The Crowded East

5 01 2009

blair

Big East Basketball is all the rave.  As of tonight, the super-conference has nine teams in the AP Top 25.

Read and weep: nine of sixteen are ranked.

Wow.

Some say that because the Big East has at least four more teams that most of the other power conferences, it’s expected that they perform better as a whole.

The size issue may be a demerit but I feel that Pittsburgh, Connecticut, Georgetown and Notre Dame are good enough to go deep into March.

And top-to-bottom the Big East is undoubtedly the best basketball conference in the country.   Imagine being Rutgers and playing #2 Connecticut, #3 Pittsburgh and an out-of-conference #1 North Carolina all in the same week.  I almost feel bad for the Scarlet Knights.

Does competitiveness top-to-bottom make a better conference or is it the amount of teams that are capable of getting to the Final Four?

The argument personified is the Big Ten versus the ACC.  The Big Ten is coming off a pretty weak couple of years.  Purdue and Michigan State are backed by solid play from an entertaining Michigan team as well as a surprise Minnesota squad.

However, what the ACC loses in depth, the top-heavy conference makes up for in power with Duke, Carolina and Wake Forest in the AP Top 5.

So who’s the second-best conference in the nation?  And what constitutes a “better conference?”





Trevor Jumps Ship

27 08 2008

The sophomore foward Trevor Mbakwe left the Marquette program for good.

It’s kind of like Brett Favre but the opposite.  The poor kid has been debating on whether he should leave the team or not for the past year.  Several months back, he announced that he would be leaving the team for a DII Minnesotan program for “personal reasons.”

And now, he’s decided not to return for personal reasons.  Coach Buzz Williams has said that he’s had a great summer working out with the team and he’s being doing well academically.  So it’s decidedly not a physical or school-related issue.

I find it interesting that the guy goes through a summer of work outs and then leaves the team a month before the season starts.  It’s a shame that he’s gone because that makes our front court even greener.

Good luck to you, Trevor.





Reaching Up

20 08 2008

Find a Toronto Sun article on Liam McMorrow, the seven-foot Canadian center who has recently transferred to Marquette.

Instead, McMorrow, who had never even played an officiated, five-on-five basketball game a year ago, is packing his bags, preparing to leave his Scarborough home for Milwaukee, where he has landed a full basketball scholarship to Marquette University.

Most people are done growing by the time they are 18 or 19, but nobody told that to McMorrow. The 21-year-old McMorrow went from 6-foot-8 two years ago to his current size.

Now McMorrow, who only shot baskets the rare times he wasn’t playing lacrosse, ice or ball hockey, has dreams of playing professionally and for team Canada.

McMorrow averaged 8.4 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.2 blocks for the Durham College Lords in the Ontario Colleges Athletic Association.  He’ll sit out for a season and then have three years of eligibility left for the Golden Eagles.

McMorrow’s size is welcomed on a Marquette program that can’t be accused of being particularly tall.  Besides the current 6’10” freshman Chris Otule, the tallest returning players in 2009 will be 6’7″ (Trevor Mbakwe, Patrick Hazel and Joseph Fulce).





Alexander the Great

3 07 2008

The Yi Experiment has given way to Joe Alexander the Great. 

Although I’m not sure which Chinese language Yi speaks, it may have helped having a teammate that can speak Mandarin. 

Unfortunately, the pairing wasn’t meant to be.  Yi became expendable as the Milwaukee Bucks selected the forward out of West Virginia with the 8th pick. 

Alexander is one of those “…in a few years” guys.  He’ll be ready… in a few years.  He has a chance to be a great player… in a few years.  He’ll be one of the best players in his class… in a few years. 

I won’t disagree with his potential; the man can hold his on slam dunk contest topping it off with a Vince Carter “honey-dip” elbow slam.  But can he play now? 

I think he’s going to be real fun to watch.  Some have billed him as a super athletic Matt Harpring.  I don’t buy the Harpring comparison, which really comes up because the kid is white.

I see Alexander as a bigger Luol Deng with an established mid-range core competency.  They were both freakish athletes in college.  Both players have high release points, an ability to score in the post yet they both struggle with lateral quickness (compared to other pro prospects).  Alexander, like Deng, put on a show in March.  He averaged 23.8 points and 8.1 rebounds in the final month.  Huge.

We’ve heard a lot about his gym rat tendencies.  The guy is an extremely hard worker and he likes to hit the weights — much like every Bob Huggins recruit.  I really think the guy can be a nice player early.  The problem is the Bucks are crowded at the wing.

John Hammond isn’t done tweaking but they currently have Richard Jefferson, Desmond Mason, Michael Redd and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute on the roster.  Under Scott Skiles’ system, it may come down to who demonstrates a commitment to defense. 

Mbah a Moute is a Ben Howland recruit, so you know he’ll work on D.  Other than the former UCLA star, the other wings haven’t had to play a lick of defense in years.  If Alexander can play NBA defense, he’s got a shot to shine early.

Photo credit: AP





Does Your Team Represent You?

25 06 2008

I’m halfway through the book “Give and Go: Basketball as a Cultural Practice” by Thomas McLaughlin. It’s a very interesting book that examines the game of basketball and its place in modern society.

Through lunch, I read through a section grappling with the concept of whether your basketball team represents you. McLaughlin writes about how some basketball communities are organized on a local level.

“They have a local history, with traditions and shared rituals, ways of thinking and feeling developed within an ongoing set of common experiences. They operate under the assumption that their team represents them, that it articulates in a public spectacle the lived experience of the local community… fans commit their communal emotions to a team on a belief that they are playing by proxy, that they themselves have a stake in the outcome of the contest.”

It’s an interesting and valid concept for many fans that grow up rooting for their hometown team. During this section, McLaughlin references his love of the Philadelphia 76ers. Philly enjoyed Allen Iverson so much because he embodied the “tough working-class roots of the [Philadelphia] game and the city in general.” He has “great physical courage, a willingness to throw himself into the traffic of the game, to take his hits and finish the play.” Philly fans see this as a personification of the city’s daily toils.

I see this in other fan bases as well. It was most apparent during the regular season when the Los Angeles Lakers played the New Orleans Hornets. I mentioned this after my recent trip to NOLA, but the tickets there are cheap and their fans are avid and enthusiastic regardless of what’s happening on the court.

Lakers fans, by contrast, tend to sit back and wait to be impressed. If you watched this year’s NBA Finals, the fan attitude is readily apparent. So, I can definitely agree with McLaughlin’s description of local fan communities.

But what happens when someone roots for a team that doesn’t represent them? For example, I became a Bulls fan years before actually moving to Chicago. I was young, I liked Michael Jordan, I knew I liked offense stemming from forced turnovers and they were on national TV a lot. Did I know anything about the Chicagoland area and whether this sports team embodied my 7-year-old value set? Certainly not.

While I was eating dinner, I turned the TV on. The show “Deal or No Deal” was on and they were imploring their viewers to send in a text to decide who their newest briefcase model would be. The only thing on the screen were pictures of three women and a phone number below. With the veracity of a middle schooler, I said, “The hot one is going to win. Duh.”

So, how do international fans decide which basketball team to support? I doubt anyone writes an extensive research paper on the topic before selecting the Chicago Bulls or the Los Angeles Lakers. Does it really come down to a popularity contest? Is it just the most attractive franchise of the now that brings in remote fans?

I met someone from Idaho that said he was a Lakers fan because “well, they’re a western team and I’m in the West.” Good enough but how about the Jazz? Or the Blazers? Or maybe the Timberwolves? I didn’t think much of it at the time but why did he choose the Lakers? Because they were the most successful back in the early 00’s?

I see people wearing Duke and North Carolina shirts all the time. And if it ever comes up in casual conversation, I’ll ask if it’s their alma mater. They respond with, “no, why?”  As if I’d wear a DePaul or West Virginia shirt just for the hell of it.

Does your choice of team stem from its success and media accessibility rather than McLaughlin’s claim that your team embodies your city’s values?





If The Bulls Draft Rose

20 06 2008

“I thought LeBron James was the luckiest guy in the world to get to play in his home city,” says Derrick Rose, likely one of the top two picks in this year’s NBA draft.

Rose seems to have turned from his initial responses to getting drafted by the Chicago Bulls.  His first reaction was political and now, even ESPN is hyping up this new-found zeal for the Chi.

When the Bulls landed the top pick, I pushed for someone other than Rose, but I’m not completely adverse to selecting him.

I’m not high on the argument that Rose’s height (he’s listed at 6’3″) and that fact that he’s from Chicago makes him the clear choice for the Bulls.  For further evidence, see a certain 6’11” Thornwood alum.  (I realize this is a bit of a strawman but I feel that the Rose-Curry comparison is more substantial than a positive correlation of guys playing in their hometown and success).

But what happens if David Stern says Derrick Rose’s name first?

Hello Guard, Goodbye Guards

Chris Duhon was out before the regular season even ended.  That much is certain.  But drafting Derrick Rose will negate the value of Kirk Hinrich, Thabo Sefolosha and Ben Gordon.  If Larry Hughes sticks around, his value drops even more.

Except for Gordon, the Chicago Bulls guards maintain value due to their ability to handle the ball and to make plays for their teammates.  None of them are Chris Paul, obviously.  However, it seems like drafting Derrick Rose will essentially concede the offense (and the future of the franchise) to this young point guard.

And although Kirk, Thabo and Hughes have shown an ability to score the basketball.  It will take some time for them to adjust to playing off-the-ball.  It’s pretty clear that drafting Rose will signal the end of Kirk or Gordon’s career as a Bull.

The Bulls Need A Big Man

The need for a big man continues.  To bolster a front line featuring Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah, the Bulls will most likely look to move one of the guards mentioned earlier.  The Bulls offense will hinge on Rose who has a dynamic floor game.  However, he hasn’t yet shown an ability to explode on the offensive end.  Regardless, the Bulls need someone to that can shoot high percentage shots.

Take a look at the offenses around the league that are structured around a dominant point guard.  Steve Nash has an Amare Stoudamire.  Chris Paul has a David West.  Deron Williams has a Carlos Boozer.   What do they have in common?  A post player that can create offense in half-court sets.

Baron Davis doesn’t have any help but we’re not looking to emulate the Warriors.  If I’m not mistaken, the Warriors are in the same exact position as the Bulls.  Advanced in the playoffs last year and missed it this year.  Yet Chicago was much more disappointed in their team than was the Bay.

Keep Luol Deng

The Bulls will need to do everything they can to keep Luol Deng.  He’s an established scorer that can play multiple positions.  His field goal percentage is incredible.  Plus, he’s a great guy.  Derrick Rose running around with Larry Hughes, Viktor Khryapa, Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah will do absolutely no good.

John Paxson needs to keep at least two scorers in the roster to have any semblance of improvement.  What was it that Kobe said in the Western Conference Finals?  “I’m not taking bread knives to a gun fight no more.”  Well, this is exactly what Rose would be doing.  Bust out the I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter, Derrick.  We’re having a tea party!

Be Patient

By drafting Derrick Rose, the Bulls didn’t address a need.  So they’ll have to start fresh.  Being the #1 pick will put a lot of pressure on the former Simeon baller.  The fans will have to realize that they’re back to square one.  Expecting Chris Paul is unrealistic.

In summary, I really think it’s going to be tough if the Chicago Bulls bring another guard into the equation.  Especially if it’s a guard expecting to get #1 draft pick playing time and attention.  Either way, I’m looking forward to next week.





What up, Hoffman Estates?

16 06 2008

Guess where I’ll be next Thanksgiving?

Hint: NOT in California visiting my parents.

65 bones gets you in the building. Eight games in 2 days. Marquette, Auburn, Dayton and the powerhouse Chicago State are among the 8 squads.

This will be a good chance for me to rock the MU snowcap that Macaulay Culkin and I share.








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