Last night went absolutely fantastic for about 43 minutes. Maybe even closer to 44. But, for as bad as this season has gone for Purdue, I am hard pressed to think of a loss that has stung more than last night’s.
It’s just such a shame. Upsets have run rampant in the Big Ten this year. Nebraska has turned out to be a pleasant surprise, Northwestern and Penn State have pull out big wins on the road. As usual, some of the top teams have slipped up against inferior competition on the road, like Wisconsin at Indiana. But Purdue has not managed a single upset all season. Until last night, they really haven’t even come all that close. They’ve really only played one great game all season, and that just happened to come against the Hoosiers. Which was nice, but I don’t think anybody really feels like that saved the season.
That’s why last night could have been huge. They played a first half that I don’t think they could have even dreamed of going into the game. The second half was, predictably, not as strong as the first, but it should have been good enough. It looked like Purdue had the game in hand as the final seconds dripped off the clock and the teams were scrambling for a loose ball of a rebound. Then the whistle blew for reasons I really didn’t understand. It looked like your standard running down of a long rebound. Players banged into each other, but nobody had possession or did anything untoward. A collision, sure, but not a foul. Honestly, if anything, I thought the call should have gone against Michigan for unfairly interfering with Ronnie Johnson’s progress towards the Purdue basket. But, no. Somehow the officials decided it was Ronnie who fouled, sending Michigan to the line. A gift wrapped opportunity to tie the game with mere seconds left on the clock. It was a disgusting display.
Overtime was the story of a Purdue team that held on with the parts it had available. If AJ Hammons had not fouled out, I think the Boilers would have won the game fairly easily, both in regulation and overtime. But there was no middle protection. Another help would have been getting Jay Simpson back. He’s battling some health issue and was not available last night. He would have been nice to have to plug up that middle at the end of the game. Or, if need be, soak up a few of those fouls earlier in the game that Hammons had to pick up. It went completely unmentioned in the broadcast, but I think that may have ended up being the single biggest key of the game. Even so, Purdue looked like they had done enough. For a team that has shot free throws so poorly all year, they were perfect last night.
Or, well, they were until Kendall Stephens got to the line.
Michigan had a last gasp sort of shot that fell into Stephens hands, where he was fouled. Stephens, in a cruel twist, was about the only Boiler that wasn’t shooting well. Surprising given how he is typically the only outside shooter you trust on this team. Even more surprising is when he stepped up to the line and missed the front end of a one-and-one, as he is also one of the only Boilermakers I trust to make free throws. It was just that sort of night. You were disappointed, but hope was far from gone. Obviously a one point lead is far from a safe thing, you thought, but Michigan only has 2.9 seconds and has to inbound near midcourt. Obviously you would rather be up three in that situation, but it’s one I would think the team ahead wins more often than not.
Of course, those sorts of averages don’t ever seem to work out in Purdue’s favor. Most especially this season.
And, of course, they didn’t last night, either. A long inbound pass that I thought Rapheal Davis would tip found it’s way to Glen Robinson III’s hands, in another cruel bit of irony. And just like Big Dog did against Michigan in Ann Arbor, Little Dog made the circus shot at the buzzer pull out a win in a game where Michigan didn’t lead for a full minute all night.
As a basketball fan, it was everything you could want in a game. As a Purdue fan, it was beyond disgusting.
This is a team that has completely stalled. Pulling out that win last night probably wouldn’t have meant that much to this particular season, but it could have been a huge boost going forward. It would have meant a lot to all the younger guys to pull out that sort of win going into next year. That truly could have been something tangible for the team to point to and declare “We are growing up. Watch out for us next year.” Instead, it all melted away in a flash.
I am still upset about it, more upset than I’ve been about a college basketball game in some time. But, maybe, nobody is more upset about it than poor Kendall Stephens. Per these tweets:
Poor kid. Hopefully, though, it is an experience he will grow from and he will knock down those shots next time. He’s going to play a huge role for this team going forward. Better to learn those lessons now than in a season when there’s a little more on the line.
As for this season, all hope was pretty well extinguished with that ugly loss at Nebraska. I don’t even think the NIT will have us now. The only prayer, it seems, is to manage to win the Big Ten tournament. The odds don’t look good. The one nice thing is it’s in Indianapolis again. But, as it is right now, Purdue is sitting in tenth in the conference. It’s never easy, but this would be especially big. The only real hope is that Purdue will go on a run like Penn State did a few years ago, and then take it one step further.
It won’t happen, though. It never does. Not for Purdue.
I haven’t written the past couple days, and I am sorry about that. I’m absolutely swamped at work, which has greatly impacted my motivation to do absolutely anything, work related or not. It certainly seems as if most jobs, or at least the ones I’ve held, are specifically constructed to be as soul-crushing as possible. It’s not a great look, you know?
Also, I just felt I had nothing constructive to add about the trade of Danny Granger. I think Evan Turner will do just fine in his role as back up wing. I wasn’t a huge fan of Turner’s at Ohio State, and I certainly haven’t been converted during his time at Philadelphia. Between this trade and the Andrew Bynum pick up, my faith in The Legend is certainly shaken.
I just truly feel like Danny Granger deserved better. He poured a lot into this team when there was little else around him. It turns out you just don’t win that many games with Travis Diener and Troy Murphy in the NBA. But he still played his heart out and he played with fire and swagger, letting this team pull itself into the playoffs probably a year early and twice giving much better teams every bit they could handle. He seemed content and happy to fill the reduced role the Pacers had asked of him coming back from injury and with the rise of Paul George and Lance Stephenson.* As always, Danny did and said all the right things the team needed him to. I hope he finds a new NBA home once the 76ers buy him out, which seems to be the plan. I would rather that new home not be Miami, as some rumors have suggested.** But, if so, it wouldn’t change my opinion of him. Unless he pulls a Mike Vick or Ray Lewis/Aaron Hernandez, neither of which I see happening, I will always be a huge fan of Danny Granger and deeply appreciate what he did here. Not only in bridging together two very successful eras, but for all the work he put in during all those years when the Pacers weren’t drawing enough fans to fill your average Big Ten arena.
*And, really, Stephenson is the real key here. You might remember that Granger and PG were starting together before the injury. It was Lance showing that he is a starter you can depend on that made an injury-depleted Danny expendable.
**Not any Miami Heat players, though. I guess they got their feelings hurt when the Pacers did too well.
Now, I did actually watch the Pacers last night. My attention had been drawn away from them because of the Winter Olympics, but now things are back on. I initially was pretty concerned about the Pacers, because they didn’t seem to be bothering with any real defense in the first half. But they then exploded in the second half and had the game sealed away by the start of the fourth quarter. My first thought about writing this was to really get on the team for being in cruise control against bad teams and how that will come back to bite them in the end. I really was not happy about it. But then I thought a little more deeply into things. Isn’t this what this team has done all year?
This team from the very first game has been utterly dominant in third and fourth quarters as a whole. Paul George especially has been a second half player. And you know what? It has worked just as well against good teams as it has bad teams. Sure, they’ve lost a little more often as of late, but this is the same MO the team was operating under when they went 25-5 over the first two months. This is what works for them, and I’m sure their grinding defense has a lot to do with that. Besides, basketball games don’t really start until halftime, and that is especially true in the NBA. The first half is all about feeling out how the game is going and what each team is going to do. The second half is when things get serious. And when things get serious, this team just plain gets good.
So, am I worried about the Pacers? No, not particularly. Nothing has happened that makes me think this team is no longer a serious championship contender. Of course, this team has very clearly and very regularly let the world know they aren’t content with just strolling into the playoffs and seeing where things go. Their goal is no less than getting that number one spot in the East. At the moment, they’re two games in the clear for that goal. Miami is gunning for that spot, too, probably more than they have for a while just because they know the Pacers want it. There’s really only about a month left to go in the season, thanks to the few games in April and how spaced out they are. The home stretch, at least between the Pacers and Heat, is going to be awfully interesting. Larry Bird has made some eyebrow-lifting moves as of late. Here’s to hoping these moves prove to be as magical as most things basketball tend to be with him.
This is going to be brief, because I just don’t know how you can argue against this. Witchita State should be the number one team in the nation right now. They should also be the overall number one seed come March if they can pull off the undefeated season.
If you had doubts about last year’s Shocker team, you would be forgiven. The Missouri Valley Conference has typically been a pretty solid conference, but it seems to take Larry Bird to make one of their teams actual contenders. Or so the thought went. The Shockers were only an 8 seed, which really is one of the worst draws of the tournament. They had a great record at 26-8, but hadn’t even won their conference.* Nobody outside the conference had really seen them play. There were reasons to think it was just another solid mid-major team.
*Creighton took the crown that year. They then promptly jumped into the “new” Big East, like Butler did. But, unlike Butler, which has really struggled this season, Creighton is sitting atop their new home, just a half game ahead of Villanova. It should probably also be added that the Blue Jays smacked the Wildcats around this year, so it looks as if Creighton would be a good bet to win this year’s Big East crown. Somewhat related, what should we call this for the Big East? Clearly it has a direct lineage to the Big East we used to be familiar with, but it would be dishonest not to acknowledge the big shake up, right? So, what is this season? The Re-Inaugural Season? I don’t know. Something for others to sort out, I suppose.
This year, there’s no excuse. They totally earned their spot in the Final Four last year. If you don’t remember, the Shockers absolutely crushed Pitt and (a resurgent) La Salle. Gonzaga and Ohio State gave them tougher games, but neither of them really felt particularly in doubt. If you want to point out that the Shockers drew two other mid-majors along the way in Gonzaga and La Salle, that’s fine, but don’t forget that Gonzaga was a one seed and La Salle had already knocked off two major conference teams in Kansas State and Ole Miss. It wasn’t like the Shockers played teams like Maryland-Eastern Shore and Lamar the whole way. Add to that Louisville got easily their biggest challenge in the tournament out of Wichita State, and you just can’t question that the Shockers were legit last year.
What is there to question this year? The only thing I can think of is that the Missouri Valley is clearly not as tough of a conference as it typically is. But, you know, it’s still awfully tough to go undefeated. Butler never managed it during those last few seasons in the Horizon League, and the MVC is a few steps up from that. Yeah, they lost a few players, as does every college team, but quite a few are still on the roster. These guys know how to win.
Has their schedule been murder’s row? No, not all. Outside the conference, their best games were Saint Louis,* Tennessee, and BYU. Saint Louis only has two losses, the Volunteers and Cougars each have ten. Alabama is an SEC team, but they don’t even have a winning record, so I won’t include them. So, yeah, is their schedule great? No, it’s not. But the fact of the matter is they’ve won each one of those games, and that’s tough. I don’t care who you play. They obviously showed they can play last year. Why would you doubt they could do it again this year?
*I don’t understand why the school is so insistent that “Saint” is spelled out, but I’ll abide.
So, in the interest of padding this out, if we’re conceding that the Shockers are taking a one, who else would get one? Sitting here today, I would have to also give a nod to Syracuse. Sure, losing to Boston College isn’t great, but it’s still only one loss. Those two seem like mortal locks as of today. That, to me, leaves two spots to four teams, all with two losses: Saint Louis, Florida, and Arizona. You could make an argument for Cincinnati (three losses) or San Diego State (two losses), but I just don’t think it’s a strong argument.
Most fans would probably look at that list and decide it’s Arizona and Florida without a second thought. But, I don’t know. I suppose it would depend on how you look at the Atlantic 10. It’s similar to the MVC in that it’s undeniably not great. But I don’t feel like it’s a bad league at all. VCU is still a very good team. Then you have a run of good-but-not-overwhelming teams like St. Joe, George Washington, and Richmond. But, Saint Louis has very solid losses. I don’t know if you can call either a let down. One is to the aforementioned Shockers, which was only a five point game. The other was a neutral floor loss to a Wisconsin team that looked like world-beaters at the time. It would be hard for me to pass the Billikens up for a top seed.
So what do the other teams look like? Florida also lost to that same Wisconsin team, along with a one-point road loss to a very good Connecticut team. It’s hard to argue those losses, but I also really wonder if the SEC is really all that much better than the A10. In football, obviously, there’s no question. In basketball, though? Who else would you really fear other than Kentucky? This year especially feels like a down year for a conference that is not particularly strong in basketball. That leaves Arizona. The Pac-12 certainly feels like the strongest conference out of the bunch. And, perhaps tellingly, both of their losses have come in conference. One in double overtime at Arizona State, the other on the road to Cal by two points. Those are also both awfully strong resumes.
So how would I go? I think I would very slightly lean towards Florida and Arizona, but boy is it ever slight. I feel a bit stronger about Arizona than the others. But if you gave me Saint Louis over Florida, I wouldn’t bat an eye one bit.
A bit more explanation on who I didn’t consider. San Diego State is damaged by the same argument I had for Wichita State. They had their chance to show their stuff in the tournament last year. They were promptly stomped by Florida Gulf Coast. I would consider a three-loss Cincinnati team ahead of the Aztecs mostly for that reason. Cincy doesn’t have a bad resume at all. They’ve already beat Louisville once, and the American is a fairly strong league. But it doesn’t feel as strong to me as the A10, and certainly not the Pac-12. And their losses are not good. They were pretty well stomped by Xavier and SMU to go along with a fairly handy loss to New Mexico. Now, they should be a high seed, but not a one.
And, because it’s me, Purdue has answered the bell so far in the “don’t lose another game until the Big Ten tournament” challenge to make the big dance. But they need some quality wins if they want a prayer. Tonight would be one of those quality wins if they can beat Michigan State. And, well, it’s certainly possible. Michigan State is a banged up team and could possibly be without a stud in Keith Appling. I mean, they just lost at home to Nebraska, it isn’t a stretch to think Purdue could pull this one out in Mackey. Especially if they play the kind of inspired ball they played against the Hoosiers. And, hey, just like they needed to put on a show for Joe Barry Carroll last Saturday, you would think they would want to make a nice showing for Big Dog, too, right?
Here’s to hoping!
So, if things have worked right, there should now be some pretty unobtrusive Google ads in the upper right hand corner, just above the archives. I’m not the biggest fan of advertising, but there is a chance that maybe I can make a little money off this blog, so why not try? Now, because I did this through Weebly, that means they get half of the revenue that would be generated. I’m not the biggest fan of that arrangement, but it is what it is. It’s not that big a deal, since I certainly don’t do this for a full time job and I doubt these ads will generate enough clicks to amount to anything anyway. But, again, why not try?
That does not mean, loyal readers, you should just start clicking on these ads willy nilly. If something there interests you, by all means, go for it, but mindless clicking is probably a good way to get me in trouble, which I don’t want. And if those ads aren’t there? Well, just ignore all this jibber jabber, then. All for nought.
Now, let’s talk about some sports, shall we? This Olympic hockey tournament has been as good as advertised. We go through this dance every four years, it seems, about whether the NHL will allow their players this Olympic break to go represent their respective countries. And I understand why. That’s two weeks of empty arenas, two weeks of no games, which throws a pretty big wrench into the middle of trying to plan an 82 game schedule over six months. It exposes your best players to more minutes and more chance of injury in games that, from an NHL perspective, mean nothing. I mean, I get it. There are solid arguments that, if my lifeblood came from NHL revenue, I wouldn’t really care for the idea, either.
As a hockey fan or somebody who cares about hockey marketing, however, the Olympics are publicity that money just plain can’t buy. The NHL would be nuts not to send their players to Korea in 2018.
I (along with many others, I’m sure) have written on this before, but it bears repeating. The Olympics do massive ratings, both summer and winter. Being sports, they are also one of the last things that many people will actually watch as they are airing on TV. Yes, you can stream things live, thanks to the time difference, but most people watch things as NBC presents them.* This is especially true on the weekend, and especially true of the Olympic hockey tournament, which is the crown jewel of the Winter Olympics.**
*This has provided some problems, though, as outlets like ESPN and SI blast results as they happen, spoiling what you would likely be watching that night during prime time.
**Unless you feel that is figure skating. There is an argument for that, too. But I stand by what I wrote.
Another well documented opinion: playoff hockey is another beast entirely from regular season hockey, and it is glorious. Here is what makes Olympic hockey so great: it is the perfect marriage of All-Star Game and playoffs. The rosters are boiled down to the cream of the crop on a national basis, which is as good a basis as any to assemble the greatest players in the world. That satisfies the talent portion of raised interest. And, well, these players care about this tournament, and care very deeply. If the NHL had said no to sending their players to Sochi, there would have been a mass walkout of Russian talent, if not all European talent. There is a good chance some US and Canadian players would have followed suit. Playing for your nation matters, especially when the tournament is intensely competitive as the Olympic tournament is.* That satisfies the playoff atmosphere.
*At least the men’s. The women’s tournament could have been, and perhaps should have been, a best of seven US vs Canada affair.
And then add the mass appeal to this. Hockey still lags behind football, baseball, and basketball in this country, but most people are at least passingly familiar with the game. The Winter Olympics are filled with very unfamiliar sports that certainly draw interest, but probably not two weeks worth of interest. The chance to cheer for your nation every four years in a sport that you know something about draws tons and tons of casual fans* that the NHL will never convert on a yearly basis. But, little by little, some of those casual fans will start paying more attention to the NHL after the tournament and will become true fans. And, yes, these things do matter. The US’s surprise run to the silver medal in 2010 I’m sure played a nice role in lifting the NHL’s profile for the playoffs. And in a nice piece of dovetailing, you saw a resurgence of a few teams in key cities. Especially Chicago, but in Vancouver and Philadelphia as well. I can tell you that the Blackhawks were all but invisible around here my entire life until they won that Stanley Cup. I was a little bit of an early adopter, but a season or two, but until 2010, you would have been floored to see somebody wearing a Blackhawks jersey. Or hockey apparel in general. Since then? It’s all over. It seems you can’t turn around without either running into somebody else who is either wearing Blackhawks** stuff or will at least talk with some knowledge of the game.
*Or even non-fans.
**And sometimes even other, more far-flung teams.
Would there have been a nice boost just from Chicago winning the Stanley Cup? Of course, and that would have grown after winning again last year, too. But I refuse to believe that the Olympic run, starring Jonathan Toews for Canada and Patrick Kane for the US,* had nothing to do with that.
*Amongst others, of course, but those are the biggest names. Sorry, Sharpie and Duncs.
And, by God, look at this past Saturday. My Twitter was going nuts as the US and Russia slugged out a game that meant nothing more than placing. I went out to my hometown bar* for my mom’s 52nd birthday along with some other family and friends. All of them, it seemed, either had heard and were excited by the game or had watched it themselves. People who I don’t think could even tell you how many teams are in the NHL suddenly knew and loved TJ Oshie like he was a nephew or something. That is not an insult, either. It just shows you the power of the Olympics.
*Well, one of them. Covington is not a big town by any stretch, but we do have two major bars along with a few peripheral ones. But, I by far frequented the Northside more often and greatly prefered it to Bar Noble.
I’m sure you could probably draw a nice line of growing Olympic hockey excitement and popularity starting with the Miracle on Ice in 1980. I haven’t done any research on it, but it’s telling that the first comparison people latched onto for Saturday was that old game, even though there were really no parallels to draw other than Russia was playing the US on one of their home soils.* You don’t think that, if you were around St. Louis, you might not pay more attention to the Blues after watching that display? And, well, the Blues aren’t half-bad this year, which helps.
*A bit of a non-sequitur: it’s an absolute crime that the Squaw Valley throwbacks aren’t the main jersey for the United States. Those things were gorgeous. I mean, really, knowing that is your closet, why would you ever wear this?
For those curious, the United States will square off against the winner of the Czech Republic and Slovakia, which at the time of this writing, looks very likely to be the Czech Republic. That will be tomorrow at (I think) noon Eastern time. Canada will be squaring off against either Switzerland or Latvia at the same time. That would set up a US-Canada semifinal,* with the winner of that game playing Russia for gold if the Olympic organizers get their wish. Of course, Sweden might have something to say about that, if Finland doesn’t first. Or, hell, even Slovenia might surprise you. They’ve certainly surprised me to this point.
*Assuming everybody wins. No reason to look too far ahead, as Russia learned in Vancouver.
Basically, this tournament is just too much fun for the NHL to sit out. Please, please, please, NHL owner types, let these guys go to Korea. The nations are begging you!
I was going to write one more piece last week about Michael Sam. I tried really hard to come up with much to say. I couldn't come up with enough. To me, it's pretty well a non-story. I don't care who any other athlete goes to bed with, why would I spend any more time worried about Sam? No, the only real story to be told about that is the stupidity of anybody who is one bit worried about Sam being in the NFL. If you worry about how he'll fit because he's a bit undersized or whatnot, fine, but that's not really much of a story. Certainly not the kind of story I deal in. If anybody has a problem with his sexuality and playing in the NFL, all I can say is "Grow up." The story is just that simple.
In better news, Purdue absolutely killed the Hoosiers on Saturday, and I couldn't be more thrilled. The rivalry has been a bit down recently, because neither team can manage to be good at the same time as of late. The last Hummel year was as close as it got, and it was sadly pretty clear pretty quickly that Robbie didn't have enough help around him.* During most the Hummel-era, Purdue was the team way up while the Hoosiers were way down. Last year, Indiana's two top five picks** were just too much for Purdue, leading to two lopsided games last year.
*Though the Boilers did have a Kansas team totally beat later that season before that one somehow slipped away. And, well, that Jayhawk team was much better than what Indiana had that year.
**Which could only manage the Sweet 16. Most underachieving NCAA team in history. Just throwing that out there.
You certainly won't catch me arguing that either Purdue or Indiana are any good this year, but they certainly came into this game on pretty equal footing. Both teams sported a 14-10 record coming into this game, and both sitting at 4-7 in the conference. The only real difference between the teams seemed to be Indiana had managed to knock off a couple of the ranked conference teams, whereas Purdue hasn't been able to finish off those games. But, on the other hand, Purdue has managed to generally win the games they were supposed to, while Indiana has had some inexplicable losses. This was the first game since the Hummel-Johnson-Moore class's freshman year that I really didn't know how the game would go tuning into it. I was certainly nervous, to say the least, and I wanted this win badly after last year's embarrassments.
And, Good Lord, did Purdue ever deliver. The final margin was 18, but it really could have been* much worse. Purdue had a couple of their characteristic scoring droughts in this game, too. The difference was they were able to make sure Indiana didn't really score in those periods, either. It was pretty clear from the time ESPN finally switched over to the game** that Purdue was far more dialed in, far more hungry than their southern counterparts. Sterling Carter finally shot the way he was brought in to shoot. The Boilers actually hit their free throws, which has been an issue, to say the least. Whether you want to credit Purdue's defense or Indiana ineptitude, the Hoosiers also played right into Purdue's strength on the other end. A lot of standing, a lot of jacking up jumpers or wild shots at the rim. For all their problems, one thing Purdue has been able to do is use their size around the basket and rebound very well. Whether it was how Tom Crean*** had it drawn up or not, you couldn't have asked for a better blessing as a Purdue fan. Or player or coach, for that matter.
*Should have been?
**Also, shame on you, ESPN, for shifting the start of that game to ESPN Classic, the only channel that is generally mixed in with a more premium package on most cable and satellite providers. Yes, Saint Louis and VCU was a good game, but on Saturday, I really couldn't have cared less.
***The Big Ten's creepy uncle.
So, yes, I could not have been more pleased with how this game turned out. The Hoosiers are no juggernaut, as I've been saying all year, and Purdue treated them as such. If there is any prayer at all of making the NCAA tournament, this game kept the hope alive. On the other hand, this game was awfully frustrating. I've written it here before, and others have said it as well. There is talent on this Purdue team. There is certainly a ton of athleticism on this Purdue team. But, for whatever reason, this team has never been able to put it all together. There were flashes, like most of the Oklahoma State game, but for whatever reason, this team could never do it for forty minutes. I think every Boilermaker wondered what this team could do if it played balls out for an entire game. And, well, now we know. And, damn it, if they could play like that every game, they would probably win the conference and win it fairly easily. Now, granted, no basketball team is going to play that well and tuned in every single game. It just doesn't happen. That's why even the best college teams don't go undefeated. Even the best Bulls team still managed to lose ten games. There are just too many games in basketball to go undefeated. But, if you hadn't seen Purdue other than last Saturday, you would be forgiven if you thought they were closer to Michigan State's 10-3 conference mark than the 5-7 they're actually at.
Where do we go from here? Well, the schedule gets tough again. The Spartans come in on Thursday. That's certainly a game that Purdue can win, especially given Michigan State's injuries, but I don't think anybody will have the Boilers as a favorite. They travel to Nebraska after that, which you would think would be a win, but the Huskers have looked pretty game lately. Purdue then finishes with Michgan, at Iowa, at Wisconsin, and Northwestern. There's just not much breathing room in these last six games, and Purdue really needs to win every single one of them to get into the tournament. And that still might not be enough.
Unlikely? Sure. But if they play like they did last Saturday, if somehow on Friday night all that young, raw talent and athleticism somehow has morphed into real basketball skills, this is suddenly a very dangerous team. They've shown that it's not impossible to pull off a win streak like that. Here's to hoping maybe the Boilers learned one other important skill over the last week: consistency.
You know, I tried very hard to give Andrew Bynum the benefit of the doubt. I really did. But, what the hell?
I didn’t like this signing from the start. I would have much rather rolled with Ian Mahinmi as Roy Hibbert’s back up than even talked about picking up Bynum. But, Larry Bird met with Bynum before they signed him, and it seems that almost everything basketball-related turns to gold once Larry Bird* touches it. So, hey, I thought, let’s at least let Bynum play a minute before we declare this a terrible idea. Which, it should be added, was going to be awhile, because the Pacers (and Bynum, one would assume) are in no hurry to add him to the mix.
*There’s no real relevance to the story here, but I just can’t talk about Larry Bird one more time without pointing out what sort of wedding cake aficionado he apparently is. And the ten gallons of ice cream he apparently had with those cakes.
Whatever Bynum said to The Legend in their meeting, however, was certainly not said to the press. For example, Scott Agness, a writer for Pacers.com, asked Bynum if he’s kept his workout regimen up since Cleveland let him. His answer was a flat “no.” Candace Buckner* also asked him about what he’s done to stay in shape, to which he could only say he watched his diet. He also acknowledged he wasn’t in tip-top shape, but that he should be able to bounce back quickly. From the last link: “I was out for a significant amount of time, but it’s not the end-of-the-world amount of time where I would go back to square zero.”
*Any relation to Quinn Buckner? I don’t know, but it sure seems likely. There’s a resemblance.
Maybe not square zero, but I could certainly see Square One, Mr. Bynum. Seriously, it’s like he’s never quite figured out that he’s playing professional basketball. Not only professionally, but in the top league in the world. This isn’t like picking up with a team at the local Y. I don’t totally understand where this comes from, but it wouldn’t be hard to imagine it’s from getting too much too soon.
Remember, he came into the league straight from high school in 2005. If memory serves, he would have been the last class who could make that kind of leap. When he made his debut for the Lakers, he became the youngest player to ever play in the NBA, a record that seems like it will stand for quite some time thanks to the “one and done” rule.* He has a history of doing and saying dumb stuff like this, and I think it’s from a severe lack of polish.
*Which, if the rumblings I’ve been hearing are correct, new commissioner Adam Silver is absolutely set on making that at “two and done” rule, which I would appreciate much more than the current set up. I’d rather have the old set up in an ideal world, though maybe with better use of the D-League, but it seems pretty clear that’s not happening any time soon.
People question his motivation and his drive for the game. And that’s fair. He’s certainly given enough ammo over his career, and this latest round of quotes will certainly fuel that fire. I just don’t know if I buy that argument, though. I obviously don’t know him personally or talked to him at all, but I wonder if a lot of it is simple immaturity mixed in with a healthy dose of naivety. He did not get the intellectual or social growth that even a year or two of college would provide. I’m sure he coasted by on natural talent and reputation through high school. That’s what I would expect somebody of his size and talent at that age. Instilling a certain kind of work ethic probably would have happened in college, too.*
*Look at the jump AJ Hammons has made from his freshman year to sophomore year. The consistency isn’t quite there, but he certainly looks like a different player. I think that’s a good comparison mentally, too.
He’s been in the league almost ten years now, so there’s no excuse for it. He certainly should have learned how to lie through his teeth if need be for the media by now. When you are asked if you stayed in shape while you were out of basketball, you tell them you’ve been in the gym almost every day, whether that’s true or not. Maybe you don’t know that when you first get out of high school, but you certainly know that by now. But, somehow, that’s never clicked with Bynum. He’s honest, you have to give him that. Even respect him for it. But it doesn’t do much to respect him as an athlete, especially on a team that’s trying to win a championship.
Will Andrew Bynum ever see the floor as Pacer? Probably, but I don’t know if he will ever actually be Roy Hibbert’s back up. I don’t know that he becomes the legend that is Chris Copeland,* but I could totally see Mahinmi still getting significant minutes. At this point, it seems clearer all the time that this signing was entirely about keeping Bynum away from the Heat.
*I don’t mean that as a diss. The crowd constantly begs for Copeland to see the floor in the fourth quarter, and there is audible anticipation whenever he gets the ball. Pacer fans genuinely love the guy. Some of that may come from how he always seem to manage to light the Pacers up while he was a Knick. But, I think a bigger part comes from all parties understanding that he’s just not going to play a lot of minutes with David West and Luis Scola ahead of him.
That’s partially a shame for Bynum. Because he made the leap straight from high school, he should have quite a few years left. But this stop with the Pacers is probably one of his last shots in the NBA, and who knows what kind of shot it will be. He’s been run out of every other stop in his career. Things did not end well in Los Angeles. Or Philadelphia. Or Cleveland. The Pacers only signed him for a minimum for the remainder of the season. I would be shocked if he were here past that. There is some talent there, but are the headaches and the injuries worth it? At some point, GMs are going to say no. I could see that point coming very soon.
Would he have helped Miami? Much more so than the Pacers, it seems. The Heat were desperate enough to see what Greg Oden could give them, and the answer is 70 minutes and 23 points so far.* That’s their insurance policy against Roy Hibbert. Bynum could at least give you more than that. Which is a shame, because you hear nothing but good stories out of Greg Oden. His body just betrayed him.
*For the curious, Michael Beasley’s return to Miami has gone “eh.” He’s played in 34 of Miami’s 50 games and averages just over 8 points an outing. I mean, it could be a lot worse, but nobody’s breaking down the door to see that.
I don’t think there’s any anticipated date for Bynum to make his Pacer debut. Sometime after this weekend’s All Star break. And that’s fine by me. I really wouldn’t mind if he never see him in blue and gold, though I’m sure he will play some. I do think there is more to Andrew Bynum and his attitude than meets the eye, but at this stage in his life, there is nowhere to point the finger but himself.
Now ask yourself, does that sound like anybody else on this Pacers roster? Does that sound like somebody who fits into this team chemistry? Give me Ian, please. Every time.
Let's get this out of the way: Marcus Smart should not have shoved or even acknowledged the fans at Texas Tech. That is never an acceptable behavior for an athlete.
But is Marcus Smart really the problem here?
A problem, fine. I can agree with that. Again, you just can't go into the crowd. Was this an Artest situation? No, not at all, but that is always a risk when an athlete goes over that line. Smart has also drawn some unwanted attention on himself lately for his complaining and diva-ish behavior. Lots of people are saying he's acting like a spoiled, coddled athlete.
Which, I mean, duh. Of course he is. Because that's what he is right now, and that's okay. That's the path that practically every superstar college athlete has taken since the inception of college sports. I'm pretty sure the BMOC is older than the NCAA.
I actually like Marcus Smart quite a bit. I respect the hell out of his decision to tell the NBA it could wait. He was enjoying college too much. He's certainly hurt his draft stock, though that was bound to happen. As you give scouts (and opposing coaches) a larger sample size, they're going to start finding whatever holes exist in your game, and suddenly the endless potential doesn't seem so endless anymore. And when those coaches start seeing the patterns on their game films, they're going to make sure the scouts notice. It's the same reason the hottest rookies at the start of the baseball season are generally not the top dogs at the end of the year. Marcus Smart had to know that was a likely outcome. I don't think he is a dumb guy. But he stayed anyway, turning down a spot in a relatively weak draft that would have had him set for life. As he said, maybe it wasn't the "smart" decision, but I don't think you ever fault a kid for staying in school, can you?
So, yeah, he's had his decision broken down and criticized on every media outlet imaginable. He's seen his draft stock tumble, along with his stats. His formerly juggernaut of a team hasn't looked so great lately, and they didn't look great that night. I'm sure he's frustrated and was has been on the edge of snapping for a while. It happened. It's wrong, but we can get over it, right?
The bigger issue here seems to be the "super fan" and the culture that encourages it. Look, I understand the appeal of heckling. I've certainly done my share of it, and I know full well opposing players heard it. Typically, they reacted well to it. I don't think I ever got nasty with it. It's heckling, not bullying. Also, important note: I was a student. You can do dumb stuff like this in your very late teens and very early twenties. That is something else entirely. When you're in your fifties or sixties and apparently a made-of-money booster? That's a bad look, pal. And my goodness, what did he say? All the audio picked up was "piece of crap," but I have a very hard time believing Smart would react so strongly to something that mild. The booster (whose name I refuse to look up) says it wasn't anything racial, but I have a hard time believing it. If it wasn't something explicitly racial, it had to be something awfully personal. I don't think we'll ever have the full story, but goodness, Mr. Booster, grow up. You're a little old to be belittling college kids, aren't you?
You see this attitude all over the internet, too. A lot of blame goes on "social media," however you want to define that term. But trolls have been around long before that term ever came into vogue. Although I wouldn't argue with you if you said that trolling has greatly accelerated since the social media era. And it absolutely seems to be spilling out into "real life." This would be a prime example. Hecklers have existed for a long time, and I'm sure many a black ballplayer from the 50's and 60's heard a lot worse than what players hear today. And those players didn't go into the stands, it should be noted. Again, this isn't a defense of Smart. His three game suspension was well deserved and appropriate. But if you aren't a college student and you're going to act a fool like this, you don't deserve to be at the game. There's no excuse for it. And the fact that you are at least a somewhat public figure if you're one of Texas Tech's biggest boosters, that's an even poorer representation of yourself.
If you've got a degree and still don't know how to handle yourself in public, maybe you shouldn't really be out in public? It's just a thought.
Our furnace decided it had enough Friday evening. We spent the whole weekend (plus today) working on it, narrowing down problems, replacing parts, the whole bit. Thankfully, we got everything working today and our house is finally getting back to a decent temperature. That does mean not much writing got done. We should be back on schedule tomorrow, and there was quite a bit that happened over the weekend to talk about. Incoming NFL draft prospects coming out as gay, Olympic odds and ends, Pacers playing a little up and down. We'll get to it all, but for tonight, we're just going to warm up a bit.
Thanks again, Randy!
Let’s just get this out there: the Winter Olympics are the lesser Olympics. I don’t necessarily like saying that, because the Olympic hockey tournament really is about the best thing humanity has ever come up with. But, it’s the truth. I could prove this personally by saying I watched almost none of the Salt Lake* or Turin/Torino Games, but that’s a lazy argument. We can prove this more scientifically. Or statistically, anyway.
*I feel a little ashamed that I didn’t watch these games. I was certainly old enough to know that it’s a big deal when the Olympics come to your country, even for a country as big and rich as the United States. I just didn’t, and I am sorry, Utah.
First off, there’s the simple fact of how many Winter Games have been held. These are the 22nd Winter Games. The last Summer Games in London were the 30th. And that’s with the “extra” 1994 Olympics when the Summer and Winter Games first went to different schedules. The first (modern) Summer Olympics were in 1896 in Athens, naturally. The first Winter Games weren’t held until 1924 in Chamonix, France. Just the fact I have to point out where Chamonix is, whereas it’s superfluous with Athens, should tell you enough. But, just to illustrate the point, in 1926, Chamonix had 3,811 residents. Athens, in 1896, had 123,000 residents. A far cry from today’s metro population of just under four million, but certainly a major step up. This is not an isolated case, either.
The average population of a Winter Games host: 238,653.* Not a bad size city, but not one you would expect to be a “world city.” The average population of a Summer Games host: 4,333,881.** So, yeah, I think that goes without saying that the Summer Games are more demanding, as far as a city is concerned. Or at least more glamorous. I mean, the smallest host cities in Summer Games history are still bigger than the average Winter Games host. It’s a stark contrast.
*I took an average of all the host cities using the closest census I could find, and here is my spreadsheet. I had to use a modern-day figure for Garmisch-Partenkirchen. I also did not count Cortina d’Ampezzo or Sapporo twice, as their first games were cancelled due to World War II. Squaw Valley was a bit of a drag on these numbers, I’m sure. Squaw Valley is not really a town, but instead a ski resort. There was only one permanent resident at the time of those Games. It boggles the mind that could happen as late as 1960. The biggest city was Sapporo in 1972, and the only winter host that broke a million.
**Also with war-canceled games removed. Biggest city to host: Beijing in 2008 with 19.6 million people. Smallest was that first Athens games, the next smallest being either Stockholm or Antwerp in 1912 and 1920 respectively, both estimates being right around 300,000.
There are a few reasons for this, of course. For one, basically everywhere people live with any real density has a summer. That’s not necessarily true for winter, at least not in the sense that you think of it in terms of Olympics. Because of that, naturally there are more summer athletes to be had and, related to that, more interested spectators. You probably aren’t going to find too many hardcore Winter Games fans around the equator, you know? And not only is there a climate difference, but there is a pretty clear class difference, too. Winter sports (generally) require much more equipment than summer sports, and thus are generally much more expensive. And that’s before you even get into the specialized venues to use that equipment in. Sure, you can probably find ice rinks scattered here and there different places. But when’s the last time you ran into a municipal bobsled or luge track? You might find a skate park fairly easily, but you don’t normally just stumble across a snowboard halfpipe or slopestyle course. It’s quite a bit easier to find your way to your local school’s track or gym. Or just start running, with or without shoes.
Which brings us to our next point. Not only do the Summer Olympics pull in more athletes, they are just so much bigger in scope in every attractive way for a city. The one way the Winter Olympics are just a big (if not bigger)? Cost, of course. It’s expensive to either make or manage that much snow, build those tracks and courses, etc. You get more bang for your buck with the Summer Games. Now, granted, Sochi has many issues of it’s own that has raised the cost beyond that of every other Winter Olympics combined. Like major security concerns, not actually being located in a wintery climate zone, good old Russian corruption, and the like. But that doesn’t change the fact that these Olympics are the most expensive in history. There are 98 events being staged this year, with a price tag of $51 billion. That comes down to $520,408,163 per event. Pretty pricey, right? The next most expensive Olympics were Beijing, which cost $43 billion. But, that covered 302 events. Price per event: $142,384,105. Pricey, sure, but still about a quarter of the cost per event. For completeness’ sake, London had a total price tag of almost $14 billion to stage 302 events, coming out to $46,357,616 per event. The Brits come out looking like penny pinchers in this scenario.*
*If this is the sort of thing that really grabs your attention, check it all out here.
So, yes, the Winter Olympics are definitely the B Show. Should that dampen your enthusiasm for these Games? Hell no! The Winter Olympics are great. You get to watch people do things on ice and snow that you couldn’t pull off in the best conditions in your wildest dreams. In short track speed skating, you get everything good about racing cars* in short, digestible bursts. As mentioned earlier, the Olympic hockey tournament is probably the single best event the Olympics has ever had, and it’s been made even better by inviting the NHL guys.
*The big wrecks and jostling.
Let me write some more about hockey. It is maybe the most balanced international tournament out there outside of the World Cup. It, along with soccer, is one sport that had international powers pretty well from the start. Every Olympic year, you know you can expect the United States, Canada, and Russia* to be powerhouses. And then you have these smaller nations that strike somewhat out of nowhere. Your Swedens, Czech Republics, Finlands, etc. And, inevitably, one of the big boys will drop the ball, and one of these smaller nations will rise up. Look no further than the first year the NHL was invited in Nagano. The US totally blew it, losing in the first round to the Czech Republic and finishing sixth. Canada finished just off the podium in fourth. Your medalists? The Czechs took gold, Russians silver, and Finland bronze. It wasn’t as bad in Vancouver, with the Canadians taking gold over the Americans with silver. But Russia finished sixth, and honestly probably didn’t really play well enough to finish that high.
*Or one of Russia’s Communist forms.
Oh, and don’t think Russians don’t know that, either. After that sort of showing in Canada, there is only one acceptable outcome in Sochi. It’s either gold or Russia will burn with rioting. I have no doubt. It’s not unlike when the US finished with a bronze medal in basketball in Athens. Only about four or five times more serious. If Russia doesn’t win this tournament, it could make Vancouver look tame.
How can you not love a tournament with that much on the line? I absolutely intend to being glued to whatever outlet I can find to watch all of those games. The men start on Wednesday, and you had better make time to watch those games. Don’t sleep on the women, though. After the show the Canadian women put on in Vancouver, you know other teams will be gunning for them with all they’ve got. Nobody likes to be shown up like that. They drop the puck tomorrow.
All things considered, the Winter Olympics aren’t as popular or widespread as the Summer Games, no doubt. But you would be a fool not to take notice of them, because the entertainment value does not drop one bit. Besides, you don’t want Vladimir Putin to find out you didn’t like his Games, do you? Because he’s watching. He’s watching everything.
Let me get this straight: I hate the Pacers signing Andrew Bynum. I hate it with the rage of ten thousand angry suns. I laughed out loud at the first rumors that the Pacers might be interested in him. I was beyond shocked when the signing was actually announced. But, I’m trying my best to bite my tongue on this one. Really, I am.
Why? Because the guy making the decision is Larry Bird. And I think we can all agree that, over the time he has been in a decision-making role with the Pacers, Larry Bird knows more about basketball and basketball players than likely any other living person. Quite possible any other dead person, too.
Andrew Bynum has been called a lot of things. “Winner” and “good teammate” usually not among them. Here is what Google popped up as helpful suggestions when I typed in “Andrew Bynum is”
-Back (obviously because of the Pacers signing, but that doesn’t really illuminate things.)
-a Punk (ah, here we go.)
Those don’t seem to add up to being what we would commonly consider a championship player. And, well, he’s got the track record to back up such search terms. Remember when he tried his damnedest to knock JJ Barea into next week and then decided the best course of action was to rip his jersey off? Or when he spent an entire year in Philadelphia only being notable for his hair, because he didn’t play a single game? Or how he was just more or less kicked out of Cleveland for being “a cancer?”* He’s really had nothing but criticism since he’s come into the league. I certainly haven’t watched him enough to know for myself, but I do know that where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire. This is a tight locker room with about the best chemistry I’ve seen from a team in any sport. I truly don’t understand why you would do anything that might mess with that when you came so damn close to a championship last year. You already vastly upgraded the bench, which was the glaring failure last year. You have the best record in basketball. Why keep throwing ingredients into an already kick ass soup?
*There are many who say that Cleveland is a terrible mess anyway and that Bynum was just the easy scapegoat for the problems. Reports of his terribleness, in Cleveland, anyway, are overblown. Maybe, I say, but there’s a reason he was an easy target.
So, no, I would not have made the move. But I am also not Larry Bird. There has been very little he has touched, in a basketball sense, that has not turned to gold. A lot of people thought Roy Hibbert was not nearly athletic enough to make it in the NBA. He has become THE premier center in the league now, was robbed of last year’s Defensive Player of the Year, and will almost certainly win it this year. Along with being a two time All Star. When the Pacers picked tenth in what looked to be a weak draft, many (including myself) were desperate for the Pacers to trade the pick because there was nobody in that draft who could really help the Pacers make that next jump up. Instead, Larry Bird used that pick on (then) little known Paul George. That’s turned out all right. Bringing in Lance Stephenson was quite the risk, and he especially looked like a bust and an off-court problem when he got to Indianapolis. This year, he’s probably the biggest All Star snub.* There are some other moves that weren’t nearly so controversial, but both have paid off in spades: bringing in hometown hero George Hill** and certified badass David West.
*Unless you think it’s Anthony Davis, which there is an argument for. But Lance is doing his thing with the best team in basketball where there are options everywhere. Davis, well, isn’t.
**George Hill takes some slack for not being a great point guard. And, for most teams, he probably wouldn’t. But when put in a combo with Lance Stephenson (along with Paul George) he becomes very effective, and he absolutely fits in with the defensive scheme of the Pacers, which is where they butter their bread. He’s a bit unsung, maybe, but don’t doubt for a second that is the right fit for this team.
He was also questioned for years when the Pacers toiled at the bottom of the league following the brawl. Bird would just simply answer: be patient. We have a plan. We’re sticking to it. Things are going to pan out. Just give it a few years. Then, right on schedule, the Pacers snuck into the playoffs as an eight seed. They turned in the hardest fought five game series you will ever see. The next year, the Pacers jumped up to a three seed and gave Miami a much tougher than (nationally) expected series. Last year, well, different round, same script. Except for maybe the expectations. Folks knew the Pacers had the ability to beat the Heat last year. Point is, Larry Bird has proven over and over again he knows what he’s doing with this team.
Do I like it? No, but Larry Bird has more than earned the benefit of the doubt. If he says that this signing is what’s going to help the Pacers get over the hump that is the Miami Heat, then I’m on board. I might give a little side eye, but I’m going along with it. Welcome to Indiana, Mr. Bynum. Don’t mess this up for us.