care to admit.  I actually applaud Alex Rodriguez for his honesty and coming clean, but baseball has a real problem on its hands that just won’t go away, ever.  It’s not as if Rodriguez is the only player that used.  Odds are he was hitting off home runs off of pitchers who were also using.  Obviously that doesn’t make it right, but it is impossible to know for sure which players used and which didn’t, and how much of an advantage those that used really got. 

– The fact is the steroid era encompasses much of recent baseball history.  Is it practical to wipe out records or to keep some of these players (like Mark McGwire) out of the Hall of Fame?  Be honest, how many Yankees fans are going to refrain from buying tickets at the new Yankee Stadium this season because A-Rod admits he used steroids?  None.  How many Yankee fans will cheer him if he hits 50 home runs and leads the Yankees to a title this year?  All of them.  One of baseball’s problems with this is that the fans don’t seem to be near as appalled as they are made out to be.  Ticket sales are way up, ratings are up, and MLB isn’t exactly a struggling operation.  When teams lose, that’s when fans stop going to the games.  A key player gets busted for steroids?  That doesn’t have near the economic impact as a struggling team, so MLB owners will continue to have this issue on their hands. 

– On the plus side, it’s hard to believe that pitchers and catchers are already reporting this week.  If the Rockies weren’t destined to be so awful in 2009, I might be actually be excited about this.  I just don’t think they got enough in return for Matt Holliday, and if Jeff Francis actually does have shoulder surgery later this month as rumored, the rotation is already in trouble.

– It’s also hard to get excited when the Yankees have an unfair advantage that allows them to buy whatever free agents they want.  MLB needs a salary cap in the worst way, but the players union will never agree to it.

– At least we have college basketball for another month.  Other than the NFL, this is my favorite sport.  The college game is so much better than the NBA in absolutely every way it’s not even funny.  For starters, it’s not about individual players.  The college game relies on a team working together.  This is much more fun to watch than an NBA game where an individual tries to take over while three of teammates are standing around watching.  Plus, it’s hard to beat an atmosphere where the crowd is actually into the game and cares about the outcome.  Not that NBA fans don’t care, but there is a big difference between passionate student sections and corporate yuppies that stroll in around the second quarter and leave midway through the fourth.

– I’m also excited about the college game because Missouri (my alma matter) is finally good again.  After a five year absence from the NCAA tournament, the Tigers are 21-4 and 8-2 in conference play. 

– Most of all, the college games are just more intense, competitive and fun to watch.  I am already looking forward to the NCAA tournament.

– It will also be an interesting off season in the NFL.  There are several receivers who could end up moving (including T.J. Houshmanzadeh and Anquan Boldin, and possibly Terrell Owens) plus there are several other big time free agents out there such as Julius Peppers and Albert Haynesworth.  Free agency opens on the 27th after the scouting combine, so we’ll delve more into offseason movement then.  It will be interesting to see which teams try to make splashes and which don’t, keeping in mind that big ticket signings don’t always guarantee success and in some cases quickly blow up in a team’s face.  Look at the Jaguars, who spent big money on Jerry Porter and Drayton Florence last offseason, and released them both this week.

– I will not believe that Brett Favre is actually retired until I see that he is not on the field playing for some team in week one.

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