Before this week the only thing I knew about the NBA draft combine was that Kevin Durant couldn’t bench 185 pounds at the event in 2007. Then, during Game 6 of the Spurs-Warriors series, Jeff Van Gundy mentioned that “you have to be a basketball junkie” to watch NBA TV’s coverage of the combine. I took Van Gundy’s remark as a personal challenge and decided to hang out in my basement all weekend to soak in all six hours of televised combine action. Spoiler alert: This proved to be a terrible decision.
I’m guessing you didn’t subject yourselves to the same torture, so I took it upon myself to provide a running diary. Here’s what you missed:
This year, like every year, I found myself thinking about the NCAA tournament during the first round of the NBA playoffs. It’s no secret that I love March Madness so much that I use the event as a bookmark for other memories in my life.
(For example: If you were to ask me how old I was when I broke my leg, my thought process would be: “Well, it happened the year Rick Pitino won the national championship at Kentucky, which was 1996, so I guess I must’ve been 8 or 9.")
What might be a secret, however, is that I think the NCAA tournament is far from perfect, and there are aspects of the NBA playoffs that I wish were more common in the tourney. With that in mind, throughout the rest of the playoffs, I will be conducting an intense debate with myself — March Madness or the NBA postseason.
Today, I start with one reason why the NBA playoffs are better than the NCAA tournament.
With only three games left in the season, by now you should know that betting on college basketball is borderline insane. But, on the off chance you’re still throwing money at an unpredictable sport that’s in the midst of one of its most unpredictable seasons, here are five things I guarantee will happen during the Final Four games. All you have to do now is find a casino that offers any of these as prop bets, then sit back and count your money.
1. CBS will spend a few minutes discussing fired Rutgers coach Mike Rice
I don’t necessarily think CBS shouldn’t talk about Rice, but at this point, what is there to be said that hasn’t already been said a million times? Who in their right mind has an opinion that isn’t “Mike Rice is a scumbag, Rutgers athletic director Tim Pernetti is a coward, and I still don’t understand why Rutgers is joining the Big Ten”? It’s the one topic in sports that literally everybody agrees on. I guess I could see Charles Barkley making a joke about how players are soft these days, but it’s much more likely that he would go with something along the lines of “If Rice had tried that on me, I would’ve punched that knucklehead.” Whatever the case, I’m predicting Greg Gumbel will bring the topic up, and each guy in the studio will try to explain in his own way how Rice’s actions were abhorrent.
What better way to celebrate the upcoming Final Four than to bust out another mailbag? I again got a ton of great e-mails, and after sifting through all the ones that were some variation of “I’m a Kansas/Ohio State fan, and I need you to help talk me off the ledge,” I was left with these. Let’s talk a little college basketball, shall we?
While watching The Heartbreak Kid Shawn Michaels cut a promo to hype the Brock/HHH match, I couldn't help but wonder about his self-proclaimed nickname of "Mr. WrestleMania.” Even in professional wrestling, you would think one would have to have an outstanding record to warrant such a lofty nickname. But his record is 6-11, and this includes his matches while he served as the captain of the Rockers.
Is he only Mr. WrestleMania because he has competed at 17 of them? Surely it isn't because of his win-loss record.
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.”
I got a ton of e-mails this week and most of them were worth publishing, but I decided to limit the number to 16 in honor of the upcoming Sweet 16. Let’s get down to business.
Who do you see as the favorites to win it all, and why? Also, who has disappointed you? Between Florida Gulf Coast, Oregon, and La Salle, which team is your favorite Cinderella story? Also, who do you think has the best chance of going far and why?
Never mind. I guess I’ll answer 19 questions.
Louisville is the favorite right now, with Duke and Florida close behind. They’re the only teams that have been at the top of the polls all season and also looked dominant in their first two games. The obvious omission is Michigan, which has been highly ranked all year and just thrashed VCU. But I want to see how the Wolverines handle Kansas before I jump back on their bandwagon. The VCU win was impressive, but the Rams' style of play is possibly the worst approach against Michigan. If the Wolverines dispatch the Jayhawks, they’ll be favorites, too. But if they lose, I would have a hard time considering them contenders for the national title.
The obvious disappointments are Gonzaga and Georgetown. Both have histories of getting bounced early, but I thought this year would be different because of Kelly Olynyk and Otto Porter. I was wrong.
Finally, Oregon is the best double-digit seed remaining, La Salle has the easiest path to the Final Four of the three Cinderellas, and Florida Gulf Coast is the underdog most likely to say “Screw it, let’s go get shitfaced and party on the beach” after it loses.
Both Butler-Bucknell and Arizona-Belmont will be decided on the final play
Butler won by 12 and Arizona won by 17. Then again, these games technically weren’t over until after the final play, so technically I was correct (which is the best kind of correct).
At some point, Gus Johnson will trend on Twitter
Somebody get Darryl Worley back in the studio, because I’m starting to think we need him to call out America for forgetting about Gus.
(Shout-out to Grantland’s four country music fans who will get that joke.)
#Haith will also be trending
[***WAIT FOR MIZZOU GAME***]
Trey Burke will spoil the Nate Wolters coming-out party
Burke was just 2-for-12, but Wolters went 3-for-14. He finished with just 10 points and his team lost by 15. I’m officially on the board.
Before 2 p.m. EDT, the annoying commercial of this year’s tournament will have already revealed itself
I can’t tell if the commercials this year aren’t annoying or if they’re all just equally annoying. Either way, no clear-cut favorite has emerged. Yet.
The NCAA tournament is finally here! Who’s ready to lose money gambling, find out that the person in your office who knows the least about sports still knows more than you do, and complain that your school’s coach can’t “win the big one” after your team loses a heartbreaker? Well, ready or not, the most unpredictable sporting event in the world is about to begin!
But even though March Madness by its nature defies prediction, I’m here to offer five things that are certain to happen during the first day of action.
America rarely ever gets things wrong. It’s a country that's brought the world professional wrestling, the KFC Double Down, Kenny Powers, and America. But sometimes — daylight saving time, Taylor Hicks, pull-ups being included in the requirements for winning the Presidential Physical Fitness Award — America gets it horribly wrong. It pains me to say it, but Christian Laettner beating Tyler Hansbrough in a landslide to claim the title of the most hated college basketball player in the last 30 years is one of those times.
“But,” you’re probably saying, “Laettner winning this contest was obvious from the start. I’m not even sure why you guys bothered putting together the bracket. If Laettner had gone to North Carolina or Kentucky, there’s a good chance that they’d be the most hated team in college basketball. The man is almost solely responsible for Duke’s reputation, which is why if I were putting together a starting five of the most hated players in the last 30 years, Laettner would be all five.”
Look, I get it. Laettner's easy to hate. If you don’t hate him for being a pretty boy preppy who still somehow managed to be the best player in college basketball, you hate him for stomping on Aminu Timberlake’s chest. You hate him because of The Shot, or you hate him because this picture exists. All of these are valid reasons to hate the guy. And honestly, I might hate him, too, for all of these reasons. Except that I don’t hate him because one important thing trumps all of that: Christian Laettner was a benchwarmer for the greatest basketball team ever assembled, which makes him a demigod to guys like me.
Local radio stations are playing Christmas music, the Chiefs are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, and Dick Vitale went into an on-air rant that ended with him talking about Barbra Streisand’s high school classmates. This can only mean one thing: College basketball is officially back!
In case you missed the opening weekend of the greatest sport in the world, and even if you didn’t, here were the three takeaways that stood out to me.
It’s two in the morning on a Wednesday and your alarm is set to go off in three hours because your boss wants you in the office by six. You’ve been in a deep sleep since 11 and are happily dreaming of scantily clad women surrounding you on a tropical island. Suddenly your paradise disappears as you're awoken to "Rock and Roll All Nite" playing in the distance. You’re now wide awake, staring at the ceiling, and fuming because you realized what has happened — your neighbor has woken you up by blaring Kiss while working on his car in the middle of the night. For the second time this week, your neighbor has woken you up by blaring Kiss while working on his car in the middle of the night.
Close your eyes as you read this and try to picture in your mind what I describe to you. Got ‘em closed? All right, now imagine a sport that basically combines all of your favorite sports and sort of resembles that Powerball game from American Gladiators. What you’re imagining seems like a pretty kick-ass sport, right? OK, now open your eyes and grab a towel because you’re about to be so stunned that you’ll spit your coffee all over your trousers: This sport actually exists, and it goes by the name of handball.
This has not been a great year for basketball purists, otherwise known as the old guys at the sports bar who complain about players' tattoos and use corny phrases like “he tried putting a little too much mustard on that hot dog” when someone throws an errant behind-the-back pass. In April, Kentucky coach John Calipari’s “one-and-done” approach finally worked, as the Wildcats won their eighth national title on the backs of mostly freshmen and sophomores, despite the prevailing thought that it takes chemistry and experience to win championships in college basketball. And now, almost three months later, the Miami Heat are poised to win their first NBA championship since Pat Riley held up two middle fingers to the rest of the NBA in the summer of 2010 with his “get three max-contract guys on the team and figure out the rest later” strategy, which critics said wouldn't work because the Heat were too top-heavy and the egos of their three All-Stars would almost certainly clash. (Oh, and let’s not forget about that dadgum girl from Baylor ruining the women’s game this year with all her hocus-pocus slam dunks and what have you.)
Yes, Kentucky and Miami redefined what it takes to win basketball championships this season, and the landscape of the sport as a whole might not ever be the same because of it. But while many will point to Calipari's and LeBron James's first respective championships as proof that the Mayans were right, and will complain that basketball as we know it is gone forever, I, for one, am embracing the change.
Thanks to a brilliant second-half comeback and some questionable officiating, on Wednesday night the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the San Antonio Spurs in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals to advance to the NBA Finals for the first time since Clay Bennett pooped on the city of Seattle and moved the franchise to Oklahoma City. For many, the game was significant because it served as a changing of the guard in the Western Conference, seeing as how in consecutive rounds of this year’s playoffs, the Thunder and their young nucleus of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden (23, 23, and 22 years old, respectively) knocked out the three teams that have dominated the conference over the past 13 years.
But for me, the most intriguing story line is that 37-year-old Derek Fisher, who is set to make his eighth career NBA Finals appearance in an attempt to win his sixth championship, is either more important than he’s ever been given credit for or is truly one lucky sumbitch.
Despite Kobe Bryant’s 42 points, the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 5 of their series on Monday night, ending the Lakers’ season and setting up a matchup with the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals. If you didn’t catch Monday’s game, here’s five things you missed.