At the end of Andrew Wiggins's signing ceremony Tuesday afternoon, a good chunk of the college basketball world felt deprived. Fans of Kentucky, Florida State, and North Carolina were chief among them, their hopes dashed when the no. 1 recruit chose Kansas instead. It wasn't a great day for devotees of garish self-indulgence, either; Wiggins spoke briefly, without theatrics, and allowed just one local newspaper reporter to attend the actual announcement. He didn't even have multiple hats spread out before him, awaiting his benediction! That's like having a dance without music, or a Jim Boeheim press conference without passive-aggressive behavior. If you were hoping for this year's Tony Parker, you were disappointed.
Note 1: The local reporter in question, Grant Traylor of the Huntington Herald-Dispatch, watched his Twitter followers balloon from fewer than 2,000 on Sunday night to just above 17,000 Tuesday at noon, and fall back down to 11,000 by 4 p.m. When I checked today, he was down to 9,197, but he at least has a sense of humor about the whole thing. Here's his feature on the event.
Note 2: If I ever have to make a recruiting announcement — and it seems like maybe I won't, at this point — I'd stage a choreographed production where I dance with five ladies decked out in spangled attire representing each school. It would last 40 minutes, with two intermissions because I'm out of shape, and at the end I'd be left with just one girl as confetti rained down from the rafters in the colors of whichever school I chose. Then I'd step forward, grab a microphone, and say, "Just kidding, I'm going to Duke." And then I'd dance with Coach K, if he was around and up for it. (And with a hyperrealistic Coach K doll if he was not.)
Fantasies aside, here's everything you need to know about the announcement, the reactions, and what it all means.
In case you were out looking at buffalo and thanking the heavens that you never had to actually traverse the Oregon Trail by wagon, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday:
Paul George and the Indiana Pacers remained red hot at home as they pushed the New York Knicks to the brink of elimination with a 93-82 win. This battle of the second- and third-best teams in the Eastern Conference has now tilted firmly in favor of Indiana, which has New York residents stunned. "This was our year," said Daniel Czaplinski of Woodside. "We at least had to make it to the Heat. The Pacers? Gimme a break. Who the heck are they?" When asked if he had seen the Pacers play at all this season, Czaplinski said, "Yeah, they had that Zeller kid, and Oladipo. Not sure what happened to them, but Melo shouldn't be letting this George Paul guy take over. This is an abomination and all these bums should be fired."
The Spurs grabbed a pivotal Game 5 win in the friendly confines of San Antonio, beating the Golden State Warriors, 109-91, behind 25 points and 10 assists from Tony Parker. Parker, a noted French person from Belgium, was quietly finishing off a pack of Gauloises after the game before he mused about the idea of a falcon he had in his mind. "You know, bird that does not exist, your ability to fly is less impressive to some because of your lack of corporeal form. But to me, nonexistent falcon I just named Tweet-Tweet, you are more impressive, as you at least know you do not exist, where as real falcons contend daily with the illusion of reality." After a brief pause when Tweet-Tweet likely asked Parker for his last Gauloise, as Parker dropped one onto the ground next to him, Parker added, "And that is how I defeat the Warriors. They expect me to move at speeds, or to distribute the basketball. But that's all the secondary creative act. The original creative act was forgetting my own creation. Here, let me imagine a treatise for you to read." Unfortunately, Tweet-Tweet does not read French, and used Parker's imaginary philosophical text as bedding for his imaginary nest.
At this time of year, the fervor of the college-versus-the-NBA debate typically reaches its peak. The professional game may lack a certain emotional draw, but there is no denying that the quality of strategy at basketball’s highest level is substantially better. In a very basic sense, Division I basketball boils down to the search for space. The NBA has typically held a monopoly on the art of spacing the floor, thanks to not only the influence of advanced stats but also the influx of spread pick-and-roll concepts from Europe. In the college game, methods for finding and exploiting this space are not nearly as widespread.
For a number of reasons — younger, less-skilled players; a more compact area inside the arc; fewer rules benefiting offensive players such as defensive three seconds — college basketball has a lot of trouble reproducing the refined play of the NBA. The teams that can pull this off are difficult to beat, especially if their style of play is carried out by players with NBA-level talent. Since inserting Mitch McGary into the starting lineup at the beginning of the NCAA tournament, the Michigan Wolverines have become one of those teams.
The 20-year-old freshman’s presence has allowed head coach John Beilein to (somewhat slowly) identify that his team can be an unstoppable force when it spreads the floor with dead-eye shooters like Tim Hardaway Jr. and Nik Stauskas and runs pick-and-rolls featuring McGary and another NBA-caliber talent, guard Trey Burke. Even though freshman forward Glenn Robinson III isn’t nearly as menacing a threat from beyond the arc as Hardaway or Stauskas — he’s shooting just 33.3 percent on the season — the Wolverines still have the perfect personnel to maximize space on the offensive end of the floor.
The Sweet 16 continues tonight with another slate of intriguing games that promise to be unpredictable. Luckily for all you gamblers out there, I’m here to guarantee that the following five things will happen:
1. Florida will destroy Florida Gulf Coast
Just imagine what the past four days have been like for Florida Gulf Coast’s players and coaches. Since FGCU became the first 15-seed to advance to the Sweet 16, every media outlet in the country wants a piece of these guys. The players have become rock stars on campus, and at least one fan has gotten an FGCU tattoo that I’m sure they’ll never regret. The Eagles’ egos have probably (and understandably) swollen to unprecedented heights. I wouldn’t be surprised if instead of practicing this week, they just watched highlights of their first two tournament games and congratulated each other for being awesome. This isn’t meant to be criticism. If I were in their shoes, I wouldn’t even show up to play Florida because I’d be too busy partying on the beach and trying to convince girls to come home with me by telling them, “You probably saw me on TV beating Georgetown.”
Andrew Wiggins, for those unfamiliar with his work, is the Canadian basketball sensation who spent this season as the Gatorade West Virginia Player of the Year at Huntington Prep. He still has yet to make a decision on where he'll attend school (for six months), but I'd say this 2:55 puts him firmly next to Jadeveon Clowney among candidates for bypassing those pesky NCAA rules. If you don't have a free three minutes, skip to the 2:17 mark. I would describe what happens — if I had any idea how.
In case you were murdered on the steps of some forum or another Friday, here's what you missed in sports this weekend:
The NCAA tournament field is set with Kansas, Indiana, Louisville, and Gonzaga your four top seeds for March Madness. Expect upsets this year, as Louisville, despite being named the top overall seed, was drawn into the presumptive "group of death," featuring such dangerous teams as Duke, St. Louis, and Michigan State. Also, Gonzaga faces a potentially tough early round game against Pittsburgh oh, god, I'm talking myself into it who, based on advanced statistics, could actually be a slight favorite over the Zags DON'T DO IT; DON'T PICK PITTSBURGH making Pittsburgh my upset special of the tournament NOOOOOOOOOOOOO.
Surprisingly omitted from the top line of the NCAA Tournament were the Miami Heat, who won their 22nd consecutive game Sunday, beating the Toronto Raptors, 108-91. "Who needs this NCAA crap," Miami forward LeBron James said after the game, before teammate Shane Battier handed him an economic study on the long-term earning effects of college educations that he had co-authored during the offseason with Duke economics professor Arnaud Maurel.
Confession time: I have a bad relationship with GIFs. I'm 100 percent alone on this one, I know, especially among young Internet sports types. But to me, GIFs are like "Harlem Shake" videos — hilarious visual gag at first, until you become so inundated that you go numb and begin to hate the person who bought you your first computer and sent you on this horrible, soul-killing journey into the heart of the Internet. (Important note: This is for comedy GIFs only it doesn't go for the ones that are just meant to show a sweet dunk, a great goal, or any of the other sincere uses of the form.)
Watching a GIF, I get the weird sense that I'm being manipulated, as though I'm laughing begrudgingly at a stand-up comedian whose only bit is to hit himself in the face with a baking pan. The endless repetition is supposed to be what gives the image its humor, but something about it drives me crazy. It's like we're making snark-commodities out of human moments. (Actually, pretend I just said something along the same lines, but less pretentious.)
This is my only soapbox. I only care about destroying the GIF culture. But after all that big talk, I have to admit that I still laugh at the really good ones that transcend the medium, like Ben McLemore dancing. And the reason I'm mentioning it now is that I violated my own principles and yeah, made a GIF. I couldn't help it:
I know I should have stuck to my guns, but the way the cameraman went into soft focus on Kelly and readjusted to the fan doing the White Raven arms — it's like he was begging me to make a GIF. He was my serpent, and his comic shot was the forbidden apple. I hope this isn't the start of a slippery slope, but in three months you'll probably find me lying face down in a dark Internet cafe, dead from a GIF overdose.
In case you were out stocking up on discounted Swedish meatballs, here's what you missed in sports on Monday.
George Karl's Denver Nuggets continued their torrid offensive play as they beat the Los Angeles Lakers at home, 119-108, to deny the Lakers a chance to get back to .500. After the game, Kobe Bryant was all smiles, joking around with teammates and coaches in the locker room. When asked about his cheery demeanor, Bryant said, "I'm so glad you asked. You see, I enjoy losing to Coach Karl in the regular season because it reminds me of the last time I lost a postseason series to him back in, hmmm, I can't remember when. He's been coaching my whole career, though, so I'm sure he must have beaten me once in the postseason. No? No." Bryant then pulled a microphone out of his waistband and dropped it on the ground.
First, I wanted to tell you that I'll be calling anyone who reads this column a "Shuffle-uffagus." It seemed like the coolest choice.
Second, I have to report that I've been on a golf course all weekend — watching and reporting on the action down in Arizona — so I watched exactly zero college games. I promise you this is the last time it will happen this year; the quick break from my season-long game face is over, and it's time to finish strong. But since I didn't watch any games, I won't be attempting any analysis. Instead, I'll count down the top 10 games happening this week. Please note that this is a Monday-Friday joint. Last week, people got upset that I didn't include Syracuse-Georgetown, even though that game was on a Saturday and I specifically said week, not weekend. So be forewarned, all right? We'll do the top 10 weekend games on Friday.
In case you were busy fixating on that piece of popcorn stuck between your molars, here's what you missed in sports on Monday.
The San Antonio Spurs took down the Bulls in Chicago, 103-89, despite missing their trio of future Hall of Famers, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker. When asked about the challenge his team faced, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said, "It doesn't matter; I could wring 40 wins in the NBA out of the San Antonio Silver Stars. Seriously, I started some French guy named Nando de Colo at the point today. None of our scouts had ever heard of him. Apparently, he's a friend of Tony's. They met at a Parisian falafel stand last winter, debated the nature of existence until 6 in the morning over a pack of Gauloises and three bottles of Malbec, before deciding that we're just shadows of an unforgiving god who vomited our spirits into this hellhole we call Earth. Whatever. Tony tells me to sign him up; guy's never even heard of basketball before, but apparently he's a hell of a freestyle walker, and in our system, he gets seven assists in his first start." Popovich then offered to play any of the reporters in the room at small forward against the Cavaliers to prove his point, but there were no takers.
The Charlotte Bobcats ended the Boston Celtics' seven-game winning streak with a 94-91 home win. Byron Mullens powered the Bobcats' upset with 25 points and 18 rebounds. Celtics forward Kevin Garnett was apoplectic after the game, saying, "Who let Nowitzki come down to Charlotte and wear some Mullens jersey so he could clown on KG? Y'all know I got the best sense of smell on this team, and something here was stinking to the high heavens." Garnett then broke into the Bobcats' locker room and started yelling "Sprechen sie Deutsch" at Mullens in a hapless effort to secure some sort of confession.
On a day with trade rumors swirling around the team, the Brooklyn Nets got a huge conference road win over Indiana in overtime, 89-84. "Everyone was a little on edge with all the speculation, but for some reason, I'm kind of used to it," said Nets forward Kris Humphries, who was ineffective in limited minutes and is rumored to be included in proposed deals with Atlanta and Charlotte. "Relatively speaking, this media attention seems pretty nice."
Marquette fell at Georgetown in a battle of soon-to-be Catholic 7 rivals. The game was decided late when all the players huddled at midcourt and deemed Georgetown the most prepared to be a communicative vessel for God. The referees then released a could of white smoke into the Verizon Center, which activated the sprinkler system and caused the game to be called with a final score of 63-55.
Kansas ended its three-game skid with an 83-62 win over in-state rival Kansas State. Ben McLemore had 30 points for the Jayhawks, and center Jeff Withey broke Greg Ostertag's school record for career blocks. "I view Greg as a bit of an idol," Withey said after the game. "I, too, wish to one day play center in the NBA, establish myself as a bona fide quality defensive player, sign a massive contract, and immediately stop trying. Also, I fully expect Glenn Robinson III to do something like this to me in the tournament this year."
Michael Vick renegotiated his deal with the Philadelphia Eagles, and will join new head coach Chip Kelly as the Eagles attempt to bounce back from a disappointing four-win season. Philadelphia fan Burt Gortowski reacted with uncharacteristic calm to the news, as he decided to only throw one rock through Kelly's window as a show of support for the new coach. "I think that Vick's game could work coming out of Kelly's blur offense," Gortowski said as he picked through the "throwing pile" of empty Yuengling bottles and rocks that he keeps in his backyard, "but just in case he doesn't, I don't want to be the one guy who didn't throw a rock through Chip's window. How would I be able to show my face around the Wawa?"
Liverpool squandered a number of scoring opportunities, including a Steven Gerrard penalty, before conceding twice to fall to West Bromwich Albion, 2-0, at Anfield. West Brom keeper Ben Foster, who had seven saves in the win, said after the match, "Liverpool is one of the biggest clubs in the Premier League, and a real threat to get back into the Champions League, so you know you have to bring your top game …" before collapsing in a heap of laughter. "Oh man," Foster continued, "I almost kept it together for that one. No, but seriously, Stewart Downing wasn't nearly as bad as I expected, so I did have to try almost all match long."
Kobe Bryant took to Twitter to admonish one of his fans (@PacSmoove) for calling a fellow Lakers fan "gay." Kobe went on to say, "If you really want to hurt someone with words, you can't be homophobic. I learned that lesson the hard way; it's wrong and only makes you look ignorant. What you have to do is get personal, learn about your foe, what they care about, and what they're ashamed of. Then you'll be ready to hurt people the way your high school girlfriend Michelle hurt you when she made out with your best friend on the way to junior prom. The way it hurt you when your dog Patches got real sick and died after you accidentally let it eat a piece of your birthday cake and you cried and cried and cried. The way it hurt you when your mom said your sister Kelly was her favorite kid, and that you'd never amount to anything. Then and only then will you, @PacSmoove, or should I say, 17-year-old Michael McFarlane, be ready to play with the Mamba."
The final prize on the MLB free agent market, All-Star center fielder Michael Bourn signed a four-year, $48 million contract with the Cleveland Indians. Bourn, a client of super-agent Scott Boras, said he chose the Indians because of "the wonderful town of Cleveland? Are you kidding me? It was the money! No one else was going over $30 million in this market. Do you know what you can buy with $18 million? Art, you dumbass. This painting by Gerhard Richter. Look at it! I own that now. Best $16 million I've ever spent. Plus, I'll still have two million "Boras dollars" left over to get this work by Richard Serra installed next to my hedge maze. Yeah, I have a hedge maze."
I'm having a hard time believing it's already February, gang. I know it's a bad weekend to complain, since the football fans of the world are just hours from hearing the last Super Bowl whistle and confronting the awful offseason, but I can feel March approaching, and it's happening too fast. Once it arrives, we'll all be too deep in the Madness to get nostalgic or fixate on the end, but the start of February is a dirty little reminder by whoever invented the calendar (Ben Franklin, probably) that college basketball is streaking past like UCLA on the break, even while winter plods on like the UVA offense. It's also a reminder that we've already failed to uphold our New Year's resolutions, and our lives are spiraling into failure and poverty. But as long as there's a game on, I can live with that.
Luckily, the shortest and supposedly most depressing month of the year is stocked with college basketball, and the first weekend kicks off with what might be the best regular season game of the season. Let's count it down.
In case you were busy explaining to your family that you aren't a "doomsday prepper," you're just ready for anything, here's what you missed in sports on Monday.
Tiger Woods secured his first victory of 2013, easing to a four shot win at the Farmers Open at Torrey Pines. "Winning big tournaments — nothing's better. This is the best feeling in the world," Woods said, before snapping a rubber band on his wrist really, really hard. "Yup, no feeling in the world is better than this one."
In case you were out brainstorming baby names with Shakira and Gerard Pique last night, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday.
American teenager Sloane Stephens upset Serena Williams at the Australian Open in an exhilarating, injury-plagued three-set thriller, 3-6, 7-5, 6-4. As the final shot was struck just before the clock struck midnight in New York, a hirsute figure scaled the walls of Arthur Ashe Stadium at the USTA National Tennis Center. "American tennis is dead! Long live American Tennis! American Tennis is dead! Long live American Tennis!" Was the figure that of Pete Sampras? Was it? Who could possibly know? (It was.)
In case you were out getting arrested while rehearsing your Les Misérables flash mob, here's what you missed in sports on Monday.
The Chicago Bulls held the Atlanta Hawks to 20 first-half points en route to a 97-58 win in Chicago. It was the fewest points the Hawks had scored in a game since 1955, the year the shot clock was introduced, when they scored just 57 against the Boston Celtics. "I can't believe you clowns," joked Bulls coach and amateur insult comic Tom Thibodeau after the game. "One fewer basket, and we would've really stuck it to that old nincompoop Red Auerbach. He hasn't been had that bad since someone replaced one of his stogies with an exploding cigar. I guess you kidders will just have to win nine championships now to make it up to me. Am I right? Now which of you buffoons wants to get silly and see this ol' wisecracker work out some new material down at the Chuckle Bin?" There were no immediate takers, but Thibodeau thought he could get Kirk Hinrich to bite if he picked up the tab on the club's two-drink minimum.
Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski has been ruled out for the remainder of the postseason after reinjuring his broken arm in New England's game against Houston on Sunday. "I thought it was worth playing through it, and Coach thought playing was the right choice." Gronkowski said to the media. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick quickly interjected, "Thinks. Not thought. Coach thinks playing is the right choice."
In case you were out doing some very last-minute ballot-box stuffing for the People's Choice Awards, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday.
Kansas avoided an upset in their Big-12 opener beating Iowa State, 97-89, in overtime, as freshman sensation Ben McLemore banked in a game-tying 3-pointer at the end of regulation. "When it left my hand, I actually kind of called 'bank,'" said McLemore in his postgame interview, using the same rhetorical technique he did in ninth grade when he failed to convince his friends that he "actually kind of got to second base" with his sleepaway camp girlfriend, Mindy Williams.
New Mexico edged out UNLV, 65-60, at home in a matchup of ranked Mountain West foes. "I heard that the Pit was a tough place to play, but, man, I don't see how they can get away with that," complained UNLV freshman Anthony Bennett. "That court was just concrete, and like 30 feet deep, and there were no fans or hoops or anything. It was just, like, a bunch of snakes. I don't know how they came up with that final score, but I'm surprised we kept it that close. I'm terrified of snakes. Unless, maybe my terror scored points? The game we were playing certainly wasn't basketball. All I'm saying is that this better not affect our seeding come tournament time."