Tuesday, April 8, 2008

"Who likes to rock the party? We like to rock the party..."

Championship game thoughts: Now that was fun. A few quick points.

1. Well...one thing I neglected to mention last night is that there was a decent chance that, for one of these teams, I would look like a wizard. That team, it turns out, was Memphis (btw, sorry about that whole "you'll never be a winner" thing, Bill Self. Now that you've won a national title, my new thing to make fun of you about is that you're probably going to--stupidly--bail on Kansas for slightly (OK, a fair bit) more money at Oklahoma State. Very principled.) (Although, the more I think about, the less I blame Self and the more I blame OSU for this. $10 million for a college basketball coach? Really?? I know you've got rich benefactors, but isn't there something better you can do with that cash, like, I don't know, improving on your less-than-stellar third-tier national university status? No? Not sexy enough?). Moving on.

Anyway, here's what I said about Memphis last Thursday:

3. Memphis: Wake me up when they shoot 79% from the line (they were a combined 56 of 71 versus MSU and Texas) in a game where they're not up by twenty the entire time.

and from my initial tournament preview three weeks ago:

3. Memphis (1): great, great team (even if analysts are making the Dribble-Drive Motion [DDM] out to be the second coming of string theory...it's not THAT complicated, folks). I'm still concerned about their FT shooting (this was not assuaged by their struggles down the stretch against Tennessee). Look here, John Calipari, you can argue until you're Memphis blue in the face that improving your nearly-last-in-the-nation free throw percentage from 65% to 70% would only increase your per game average by 1.5 points (or that you shot 75% from the line during the joke of a conference tournament you guys were never in danger of losing for a second), but you still don't seem to get it: when you're up 2 (or down 1) with 8 seconds to play, this particular weakness makes you very vulnerable. Making it seem otherwise--and not to get too TMQ here--seems to be almost tempting fate. We'll see.

Ahem...nailed it. Memphis was 12 of 19 from the line (63%) for the game and an ugly 1 for 5 (which should really be 1 for 6, since missing the front end of a one-and-one should really count as 0-2) in the final 72 seconds. Now, I'm not going to gloat any more (than I already have) because, had they made their shots down the stretch, all I would've said was "well, it looks like they dodged a bullet with their shaky shooting from the line." Also, despite my misgivings about this Memphis squad, I feel really terrible for them. Surrendering a nine point lead with two minutes to go is just plain shocking.

2. I know I'm going to sound like Bill Simmons here, but the continued fact that there's no sideline reporter for the championship game is inexcusable.* Why not throw the sexy (annual freebie, Carrie!) Sam Ryan into the mix to report on any number of the following issues? Like:

a. why did Joey Dorsey come out of the game with 3:36 to go? I know he had four fouls, but, hell, the game was almost over;

b. what was going on with Derrick Rose for the first 25 minutes and the last 6? No one can convince me he was 100% last night; Why didn't Self play Sasha Kahn in the second half?;

c. did Memphis consider fouling when up 3 with under 10 seconds to go? I think this is a gutless move, personally (and if this becomes common practice, as Simmons apparently wants it to, I'd urge officials to call this an intentional foul...because it is precisely that), but did it cross Calipari's mind?;

d. could someone please explain Kansas's entire second half offense? Before their torrid comeback, they scored 18 points in 18 minutes in the second half. What happened to their low post game?;

e. what was UNC Coach Roy Williams thinking sitting behind the Kansas bench wearing a Jayhawks sweater (or, maybe more to the point, what UNC was thinking)? Now, I realize he coached at Kansas for fifteen years, but: (a) he completely fucked them over in taking the UNC job, and (b) they beat you less than 48 hours ago!

* please note that the infinitely less interesting women's final that I'm watching now on ESPN does have a sideline reporter (the decidedly less sexy Rebecca Lobo). Come on!

** Further update: two sideline reporters.

3. Before I go on....Danny and the Miracles? Gayest name for a championship team ever. It's not even close.

4. Billy Packer continues to be a fucking idiot. The litany:

a. his bizarre belief that all of Memphis's free throws woes stemmed from shooters backing way upon releasing the ball ("watch his feet!"), but then never backing this assertion up with a single replay (hmmm...)

b. diagramming bullshit things on the telestrator (like Taggart simply out-running a KU player to grab a rebound on a FT late in the game) but trying to make them seem profound;

c. essentially ignoring the DDM, even though it was the key to their success this season.

d. maintaining that Derrick Rose's three-pointer, which was later (correctly) ruled a two changed everything, essentially implying that, had it stayed a three, Kansas would've lost by a point. Riiiight, because I'm certain that everything would've gone down the exact same way in the remaining 4:06. (I love when football writers--mainly Gregg Easterbrook--do this, too. As in: "had the Bills just run more clock on 3rd and 6 with seven minutes to go, the Broncos wouldn't have had time for their last minute FG." Whatever you say.)

e. effusively praising Rose for said banked in jumper as the shot clock expired as if he intended to do just that even though it was clearly a spastic fluke...and shame on the usually far more sanguine Jim Nantz for kowtowing there ("THE SHOT OF THE TOURNAMENT!").

f. not calling Dorsey out for being virtually invisible (26 minutes, 6 points, 2 rebounds, 5 fouls).

g. to blathering on about how the reason a Memphis alley-oop failed was that the dunker didn't come in at a 45 degree angle (no, Billy, just a bad pass).

h. to being borderline hysterical in praising the refs late in the game that they were correct in not calling a T on Douglas-Roberts after he spiked the ball (informing us that he was merely "mad at himself"--oh, ok, I didn't realize players submitted their diaries before the refs decided what to call).

i. never once mentioning whether it would've been shrewd for Memphis to (a) call a timeout when up 3 with ten seconds to go, or (b) foul before Chalmers got off his three. We had to wait nearly half an hour, for the post-game show back in the studio, for someone to bring it up (in fairness: Nantz was guilty of this too).

j. and talking endlessly over Kansas's late-game run (again, this is also on Nantz).

k. insisting--seemingly at random--that teams should/should not shoot a 3 with time running down. Seriously, though, is he flipping a coin in the booth for these? As Misha points out, there's no rhyme or reason to his strategy.

I'm positive I'm leaving stuff out, too. And while we're here...

8 Other Dumb Billy Packer Moments Unrelated to Last Night:

2007: incessantly hypes Greg Oden during the National Championship game, all but ignoring the obvious actual major story: mainly, Florida was going for (and eventually would get) their second consecutive title.

2007: uses the expression "fags out" while being interviewed by Charlie Rose. He later, truthfully, points out that he was going by an older definition of the word (roughly synonymous with "tire"), but then inexcusably states: "I can assure you I will use that phrase again and I won't think twice about it."

Late in a heated (but already decided) Duke-UNC game, UNC's Tyler Hansbrough has his nose broken by Duke's Gerald Henderson. Henderson is ejected. Long-time Duke apologist Packer, upon viewing the replay, repeatedly states that Henderson did not do this intentionally (true) and thus shouldn't be ejected (not true). Yes, but...he broke his nose. Inadvertent or not, the foul was hard enough to warrant being tossed.

On Selection Sunday, Packer loudly voices his opinion that George Mason University (a 11-seed), has absolutely no business being the tournament. GMU promptly knocks off North Carolina, Michigan State, and UConn on their way to the Final Four.

Packer criticizes St. Joe's receiving a 1-seed in the tournament, even though the Hawks had lost only one game and were the feel-good story of the year. St. Joe's advances to the Elite 8, but misses out on the Final Four on a last second three by Oklahoma State.

Famously calls Allen Iverson a "tough monkey" while announcing a Georgetown-Villanova game.

Questions the credentials of the undefeated (and Larry Bird-led) Indiana State Sycamores, who had received a 1-seed. ISU advances to the National Championship game before falling to Michigan State.

Packer declares that Lincoln, having not won a single electoral vote in the South, isn't really the people's choice and is doomed to be a terrible President.

I think I say this every year, but this may be the first time in print: I've never seen a college basketball announcer who enjoys the game less than Billy Packer. The fact that he's the face of the tournament's TV presence on an annual basis (he's now called over 100 Final Four games, a stunning 30+ year run) makes my heart hurt. It really does.

If listening to basketball on the radio were still free (it's not) and not on a tape delay (it is), I would turn off the sound on my TV for the final three college games of the year and listen to the dulcet tones of the Westwood One crew in an instant. In an instant.

5. Giving credit where credit is due, John Calipari--whom I dislike for a variety of reasons--was magnanimous in defeat (even though CBS totally tried to cop out by not addressing the FT thing at the end).

6. Where does this game rank among title games? Good question! Let's work backwards here. The first championship game I watched live was in 1988 (Kansas over Oklahoma--the aforementioned "Danny and the Miracles" squad). Of those 20 games (not including this year), I think only three of them truly qualify as classics. In order:

#1. 1989: Michigan over Seton Hall (goes to OT, Rumeal Robinson knocks down 2 FTs with 3 secs to go).
#2. 1993: UNC over Michigan (the Webber TO game)
#3. 1997: Arizona over Kentucky (84-79 in OT--just an incredibly exciting game.)

and the second tier would be:

#4. 2003: Syracuse over Kansas
#5. 2005: UNC over Illinois
#6. 1994: Arkansas over Duke (very underrated game)
#7. 1999: UConn over Duke
#8. 1988: Kansas over Oklahoma

I'm not quite sure if last night's game belongs at the bottom of tier one (very exciting, last-second shot in regulation) or the top of tier two (kind of a sloppy game, OT was an anti-climax). I'm leaning towards the latter. Either way, let's put it at #4. Thoughts?

7. Finally...could the BCS look any worse than the day after a wickedly compelling NCAA title game? I don't think so.

OK...much as I'm tempted to live blog (for hilarity's sake) the women's final tonight (on the Score at midnight, people), this is where I'll end my tourney coverage. Let's do this again real soon--how does next March work for everyone?

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