Monthly Archives: December 2013

Askia Booker for Three

I’m not even going to tell say I told you so. I won’t remind you that I’ve sung the importance of his testicular fortitude for a year-and-a-half now because as Askia Booker euro-stepped past that Sherron Collins-lookin’ bulldog of a KU #0, there wasn’t another player on the floor prepared to make that play. Not NBA bound stars Spencer Dinwiddie or Andrew Wiggins. Not Josh Scott or Xavier Johnson or Tad Boyle. You don’t euro-step past a defender with two-seconds remaining in a tense and climactic ball game unless ONIONS.

While a lot of the Sabatino Chen three-pointer in Tucson narrative has resurfaced, I see few similarities beyond the timing. Chen wound up with the ball by utter mistake. He heaved a basketball he wasn’t supposed to be holding at a rim he wasn’t sure was there from behind a line he’d shot behind less than twenty times. Sabatino Chen was not supposed to take that shot.

Askia Booker was born to make that shot.

Or at least he believes he was and that’s all that matters. “It felt really good,” he’d say crammed next to ESPN anchors and coeds. Damn right it felt good and he’d go on to talk about the confidence instilled in him by his coaches and teammates. Because when you fire up shots the way Askia does, you’d better have the support of those guys. They love him because he’s not afraid to take those shots. Sans conscience, Askia Booker gives Colorado swagger. Dinwiddie and Scott provide credibility and Xavier Johnson and Wesley Gordon bring muscle. Jaron Hopkins, Tre’shaun Fletcher, and Dustin Thomas offer depth. Ben Mills has a scholarship.

But Booker provides that intangible characteristic of not giving a f***.

And who doesn’t need that every once in a while? Who doesn’t need that as your team is exhaustively holding off the sixth best team in the country who calls your arena the western version of their own? The Keg has been a Kansas house for years and it had every reason to remain Phog-West as Perry Ellis bullied his way into the lane for the tie. Xavier Johnson was so ill prepared for the immediacy and magnitude of those two points that he nearly inbounded the ball to the Jayhawks; giving them possession 30-feet from their rim. But Johnson didn’t quite give it up. Tad collected his team and ensured the ball would be in the hands of the one man he knew feared nothing of this moment.

Askia Booker was born to make that shot.

Or at least he believes he was and that’s all that matters. Tad Boyle knows this so he let his scrappy off-guard do his thing and he did it and then everyone else came to join him.

This isn’t a resolution. Booker still has his flaws and may shoot Colorado out of – or dangerously close to – a few games. But as I said a few weeks ago: Askia Booker is the hero Colorado needs and deserves.

Askia Booker knew he was going to make that shot. It’s all that matters.

Sean Miller is Ranked #1 for the First Time

On March 13, 2003, Sean Miller was an assistant coach for the Xavier Musketeers. They were a good team, finishing 26-6 and reaching the second round as a three seed. Soon thereafter Miller became the lead man at Xavier and would continue that success. He’d win 120 games as the head coach there, attend four NCAA tournaments, one sweet sixteen, one elite eight, and win two conference championships. On the week of December 5, 2006, a Miller-coached team cracked their first AP Top-25. His Musketeers were ranked 24th that week. And amongst all of his success, the highest ranking he would achieve at Xavier was seventh.

This morning Sean Miller woke up. He wore his cardinal and navy to work, the colors of a Wildcat and the colors of Lute Olson’s basketball program. It’s a program Miller has made clear is not his own. It’s a brand he’s propagating. He’s also made it clear that he is building his own legacy; an integral fact to the success of any endeavor.

So when Monday’s polls dropped and the first name cited was “Arizona,” it wasn’t news to the cardinal and navy. March 13, 2003 was the last time Arizona wore the wee number. This school has worn that number six times prior and once after the final buzzer. Number one is not new to Arizona. Read a lovely history of the lonely number and Arizona here.

But it’s new to this regime. It’s new to a generation of Wildcats – this player’s program – that has bellied up to the bar and bought extinction a drink only to sober up just soon enough to realize the mistake. This number may be impermanent but it’s here, being worn by your Arizona Wildcats, and it’s Sean Miller’s first time as top dog.

So let’s watch him.

See him in his new skin as the hunted. As I said after his team defeated Duke, this is a different monster he has created. The seven to eight guys he’s running out there each night are the seven to eight guys he’s dreamt of since taking this job. It’s the seven to eight guys that are generating hype and hyperbole like ‘Is this the greatest Arizona team ever?’ And maybe it is? I can’t tell you definitely yes or no and neither can you.

But I can tell you that on Saturday afternoon, with what seemed like #1 all but locked up, the Wildcats struggled. For the first time this season they saw their two best players struggle. Aaron Gordon and Nick Johnson – the rocks of this lineup – would combine to go 6-25 on the whitened afternoon. Arizona yielded 42 points on 64% shooting in the first half to a UNLV team that arrived in Tucson with nothing to lose. Whatever they had was lost to Dixie State and so Roscoe Smith – who’d already stolen Arizona cookies in 2011 as a member of the UConn Huskies – had no qualms in running his mouth at the favorites, “They should be intimidated by us.” He’d finish with 10 points and 6 rebounds. He previously was averaging 13 and 16.

But in their first half as the presumed best, Arizona looked their worst. The stadium was monochromatic for reasons unknown (tired of that gimmick) and the roster, coaches, and stadium were stewing on three days of hype. How was Miller, at the helm of a ship navigating new waters, going to handle all of this?

What would his team do next?

Because to date, he’s been teaching what he’s always taught: how to be a very good basketball team. For four seasons now in the desert we’ve enjoyed just that and been quite pleased with Miller’s teams, his conduct, and his program. He did the same at Xavier. He’s coached many good teams in many different jerseys and earned himself the distinction of being a very good basketball coach. He coaches good teams.

Now he has the best team. More realistically than any good team of his before this, he has a team vying for hats and t-shirts. Unchartered territory.

Have you ever heard of coaches running that drill where their team practices cutting down the nets? They’ll set up ladders, grab the office scissors, and player-by-player hike up there to cut down the nets. Champs. Practice like you play and if you practice like the last man standing, well the thought is pretty soon you will be.

So for now, Arizona and their coach will practice being the best team in the country. It’s a distinction they’d indubitably prefer to wear in April but for now it works. You’re damn right it works. Because you can’t get to where you want to be unless you know what it looks like.

“Being No. 1 is not our end goal but I think when you’re playing with that thought in mind, practices matter, how you play matters … everything we do takes on even more added importance because you’re trying for, in a sense, rarified air to be the No. 1 team in the nation,” said Miller.

But here’s the thing: this group doesn’t know what it looks like. Anything approaching the top spot is news and so with Arizona struggling, yielding all that they did in Saturday’s first twenty minutes, rankings were the least of anyone’s concerns. And then something happened: defense. This team defended its way to victory, allowing just sixteen second-half points; one basket in the final six-minutes. For the game they outrebounded UNLV, 41-29, and collected 44 points in the paint when nothing would fall from distance. The Wildcats collected themselves and went with their strengths. They won the game.

So maybe this is what it looks like? How it feels and what it might be like?

Today, Sean Miller and his Arizona Wildcats are the best team in America.

What will his team do next?

Big Pac-12 Weekend So I Preview it and an Anniversary

I don’t love doing game-by-game previews as there are smarter and better basketball analysts out there. But this weekend is a big one for the Pac. Today also marks the 16th anniversary of my becoming a man. Mazel tov. photo(5)

But enough about me and more about the Conference of Champions. Big weekend.

ASU @ DePaul, Friday 4pm PST –  The Devils are hobbling into this one as they’ve lost two of three and then kicked the hell out of Arizona to host the Pac-12 Football Championship game in which they are a 3 point favorite over Stanford. What the f***. Look for DePaul’s Oliver Purnell to be wearing an oversize light colored suit

Cal @ UCSB, Friday 7pm PST – Both Cal and UCSB ranked lower than my alma mater – UCSD – in a recent list of smart as hell schools. Basically I shouldn’t waste my time here. But I once played 3/5 of the UCSD starting five in pickup and won. So I do care and I want to note that Cal is undefeated when Richard Solomon is in the lineup. He projects to be in tonight’s lineup. Interesting note brought to my attention by @jgisland, these are the lines of UCSB’s games against P-12 opponents in sequential order: -14 at Colorado, -11.5 at UCLA, pick ’em hosting Cal.

UCLA @ Missouri, Saturday 930am PST – UCLA’s first test! They’re heading across the country to play Frank Haith fresh off a five game suspension. Both teams are undefeated and only one is ranked. If you’re not yet on the Zach LaVine train, I suggest getting on board. And while there’s definitively not a Kyle Anderson express train, get on the boat. He’s good. Also, holy Walter White, Missouri.

Arkansas-Pine Bluff @ OSU, Saturday 12pm PST – Arkansas – Pine Bluff isn’t Arkansas – Little Rock which is the birthplace of one of our Presidents? Another fun fact is that the Golden Lions rank 333rd in KenPom which isn’t last! They also yield the 5th worst eFG% to their opponents while Oregon State has the 7th best eFG%. I don’t often gamble, but when I do, I pick OSU in this one. I think?

Kansas @ Colorado, Saturday 1215pm PST – Rock chalk Ralphie oooooeeeee we’ve been anticipating this one in the Keg. No one likes anyone in this one and Andrew Wiggins is a bust. Or has the flu. Or is overrated. Or is Canadian. Whatever the case, Spencer Dinwiddie had to bow out early from last year’s 54-90 contest in Lawrence. Is he a difference maker? Me thinks yes.

Fresno State @ Utah, Saturday 2pm PST – The other day I was talking with the Addicted to Quack guys and I said that Fresno State was a good challenge for Utah because it’s a school we’ve actually heard of. And I wasn’t kidding. The Utes of run out to a 6-1 record with a win over The Evergreen State Geoducks. Read about it. Throw in the Grand Canyon Antelopes coached by Thunder Dan Marjerle and you’ve got a regular RPI buster. Alas, Fresno’s KenPom rating isn’t in the 300s so it should pose some semblance of a challenge. And get to know Delon Wright 15/7/6.

UNLV @ Arizona, Saturday 215pm PST – Arizona is hosting this game as their Whiteout 4.0. Hate is a strong word and I don’t hate this idea but I’m not a huge fan of it. I’m of the “act like you’ve been there before” ilk and Arizona was last there on March 13, 2003 if you know what I’m talking about. Arizona wins this game and you’ll be hearing from me on Monday.

WSU @ Idaho, Saturday 7pm PST – Tabacco Road ain’t got shit on this Cougar-Vandals rivalry. These campuses are 6.7 miles apart. And unlike K vs. Roy you actually have to cross state lines to attend this game. There could be steep legal ramifications to that as I don’t know what the liquor laws are in these respective states. Or other weird laws like the fact that in Idaho: “You may not fish on a camel’s back.” How am I doing in hyping this one?

Washington @ SDSU, Sunday 12pm PST – Boise State head coach Chris Petersen holds up the trophy after his team defeated Texas Christian University (TCU) in the 39th annual Tostitos Fiesta Bowl in Glendale

Oregon @ Mississippi, Sunday 2pm PST – The only thing louder than Marshall Henderson in all of college sport is Oregon’s fashion. Additionally, on the theme of challenges, this will be Oregon’s first big challenge since South Korea and Georgetown. I love it when teams go on the road to face good teams so I’m proud of you, Ducks.

Boston College @ USC, Sunday 4pm PST– Steve Donahue played basketball at Ursinus College. Andy Enfield played basketball at Johns Hopkins University. They are both in the Centennial Conference. Now Donahue is a touch older than Enfield (another point I’m sure Enfield has talked shit about) so they never played one another, but I’m curious how vitriolic and deep the Ursinus Bear-Johns Hopkins Blue Jay rivalry runs.

The DVR Can Wait: Why I’m telling you the score

I enjoy my leisurely activities. I like to play sports and compete in them and I like to be social so I join things like softball and basketball leagues. I’m recreational. And with such comes scheduling and prioritizing of events. I commit to these teams; it’s called pretending to be an adult.

So when one of these ‘prior engagements’ interferes with something like a Wildcats basketball game, I choose – depending on the magnitude of the game as determined by me and the obvious – my commitments. Such was the case last night when Arizona was tipping against Tubby Smith’s Red Raiders while I was teeing off against Old Socks at Moscone #1 in the Marina (beat ’em in a pitcher’s duel, 12-10, in 45-degree weather).

I DVR’d the game and I didn’t care whether the results were shouted, mentioned, streamed across flyover banners, delivered by Amazon drone, or flashing across my Google glass (I don’t have Google glass). This is 2013, about to be 2014, and you are not escaping the news.

There is no don’t ask, gonna DVR rule.

Don’t be that guy who shouts at dinner with his girlfriend that you can’t know what happened in the game because you’re DVR’ing it. Don’t ever be him because in doing such you’re stomping on the very sanctity of fandom. Because being a fan isn’t about shooting lesser fans, it’s about the discussion, debate, conversation. It’s about the collective experience of a game and if you can’t immediately be a part of that collective then you’ve forfeit that immediate right. The world turns and you can garner your opinions of how the game unfolded on your DVR – by all means – on your time which you’ve allotted accordingly. But if you have the gall to shush my excitement because you prioritized otherwise…

And I’m not soon going to do it to you. I have a smart phone. I managed to sneak into the corner of our dugout and get updates last night. And I did the same as Arizona dropped a 2006 second round game to Villanova and when my brother and I turned our phones on, pre-landing, to catch anything we could about last year’s ASU game in Tempe (Cats won, flight landed just fine).

A quick poll of friends on gchat afforded me some of these golden responses:

“It would have to be an extreeeeeeemely rare situation, though I don’t think I’ve ever done it before” – Sarah K, San Francisco

“Interesting question. What are you doing going out if you DVR’d the game?” – Bo M, San Francisco

“nope” – Jamie T, San Francisco

“shit no” – Trevor V, San Diego

The definitive voice in fandom can be found through my friendships.

And here’s an exception to the above rule:

This weekend was Thanksgiving and I went home for that. We scooted up as a family of four to Scottsdale to visit my mom’s parents. Her father (Grandpa Jimmy) is an Ohio State alum. tOSU was playing Michigan and my brother and I were upset we couldn’t stream the game while reliving our childhood in the back seat of a road trips with mom and dad trying to get us to talk about familial things and the next possible time we’d all be together. The game, for whatever reason, was blacked out on our devices (iPhone). Nevertheless, mom showed off her tech-savvy by repeatedly asking Siri “what the score of the Ohio State game was.” When Siri told us it was 42-41 tOSU, we figured she hadn’t updated the extra point.

Mom asked again.

Then we took to the interwebs to find out that Ballsy Hoke had gone for it and failed. Holy shit grandpa was going to be excited. But when we arrived, before nary a salutation was exchanged, grandma informed us not to say a word to grandpa about the game. That she’d taken him to a lunch with their friends and he had recorded the game.

And so mum was the word. We left for a late lunch and returned just as Michigan was driving to their DVR’d score and decision.

 

 

 

Because when you’re 87, went to school there and tell your grandsons wildly inappropriate tales of your time in a tOSU frat house, and the only text message you’ve ever sent reads:

Congrats to me  I  am texting you for first time I see asu 6 pt favorite r u surprised. Love RSVP granpa

Then you damn well do as you please.

I got all the flavor and spice of last night’s game. I missed perhaps some of the glorious immediacy of sport but there’s a reason athletic events are keeping us from a la carte television and the cable companies in a monopoly. The people demand live sports. And “live” pertains to everything from television to twitter to push notifications to the guy next to you at the group dinner you couldn’t get out of.

I’m going to tell you the score – or you’ll tell me – and we can laugh about the situation we’re in and how much we love or hate a given team or the very situation we’ve found ourselves in. We paid for the DVR to recreate reality but reality is inescapable.

Embrace this.

And don’t tell my grandpa the Buckeyes score.

Pac-12 Teams (UCLA) Headed to Thick of their Non-cons

In my weekly work with All Buffs, I went in on their game against Kansas this weekend. I completely ignored (but for one sentence) their game tonight against Colorado State and charged right in on the Jayhawk tilt because that’s the game that matters. The Buffaloes have proven they can beat formidable foes (Harvard) and otherwise (Jackson State).

But what about the big boys? How do they stack up against a team with a number next to their name? They had an opening day shot against Baylor and didn’t fare too well. But I appreciated the effort because they dove into the deep end while others stayed in the kiddie pool.

And sure they stepped back into the ankle deep waters for a spell. But now they’re diving right back in which leads me to UCLA’s plunge. The Bruins have been lounging in the shallow waters all the season long. They’ve back-loaded their non-conference slate and I think that’s befitting a program in transition. We’re definitely familiar with the narrative around UCLA and their new coach, so for Alford to have a cake walk into the meat of his first season has been ideal. Considering his first months on the job, with nary a single basket to be made, it was anything but a cake walk. Mix in the motor-mouthed Andy Enfield and UCLA’s 7-0 start has been delightfully under-the-radar (not to mention other coaching related issues in the Los Angeles area).

UCLA, amidst all that, is indeed 7-0, touting an 18th ranking in the AP and 22 in KenPom. And did you realize that freshman Zach LaVine is their second leading scorer? Or that he’s shooting 63% afield and 58% from distance? Or he’s capable of things like this:

Now on the heels of Myles Jack “historically” winning the football Pac-12 offensive and defensive Freshman of the Year awards, I won’t be quick to speak highly of a UCLA freshman. Those jackolades are myles off. But LaVine may have the highest professional ceiling on this UCLA team. His emergence only makes the Bruins better (duh) as they head into the aforementioned, back-loaded non-con schedule.

Upcoming for UCLA with corresponding rankings/ratings:

  • UC-Santa Barbara, 12/3 – KenPom: 83, AP: N/A
  • @ Mizzou, 12/7 – KenPom: 48, AP: N/A
  • Duke, 12/19 (@ MSG) – KenPom: 28, AP: #10
  • Alabama, 12/28 – KenPom: 55, AP: N/A

This quad-pack of games isn’t about to blow your mind but it’s certainly better than the previous seven opponents who hold a KenPom average rating of 190.14. This is the month where we’ll really get to learn the most about UCLA and – more importantly – where they’ll get to learn the most about themselves.

Is Tony Parker a foul prone big incapable of staying on the floor? Or is he a defensive game changer, protecting the rim and collecting boards to get scorers LaVine and Jordan Adams into transition? The Wear family. Will Kyle Anderson be a defensive liability as teams become more athletic, more skilled?

And the reason we want these things answered, or at least to have a better picture as to the direction of this team, is because we’ve been teased with their talents and have yet to see them challenged. We love challenges at PacHoops.

Also heading into the thick of it are the Oregon Ducks (@ Ole Miss, Illinois, BYU), kinda Utah (@Boise State, Fresno State, BYU), and Stanford (@ UConn, Michigan).

Yes, we love challenges at PacHoops, who’s going to rise to theirs?

BB: Arizona beats Duke for NIT Title

Jabari Parker was the best player on the floor with Rodney Hood close behind. And that’s the extent to which we will talk about Duke in this column. We don’t need to discuss their strengths or weaknesses, the makeup of their roster, or the Hall of Fame coach at their helm.

Because when vying for a championship, when the sights are set on AT&T Stadium in Dallas for a Monday night showdown, it doesn’t always matter who the best player is. Games are won by the collective effort of those dressed alike and what Arizona proved to us during their time in New York City was that their collective is going to be better than any individual. And could very well be better than any team.

Again, this isn’t about Duke because Arizona beat them without needing a perfect game. Sure they leaned on some moments but when push came to shove – and it always does – Arizona was the better team. When it came to a 19-point deficit against a hotter-than-a-Dragon’s-breath Drexel team, the Wildcats responded. Not with the efforts of one, but with anyone wearing a white jersey. Aaron Gordon had this to say to ESPN’s Andy Katz following the win:

“I’m the glue guy on a team that has talent,” Gordon said. “You can stick me in the middle of all these pieces and we have all the potential in the world.”

That’s coming from the rumored star. The prodigal one-and-done who’s declaring that his curtails won’t be rode to Dallas but that you’ve gotta mess with the whole damn lot of them.

Let’s roll things back 12-months with Billy Donovan’s Gators were headed to Tucson. It was a colossal game – particularly within the context of Arizona’s recent basketball history – that the Wildcats would win. But did it really feel monumental? Could you revisit that game, talk about it with a friend and think, “Wow, this Arizona team has got it.” Please don’t get me wrong here, I enjoyed watching that game as much as the next guy. My neighbors could hear the screams through the walls. But we couldn’t walk away sensing that Arizona was necessarily better than Florida – or anyone else for that matter. Frankly, the Gators outplayed the Wildcats for everything but the critical moments. The national dialogue – despite Arizona eventually running out to a 14-0 record with that nice RPI win – became such that the Wildcats were a good team who’d won a few ball games and would come back down to earth. That Florida perhaps dribbled one too many balls off their feet and Arizona hadn’t necessarily beat the Gators so much as outlasted them. There was a feeling of overachievement.

After defeating Duke, things feel different.

As the game was closing down to it’s final moments, with things slipping away from the Blue Devils and Arizona playing to its strengths, time seemed to slow as Kaleb Tarczewski set a nonchalant screen into the back of an unsuspecting Blue Devil. You could see the play developing from Tucson as TJ McConnell lofted the ball to the far side of the rim from 30 feet away. Rising to put the ball through the hoop was Aaron Gordon who emphatically did so. It was the Wildcats 17th assist on their 22nd made basket.

It wasn’t Mark Lyons off balance or Solomon Hill with a late steal. It wasn’t Brendan Lavender for 18 or a Derrick Williams block. It was an executed team play – repeatable and effective – for the Arizona win.

Tell me, how does that feel?

And this: