Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Dallas Fires Avery Johnson

Mark Cuban and Dallas are in the market for a coach again. Dallas fired Avery Johnson today -- one day after his team was knocked out of the NBA playoffs by New Orleans.

With last night's loss, Dallas has now failed to advance past the first round of the playoffs for two years in a row.

And apparently, that was more than Dallas owner Mark Cuban could stand.

So Johnson, who was named NBA Coach of the Year after he led Dallas to the NBA Finals in 2006, was let go. If Johnson's rise was meteoric, his fall was almost equally as dramatic:

"Johnson was named coach of the year in 2006 and took the Mavericks to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history. The Mavericks went up 2-0 before Miami won four straight to take the series.

In 2007, the Mavericks became the first No. 1 seed to lose in the first round of the playoffs in the best-of-seven format. Dallas had won a franchise-record 67 games before being eliminated by Golden State last spring. Those playoff heartbreaks, in addition to the disappointment against New Orleans, led to Johnson's dismissal."
(Hat Tip: Dallas Morning News).


Tim Cowlishaw of the Dallas Morning News writes that Avery Johnson lost control of the team before the playoffs started. But he says that changing coaches won't be a cure-all for Dallas. Cowlishaw thinks that Dallas has attitude problems, and suggests that several personnel changes must be made in the off season:

"Bring in Jeff Van Gundy, keep Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd (you don't have any choice about that one at $21 million) and get rid of anybody else you choose to get rid of.

Van Gundy was less than a raging success in Houston, but he got Tracy McGrady to play defense and he had that team on the brink of a nice upset of Dallas three years ago even if the Rockets failed in the seventh game.

He doesn't just talk defense, he gets people to play it. And as we have seen from the vacations that the Mavericks, Suns and Nuggets are now free to pursue, defense matters."

San Antonio KO's Phoenix

Last night, San Antonio beat Phoenix 92-87 in game 5 of their first round playoff series. With the win, San Antonio -- the reigning NBA World Champions -- knocked Phoenix out of the playoffs.

San Antonio will face Chris Paul and New Orleans in the playoffs' second round.

Phoenix is headed home from the playoffs early ... again.

At the most recent meeting of Drive and Dish's editorial panel, we came to the position that it was unfortunate that Phoenix and San Antonio had to face each other in the first round of the playoffs. Those were two of the best teams in the league. And if they hadn't had to face each other in the first round, both teams could possibly have made it to the Western Conference Finals.

Although it's been said so often that it's almost cliche, the balance of power in the NBA is clearly in the West. The Western Conference has several outstanding teams: most of whom would likely be difficult to beat in the NBA Finals.

But only one team gets to emerge from the West. And, once again, Phoenix won't be that team.

But Phoenix isn't a young, up and coming team. They're a veteran squad who were assembled entirely for the purpose of making it to the NBA Finals this year. Phoenix General Manager Steve Kerr traded Shawn Marion away and acquired Shaquille O'Neal with one thing in mind -- to move Phoenix away from the perimeter oriented, wide open, run and gun style that had defined Phoenix Suns basketball, in favor of the more traditional, big man centered, half court basketball that dominates the NBA playoffs/Finals.

Phoenix traded for Shaq in order to beef up their inside game, so that they could contend for the NBA Finals.

But it didn't work.

So after putting everything on the line to make a run at the NBA Finals and falling short, Phoenix will be forced to make some changes in the off season.

An ESPN round table discusses Phoenix's situation and ponders Phoenix's options:

"Ric Bucher, ESPN The Mag: The Suns mortgaged their future to knock off the Spurs and failed. Shaq improved their camaraderie, hurt their D and reduced Steve Nash's ability to improvise. Take Phoenix off the contenders' list for the foreseeable future.

Tim Legler, ESPN: The trade ultimately must be viewed as a failed experiment to give the Suns the interior presence they lacked on both ends of the court. Although I agreed with Steve Kerr's rationale, in the end the Suns became a team that was porous defensively, and its inability to keep the ball out of the paint negated the improvement on the boards that Shaq brought to the table.

Chris Sheridan, I didn't like it when they made it, and even though Shaq looked better than I thought he would down the stretch and in the playoffs, he is a massive liability cap-wise and could drag the Suns to the lower half of the West before he leaves.

Marc Stein,
It looks especially bad if the Suns can't rise off the mat to beat the team they specifically were trying to match up with when they brought in Shaq. Doubly so when you factor in the financial component. But I understand why Kerr made the gamble, and I felt that the Suns, like the Mavs, had to try something bold to keep up. The West was already slipping away from them. They weren't going to win the way they were."


Buck Harvey of the San Antonio Express News points out that the San Antonio vs. Phoenix series featured a matchup between the two dominant big men of the NBA's modern era -- Tim Duncan and Shaquille O'Neal:

"Duncan and Shaq have been the standard of excellence in the league, and a common statistic says how much. Since Michael Jordan retired, one or the other has been in every NBA Finals."

Shaq and Tim Duncan each have four NBA titles. And although they aren't held in the pantheon with Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Willis Reed and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Duncan and O'Neal are among the greatest big men who ever played the game. But for whatever reason, neither gets the respect that he deserves.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Charlotte Names Larry Brown New Coach

Today, Larry Brown was named coach of the Charlotte NBA franchise. Michael Jordan, who owns part of the Charlotte franchise, offered the job to Brown. And that's hardly a surprise: Larry Brown played basketball for Dean Smith at North Carolina in the late 1950's and early 1960's, and Jordan -- perhaps the most famous Tar Heel of all time -- is notorious for favoring members of the Tar Heel "family" in his dealings as an NBA executive.

But, North Carolina loyalties aside, Jordan made an excellent choice by hiring the 67 year old Brown. Brown is widely regarded as a great basketball coach. But he's equally notorious for his habit of job-hopping. Charlotte will be the 10th professional team that Brown has coached. As the Charlotte Observer explains:

"After playing point guard for Dean Smith at North Carolina, Brown has a career record of 1,010-800 in 23 NBA seasons that has included stops with the Denver Nuggets, New Jersey Nets, San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Clippers, Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers, Detroit Pistons and New York Knicks."

And if Brown is known for being a great, if nomadic basketball coach, he's also known for being difficult to get along with. At least one ESPN scribe predicts a rocky road ahead with regard to Brown's and Jordan's professional relationship.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Indiana High Schools Consider Cutting Down From Four Class System

The Indiana High School Athletic Association is considering cutting back from its current four class system. The IHSAA made the controversial move to four classes in the 1997/98 school year. Inidana high school basketball purists disliked the move at the time, as it ended the legendary open competition that had existed in the Indiana state tournament (and which was celebrated in the film Hoosiers). No longer could small high schools from small towns hope to make a name for themselves by beating teams from bigger, urban high schools.

But after 10 years, it looks like Indiana has decided that four classes is too many.

Illinois (the IHSA) went from a two class system to a four class system this year. And I thought that it watered down the IHSA Tournament.

Indiana high school officials seem to have come to a similar conclusion about their state tournament. Most of all, they worry that the current 4-class system causes problems with regard to travel distances/transportation costs, playoff brackets, and revenue.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Stanford Hires Dawkins

Stanford has hired Johnny Dawkins as its new men's basketball head coach.

Dawkins has been an assistant at Duke since the 1997/98 season. As a player, Dawkins led Duke to the Final Four in 1986 and played 9 seasons in the NBA.

Dawkins replaces Trent Johnson, who left Stanford to become the new head coach at LSU.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Hansbrough to Return to North Carolina

North Carolina has announced that Tyler Hansbrough will return to North Carolina for his senior year, while Hansbrough's teammates Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington will declare for the NBA draft.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Izzo in Running For Chicago Job?

Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski and Dan Wetzel are reporting that along with Rick Carlisle, Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo may be in the running for the Chicago Bulls' coaching job:

"When reached on Tuesday night, Izzo told Yahoo! Sports that he hadn’t been contacted by the Bulls, but sounded willing to discuss the job with them.

'I’m not counting out any (job openings) because you can’t,' Izzo said. 'College or pro.'

'I go back and forth on (coaching in the NBA),' he continued. 'I still think it’s the ultimate level. There is something about it. I look at it and say, ‘It’s a real challenge.’ But I love what I do too. I go down and look at what the Pistons (coaches) do in preparation and I think, ‘That’s insane.’

'But I look at what I do in terms of recruiting and I think, ‘That’s insane.’”

Wojnarowski and Wetzel continue:

"The Bulls are under the impression, sources said, that Izzo is eager to speak with them. Some believe he has grown restless in East Lansing, and it’s believed he would’ve become the Kansas coach had Bill Self taken the Oklahoma State job."

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

More Trouble for Benny the Bull

Chicago mascot Benny the Bull is in trouble again. Fan IQ has the details:

"The badass mascot of the Chicago Bulls - Benny the Bull - is in trouble yet again. And this time, it's personal! Well, not really, but he's managed to get the Bulls sued.

How so?

Dr. Don Kalant Sr. alleged he was sitting near courtside on Feb. 12 when he raised his arm to get a high-five from Barry Anderson, who portrays the exuberant mascot in a bright red fuzzy costume.

Instead of merely slapping Kalant's palm, Anderson grabbed his arm as he fell forward, hyperextending Kalant's arm and rupturing his biceps muscle, according to the lawsuit filed in Cook County Circuit Court."

And as alluded to, this isn't the first time that trouble has found Benny the Bull. As Fan IQ points out:

"1. In 2005, Benny, then known as Da Bull, was sentenced to probation for 1½ years for possession of cannabis with intent to deliver. I have no idea if he was in the uniform or not when he was busted, but I'd like to think so.

2. In 2006, Benny - in full uniform - was caught riding a mini-motorcycle at an outdoor festival. When an off-duty police officer tried to stop Benny, he ran. Because we all know a mascot is impossible to pick out in a crowd. Then to top it all off, Benny slugged the cop when he was finally tracked down. He was charged with misdemeanor battery and driving within a parkway without a permit.

3. He then got into a brawl on Jerry Springer.

4. And he also shot Kevin Garnett and James Posey in the back with a t-shirt gun. Garnett wasn't too pleased - "We exchanged words." While Posey was a total wuss - 'I feel a little sore in one spot. I might have to get treatment.'"

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

CBS Upset With Billy Packer?

The New York Daily News' Bob Raissman asks if after years of defending Billy Packer whenever he's put his foot in his mouth, CBS Sports may be fed up with Packer over comments he made during the NCAA National Championship game on April 5.

Raissman reports that CBS executives are still fuming over the fact that, with 7:32 left in the first half and with the Jayhawks ahead 38-12, Packer "called" the game in favor of Kansas.

North Carolina later rallied and pulled within 4 points of the Jayhawks. But the damage was already done: Packer had declared the game to be "over," even though there were still 7 1/2 minutes left to play before halftime.

Raisman says:

"CBS is paying $6 billion for the right to air the tourney over the life of its contract with the NCAA. From a business perspective, telling viewers to turn off the TV is not a great idea, especially in a soft advertising market.

Naming a "winner" with plenty of time left in a game does not sit well with corporations paying top dollar to advertise their products during the tournament. Some of these same companies will be asked to purchase time on next year's tourney."

It seems like Billy Packer gets in trouble after every Final Four. Drive and Dish covered last year's edition of the annual Billy Packer post Final Four controversy (and we stuck up for him). Hell, it almost wouldn't feel like April if there weren't another Billy Packer controversy raging through the sports media world. It's sort of become an annual rite of Spring.

As for Packer's comments in this year's Championship game, it's only natural that the CBS executives would be upset. Packer essentially told viewers that it wasn't worth their time to bother watching the rest of the game. And he did so after only 12 1/2 minutes of basketball had been played.

And that's just bad for business. What's more, as a veteran professional broadcaster, Packer should have known that. And as such, he shouldn't have made the statement.

But what he said was essentially true. In fact, just seconds before Billy Packer declared the game to be "over," I had concluded that Kansas had effectively put the game out of reach. When Packer made the statement, I vocalized my agreement with him to those with whom I was viewing the game.

Billy Packer was right. The game was -- for all intents and purposes -- "over," even though there were still 7 1/2 minutes to go before the half.

Billy Packer knew it. Jim Nantz knew it. I knew it. Bill Self knew it. Roy Williams knew it. The players all knew it. And everyone who attended or watched the game on TV knew it.

But Billy Packer shouldn't have said so.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Skiles to Coach Milwaukee

Just four days after firing head coach Larry Krystkowiak, Milwaukee has hired Scott Skiles to be his replacement.

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal, the franchise had their sights set on Skiles all along:

"(Milwaukee) immediately focused their coaching search on Skiles, who led (Chicago) to three consecutive 40-plus victory seasons, including a 49-33 record during the 2006-’07 season. But when Chicago started slowly with a 9-16 mark this season, Skiles was fired on Christmas Eve."

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Calzaghe Beats Hopkins

Last night, Joe Calzaghe kept his record perfect by gaining a split decision win over Bernard Hopkins.

Drive and Dish previewed the Hopkins vs. Calzeghe fight yesterday. And although Calzaghe kept his perfect record intact, Sports Illustrated notes that the Welshman's American debut was anything but easy:

"Hopkins (48-5-1) knocked down Calzaghe (45-0) with a sneaky right hand just 70 seconds in at the Thomas & Mack Center. With grabby defense and canny counterpunching, Hopkins repeatedly negated Calzaghe's attempts to trade blows and gain physical control, causing more frustration than Calzaghe has ever felt.

But during the 18 years since he last left a ring in defeat, Calzaghe learned he must always keep punching. Constantly wading into the teeth of Hopkins' defense, he never stopped trying to wear down his older opponent, eventually gaining control in the final rounds -- but still wondering about his fate."

Sports Illustrated breaks the fight down:

"Calzaghe landed 33 percent of his 707 punches, while Hopkins connected with 27 percent of his 468 blows. Calzaghe had the edge in power punches with both total blows and accuracy, and he heavily outjabbed Hopkins.

In perhaps the most telling statistic of all, Calzaghe connected with 232 punches, the most ever landed against Hopkins in his 21 fights that were tracked by CompuBox statistics."

Saturday, April 19, 2008

San Antonio Rallies Past Phoenix

San Antonio and Phoenix may be the best two teams in the NBA's Western Conference. So it's sort of a shame that they have to face each other in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.

This evening, in a game that went into double overtime, San Antonio rallied from a double figure second half deficit to beat Phoenix 117-115 in game one of their first round Western Conference playoff series.

San Antonio's Tim Duncan sent the game to the first overtime period by hitting a wide open three point shot -- Duncan's first three pointer of the season -- at the end of regulation. Duncan finished with 40 points and 15 rebounds.

But it was Manu Ginobili took the game over for San Antonio in both of the extra periods. Ginobili kept taking the ball to the basket (and right at Phoenix's Shaquille O'Neal) and kept making his signature off balance left handed layups. One such off balance left handed layup -- over Phoenix's Raja Bell with 1.8 seconds left in the second overtime -- put San Antonio up for good.

Ginobili finished with 24 points, 19 of which came after halftime.

The two teams will resume the series on Tuesday night.

Note to Phoenix: Ginobili likes to go to his left.

Hopkins vs. Calzaghe

Tonight in Las Vegas, Bernard Hopkins and Joe Calzaghe will face off in a much anticipated light heavyweight bout. Watch the official promo video for tonight's fight here. The reigning light heavyweight champion, Hopkins has successfully defended the the middleweight title twenty times -- a record setting feat. After winning the title from Segundo Mercado in 1995, Hopkins remained unbeaten until 2005. And as Net Glimse notes:

"From his victory over Oscar De La Hoya in September 2004 until his loss to Jermain Taylor in July 2005, Hopkins was the undisputed holder of the championship belts from all 4 major sanctioning bodies (WBA, WBC, IBF and WBO). In addition, he was awarded the coveted linear 'Ring Belt' after defeating Felix Trinidad in September 2001."

Bernard Hopkins is widely regarded to be one of the great boxers of the modern era, yet outside of boxing circles, he remains a largely obscure figure. That's probably due--in part--to the fact that boxing's popularity has plummeted over the last 15-20 years (essentially, ever since Mike Tyson went to prison). But Hopkins' checkered past has also--no doubt--contributed to his flying under the radar. Net Glimse's biography of Hopkins illuminates Hopkins' troubled youth:

"(Hopkins) grew up in a rough section of (Philadelphia), where he got involved in crime and gang activity at a young age. Today, he describes himself as a 'thug' in his youth and regrets that it took a stint in prison for him to turn his life around.

Late in 1982, when Hopkins was in the 11th grade, he was convicted and sentenced to 18 years in the state penitentiary for armed robbery. For fifty-six months, from 1984 through 1988, Hopkins was one of three thousand inmates in Graterford State Penitentiary in Pennsylvania.

While incarcerated, he decided to turn his life around. Hopkins studied for and earned his high school diploma, and also began to take part in boxing again, which he had done off and on as a youth. During four years and eight months in prison, Hopkins won the national penitentiary middleweight championship three times. He converted to Islam during his incarceration and was paroled in 1988...

He immediately joined the professional boxing ranks as a light heavyweight, losing his debut on October 11, 1988... But he showed enough in the loss that respected trainer Bouie Fisher took him on. After a 16-month layoff, resumed his career as a middleweight, winning a unanimous decision over Greg Paige on February 22, 1990. Between February 1990 and September 1992, Hopkins worked his way through the ranks of middleweight journeymen, scoring 20 wins without a loss..."

John Hinderaker provides a good synopsis of tonight's fight at Power Line:

"Hopkins is one of the greatest fighters of our time. A street criminal in his youth, Hopkins went to prison at age 17. He discovered boxing in prison and never looked back once he was released at age 22. He became the undisputed middleweight champion of the world--no easy feat with four sanctioning bodies--and defended his title against all comers. Hopkins is now 43 years old, but still in tremendous condition with an impressive win over "Winky" Wright in his last outing. Hopkins' record is 48-4-1.

Joe Calzaghe is from Wales. He has been a champion in the welterweight, light middleweight, middleweight and super middleweight divisions. Calzaghe is undefeated at 44-0. A tireless, relentless fighter, he is the Energizer Bunny of boxing.

Last May, Calzaghe beat highly-regarded Danish super middleweight Mikkel Kessler in a unanimous decision. Calzaghe has a unique style: if you watch him for one round, you may think he's a pretty good, but odd, fighter. If you watch him for ten rounds, you may think he's the best boxer in the world."

And Marcus Henry tells The Neutral Corner at New York Newsday that the Hopkins vs. Calzaghe fight "has legacy written all over it":

"For Hopkins (48-4-1, 32 KOs), it’s a chance to prove once and for all that he deserves to be among boxing’s immortals. Not that Hopkins has to prove anything. The Philadelphia native has beaten everyone from Oscar De La Hoya to Antonio Tarver to Winky Wright to Felix Trinidad (in his prime). But a win over Europe’s best pound-for-pound fighter could be what etches him in stone as one of boxing’s greats with the likes of Roberto Duran, Sugar Ray Leonard, etc…

For Calzaghe (44-0, 32 KOs), it’s a chance to prove he’s the real deal... Calzaghe doesn’t have much to prove. But he’s never fought in the United States and has never taken on an opponent the caliber of Hopkins."

So what does Bernard Hopkins have to say about tonight's fight? Well, as Sports Illustrated notes, he told reporters:

"I would never let a white boy beat me..."

2008 ACC vs. Big Ten Challenge Field Announced

On Thursday, ESPN unveiled the field for next season's edition of the made-for-TV ACC vs. Big Ten Challenge.

More about the upcoming 2008 incarnation of the ACC vs. Big Ten Challenge, via the Illini Basketball Fans Blog:

"The Big 10/ACC Challenge games have been announced by ESPN. This is the ESPN special that takes place over a few days, matching up two of the top conferences head to head. The only problem is, the ACC always wins. I predict the Big 10 will win this one of these years, but I doubt it happens this fall. Here's a list of the games:

Duke at Purdue
North Carolina at Michigan State
Wisconsin at Virginia Tech
Ohio State at Miami
Clemson at Illinois
Virginia at Minnesota
Iowa at Boston College
Penn State at Georgia Tech
Indiana at Wake Forest
Florida State at Northwestern
Michigan at Maryland"

While it's probably a little premature for Drive and Dish to prognosticate those games, our initial impression is that it looks like 2008's Challenge will see the ACC teams wipe the floor with the Big Ten yet again.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Knicks: Isiah Thomas Out

This afternoon, the Knicks announced that Isiah Thomas' reign over the franchise has officially come to an end.

The only question that Drive and Dish would like to ask is the same question that Knicks fans have been asking today: What took so long?

Obviously, Isiah must have had "pictures" on Knicks owner James Dolan. After all, it's widely known that Mr. Dolan has battled his share of demons over the years.

And based on his obliviousness to Mr. Thomas' stunning ineptitude, one is left to wonder if Mr. Dolan's drug and alcohol problems have resurfaced. What else could explain the impaired judgment on his part that permitted Isiah to keep ruining his franchise, year after year?

Mr. Thomas has ruined every franchise that he's been allowed to run (or, more appropriately, run into the ground). He did it in Toronto, he did it when he coached Indiana, he did it when he bought the Continental Basketball Association (which he bankrupted) and, finally, he did it with the Knicks.

But if history is an indicator of future events, Isiah will -- no doubt -- resurface yet again. And, once more, he'll ruin whichever organization he gets his hands on.


KnickerBlogger notes the timing of Isiah Thomas' firing:

"(Knicks owner James) Dolan showed a good understanding of the New York press by making the decision public on Friday at 5pm. Most people are either on their way home to their family or having happy hour drinks at their local pub with the music pumping. By Monday morning no one is going to remember that Isiah Thomas was fired. The mere mention of Thomas’ name draws laughs and criticisms, and this was a good way to minimize the number of people that are going to sit around the water cooler and bad mouth the organization."

And The Wall Street Journal's Market Beat Blog notes that today's stock market rally coincided with the date of Isiah Thomas' firing (and it also traces the market's volatility to the start date of Thomas' coaching tenure with the Knicks):

"It’s tempting to think the gestation of the current market malaise began on July 22, 2006, the day the New York Knickerbockers named Isiah Thomas head coach of the team, but it’s too much of a stretch. Similarly, it’s too much of a stretch to suggest that today’s rally has anything to do with reports that Mr. Thomas is done as Knicks coach after a 56-108 tenure, during which time shares of Cablevision Inc., which owns the Knicks, rose a meager 4.9%. Then again, when one considers that Mr. Thomas’s first game as head coach of the Knicks took place Nov. 1, 2006, well, Cablevision is down 18% since then, which when compared to the performance of the New York pro hoops squad, doesn’t seem too terrible. The real question for management now is this: since nobody else wants them, are Zach Randolph and Eddy Curry eligible to be exchanged for Treasury securities at the Federal Reserve’s discount window?"

Kansas' Rush, Arthur Declare for NBA Draft

A little over one week removed from winning the NCAA National Championship in Men's basketball, Kansas' Brandon Rush and Darrell Arthur have entered the NBA draft. National Championship game hero, Mario Chalmers, has yet to declare his intentions.

Rush's and Arthur's decisions hardly came as a surprise to Kansas coach Bill Self:

"We knew going into the season ... this particular day was coming," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "Brandon is at a point that it's time for him to move on and Shady [Arthur] owes it to himself to investigate. There's no surprises on what transpired today."

Memphis freshman point guard Derrick Rose declared for the draft earlier this week.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Oklahoma State Hires Travis Ford

Oklahoma State said that they intended to hire a "big name" coach to replace the recently departed Sean Sutton. And armed with a $300 million trust, courtesy of multi-billionaire booster T. Boone Pickens, the OSU athletic department swung for the fences.

They tried to lure the coach of the 2008 National Champions--Kansas' Bill Self--to return to Stillwater, OK, to coach his alma matter. But he declined.

Then there was speculation that Pickens and OSU were trying to convince Billy Gillispie--himself a Self protege--to leave Kentucky for Oklahoma State. But that went nowhere as well. There was even talk of OSU making a play for former NBA coach Larry Brown, and then for Minnesota's Tubby Smith.

And on Tuesday, Oklahoma State officials met with Southern Illinois coach Chris Lowery.

But in the end, Oklahoma State settled on UMass coach Travis Ford.

However, while Oklahoma State fans who had planned on landing Self or Gillispie may be less than inspired by Ford's hiring, Drive and Dish thinks that Oklahoma State probably made a good hire.

The Sporting News' Mike DeCourcey doesn't like the move, though:

"OK State promised to pay Sean Sutton more than $2 million if he'd just go away, and for all of that, and for all the Cowboys will pay to Ford, they got themselves a coach with a .565 career winning percentage and one NCAA bid in eight seasons as a Division I head coach. Barry Hinson got fired from Missouri State for not making the tournament. Ford got the Oklahoma State job. You wonder why some coaches are a bit batty?"

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

2008 Final Mid-Major Top 25

Last week, when Drive and Dish was busy following the NCAA Championship game and Boone Pickens'/Oklahoma State's pursuit of Bill Self (and, after Self declined their overtures, other "big name" coaches), released their Final mid-major Top 25 poll for 2008.

Davidson, who fell two points short of earning a trip to the Final Four, finished #1 in their final poll. Butler finished #2. Western Kentucky and Drake were #3 and #4, and Gonzaga rounded out the top 5.

Here's the final list:
1. Davidson
2. Butler
3. Western Kentucky
4. Drake
5. Gonzaga
6. Kent State
7. St. Mary's
8. South Alabama
9. Siena
10. VCU
11. Belmont
12. Cal State Fullerton
13. San Diego
14. Stephen F. Austin
15. Illinois State
16. George Mason
17. Oral Roberts
18. Cornell
20. UC Santa Barbara
21. Akron
22. Robert Morris
23. UMBC
24. Portland State
25. Rider

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Keno Davis Hired at Providence

By Mark Buckets

Pete Gillen. Tim Welsh. Now Keno Davis.

Keno Davis will be named Head Basketball Coach at Providence College today, ending the Friars' grinding search for Welsh's replacement.

The search began with a denial from George Mason's Jim Larranaga.

Then the movement shifted to Massachusetts' Travis Ford, who rejected PC's overtures as well.

And after whiffing on the hottest of all coaching properties, Davidson's Bob McKillop, Friar fans began to push the panic button.

False alarm I guess.

It didn't take long for Davis to take this job: He met with Providence officials on Tuesday and was hired later in the afternoon.

In Davis, Providence is getting the 2007-2008 National Coach of the Year as well as a young go-getter who will inherit a team full of veterans.

This is a good hire for Providence. Davis may not have been the first choice to succeed Welsh, but if he could get Drake into the NCAA Tournament (for the first time since 1971), he should be able to turn the Friars' program around.

We'll see if his reputation as a relentless recruiter pays dividends for Providence, who will have a major rebuilding job ahead after this year.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Drive and Dish Post Season Awards: The 2008 All Drive and Dish Team

By Trashtalk Superstar

It's been one week since the book officially closed on the 2007/2008 men's college basketball season. And that's given Drive and Dish plenty of time to compile our inaugural All Drive and Dish Team.

First, let me just say that we've seen a ton of college basketball this year, both in person and on television. And we've given this list plenty of consideration ... although, outside of our loyal cult following of regular Drive and Dish readers, nobody probably cares.

Nonetheless, we continue: The Associated Press named its All American team two weeks ago, but since our list was compiled after the Final Four Semifinals and National Championship games were completed, it takes the entire college basketball season
into consideration--from beginning to end.

Also, please note: in compiling the All Drive and Dish team, the Drive and Dish editorial board didn't automatically slot player positions into the first second or third teams. In other words, we didn't designate that there had to be a point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward and center on each of the first three All Drive and Dish Teams. So we didn't just select a shooting guard over a point guard for our First Team for the sole purpose of filling a shooting guard "slot." In fact, there are three guards on our All Drive and Dish First Team (including two point guards), but no small forward.

Thus, All Drive And Dish Team selections were based entirely on merit, without regard to position.

Drive and Dish only gave consideration to players' college careers when evaluating each student athlete's respective candidacy for selection to the All Drive and Dish Team. Therefore, this list is based entirely on each student athlete's merit as a college basketball player, without regard to the athlete's respective prospects as a professional basketball player. So, for example, in compiling our All Drive and Dish team, we gave absolutely no consideration to Tyler Hansbrough's prospects as an NBA player. We evaluated him solely based on his performance as a college basketball player.

But that's enough about our selection criteria. We're not pulling in the big blogging bucks for ruminating over our blog's procedural minutia. Our bread and butter is commentary. But in this case, commentary takes a back seat to a quasi-All American list. However, our opinions are still front and center, as the list is comprised of players we believe are most deserving of All America status (or in this case, "All Drive and Dish" status).

So without any further ado, the Drive and Dish presents the 2008 All Drive and Dish Team:

First Team
  • G Derrick Rose, Memphis
  • G D.J. Augustin, Texas
  • G Stephen Curry, Davidson
  • F Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina
  • F Michael Beasley, Kansas State

Second Team

  • G Chris Douglas-Roberts, Memphis
  • G Darren Collison, UCLA
  • F Luke Harangody, Notre Dame
  • F Brandon Rush, Kansas
  • C Kevin Love, UCLA

Third Team

  • G Shan Foster, Vanderbilt
  • G Adam Emmenecker, Drake
  • G Wayne Ellington, North Carolina
  • F D.J. White, Indiana
  • C Brook Lopez, Stanford

Honorable Mention

  • G Mike Green, Butler
  • G Mario Chalmers, Kansas
  • G Sean Singletary, Virginia
  • G A.J. Graves, Butler
  • G DeMarcus Nelson, Duke
  • G Jeremy Crouch, Bradley
  • G Jaycee Carroll, Utah State
  • G Eric Gordon, Indiana
  • G Drew Neitzel, Michigan State
  • G Eric Maynor, Virginia Commonwealth
  • G George Hill, IUPUI
  • G Chris Lofton, Tennessee
  • G Lee Cummard, BYU
  • G Jarryd Bayless, Arizona
  • G Demetric Bennett, South Alabama
  • G A.J. Price, Connecticut
  • G Jerel McNeal, Marquette
  • G Daniel Ruffin, Bradley
  • G Alex Ruoff West, Virginia
  • G Jamont Gordon, Mississippi State
  • C Hasheem Thabeet, Connecticut
  • C A.J. Ogilvy, Vanderbilt
  • C Jerome Jordan, Tulsa
  • C Brian Butch, Wisconsin
  • C Dwayne Curtis, Ole Miss
  • C Roy Hibbert, Georgetown
  • F Darrell Arthur, Kansas
  • F Chase Budinger, Arizona
  • F Joe Alexander, West Virginia
  • F Joey Dorsey, Memphis
  • F Richard Hendrix, Alabama
  • F Reggie Larry, Boise State
  • F Darnell Jackson, Kansas
  • F Gary Forbes, UMass
  • F Tyler Smith, Tennessee
  • F Jeff Adrien, Connecticut
  • F Tim Pollitz, Miami (OH)
  • F Taj Gibson, USC
  • F Will Thomas, George Mason

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Phil Mickelson Rumor Dubious?

By Trashtalk Superstar

With the NCAA Tournament becoming an increasingly smaller image in the DriveandDishMobile's rear view mirror, the Drive and Dish editorial board has decided to broaden the scope of our writing. Our usual intensive focus on college basketball pays dividends for this site during the college basketball season, but once college basketball is over, we have to increase our range to include other topics -- otherwise we'd have nothing to write about.

Don't worry, this site is still all about basketball. And college basketball will probably always take center stage at Drive and Dish. But although last weekend belonged to the Final Four, this weekend the sports world was focused on another annual rite of early Spring: The Masters.

And although the biggest story at Augusta National was obviously the exciting finish that saw South Africa's Trevor Immelman hold off Tiger Woods to capture the green jacket, another story that allegedly leaked out of Augusta created quite a stir online. A rumor about Phil Mickelson supposedly having lost a six figure bet to some members of Augusta National Golf Club was widely circulated on the Internet over the last 4 or 5 days.

And the story sounds plausible: Phil Mickelson is a well known gambler and he's been widely rumored to be carrying some serious gambling debts.

Here's a copy of the emailed story:


Last week Phil Mickelson was playing a practice round at Augusta and went away from protocol and convinced his playing partners to up the stakes in the usual $1 game. It was Mickelson versus the other three which included some of the deepest pockets among the membership. The stakes: $5000 skins and a pot of $130,000, $100,000 of which was
contributed by Mickelson for the low net score - Mickelson would play off scratch.

According to one of the threesome which obviously will remain anonymous, "everything was going great until the back 9 when Mickelson really could not believe the good fortune of 'chuckie'. He was draining everything on the greens and when he missed the green twice he had two chip-ins. Phil's lead on the scorecard looked safe but in the clubhouse we added it up and lo and behold, Phil owed $200,000." And then it got ugly. The stories by witnesses conflict, but in effect Mickelson tried to pass the bets off as laugh on the first tee and insisted "there was no way he would bet hundreds of thousands on golf." Mickelson believed the standard one dollar game was in effect.

The threesome was having none of it and before you know it the foursome was sitting in the office of Billy Payne who was none too happy about the loud conversations taking place in the dining room. But even in the privacy of the office, Mickelson was being very difficult. According to the same anonymous member "Phil slipped up and admitted that he initiated the stakes and set the terms of the bet. Then he protested at having to pay so much and offered 30 cents on the dollar right then and there, take it or leave it.

Billy was aghast and told Phil, you will arrange to pay every dollar or you will never be welcome at Augusta again, TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT. Mickelson tried to protest and even made a snide remark that Billy couldn't stop him from being welcome at Augusta every April. Billy simply asked are you taking it or leaving it."

Mickelson later called his accountant with the banking details of 'chuckie' and an arrangement was made for a wire transfer of an undisclosed amount. The worse of this may not be over as the other member of the threesome was upset enough to call the PGA Tour. When contacted for a comment, the PGA Tour declined to comment and would not even acknowledge whether or not they have been contacted about the conflict at Augusta National.

From GolfWeek Insider"

But the story may be dubious. At the very least, the editor of the alleged source of said "story"-- Golfweek Magazine--has publicly denied that his publication had any involvement with its origin or dissemination. What's more, Golfweek's editor (Jeff Babineau) points to the date of the rumor's origin as a possible indicator of the story's veracity:

"As the editor of Golfweek, I can assure our readers that nobody at our magazine or Web site ( had anything to do with this post, which went online (go figure) on April 1.

The fact that Golfweek is in no way involved with this story was pointed out to two key members of the Mickelson camp on the eve of the Masters. A spokesman from Mickelson’s camp called the post 'baseless' and 'erroneous.'"

So what does this have to do with basketball?

Well, aside from the fact that the behavior attributed to Mickelson in the alleged "story" sounds like something that Michael Jordan would do, this has absolutely nothing to do with basketball. But as alluded to in the opening of this post, Drive and Dish is expanding our duties to include writing the occasional post about topics outside of college basketball.

By the way, congratulations to Trevor Immelman on the impressive Masters win.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Hansbrough Wins Wooden Award

North Carolina forward Tyler Hansbrough keeps racking up the awards. On Friday night, Hansbrough received the John R. Wooden Award. Tennessee's Candace Parker won the women's award.

Last week, Hansbrough was named the men's college basketball Player of the Year by the Associated Press.

Also last week, the Commonwealth Athletic Club of Kentucky extended its Adolf F. Rupp Award to the junior Tar Heel forward.

And as Drive and Dish noted earlier, Hansbrough was named the Sports Illustrated Player of the Year last month.

Is the ACC In Decline?

The Charlotte Observer's Ken Tysiac asserts that North Carolina's poor showing in this year's Final Four is just another piece of evidence which supports the thesis that Atlantic Coast Conference basketball is in a "historic downturn."

Tysiac alleges that although the ACC had the highest RPI of any conference during the 2008 regular season, the relative poor showing by ACC teams in this year's NCAA Tournament is part of a larger trend:

" The ACC's 19 NCAA tournament wins from 2006 through '08 are its lowest for a three-year period since 1979-81, which was before the tournament expanded to 64 teams.

At least two ACC teams reached the NCAA's Sweet 16 in each year from 1980 to 2006. In '07 and '08, North Carolina was the only team representing the ACC in the Sweet 16."

And although Tysiac expects North Carolina and Duke to be strong again next year, he doesn't seem to think that they'll be serious Final Four contenders:

"Unless Tyler Hansbrough returns at North Carolina, it's difficult to imagine the ACC having a serious Final Four contender next season."

North Carolina and Duke will be fine next year. And Drive and Dish expects Tyler Hansbrough to return to Chapel Hill, NC, for his senior season.

So the Drive and Dish editorial board finds the Charlotte Observer writer's prediction of a bleak future for the ACC to be overly pessimistic.

But that's O.K.-- it's not first time that a Charlotte Observer sports writer has been a tad dramatic this week. Maybe being a drama queen is a prerequsite for attaining employment in the Observer's sports department.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Pickens, Oklahoma State Search For "Big Name" Coach

Now that Kansas' Bill Self has declined their offer, Oklahoma State and multi billionaire booster T. Boone Pickens are back on the hunt for a "big name" coach to fill the Cowboys' vacant men's basketball head coaching position.

Pickens donated $ 290 million to his alma matter, $265 million of which went to the school's athletic department. And thanks to Pickens' management, the value his gift to athletic department has grown to over $300 million.

What's more, Pickens has stated that he'll do "whatever it takes" to make Oklahoma State into a sports juggernaut.

But Yahoo! Sports' Dan Wetzel says that the vast power which Mr. Pickens wields at Oklahoma State may, ultimately, serve as a double edged sword for the university's athletic department:

"Pickens is the George Steinbrenner of college athletics, capable of overriding whatever remaining rationality there is in the hiring and firing game. While all schools increasingly make rash decisions – somewhat justifiable considering the salaries today’s coaches make – they almost always need boosters, the athletic director and perhaps the school president to sign off on it.

At OSU who is crossing Pickens? The school president who has watched Pickens’ original donation of $165 turn into $300 million in a fund managed by no less than Pickens? The athletic director, Mike Holder, who just happens to be an old quail hunting buddy of you know who? How about the other boosters who would have to get into a money burning contest with Pickens just as oil soars past $110 per barrel?

This is T. Boone Pickens University right now and everyone knows it, including every prospective coach."

Self to Stay at Kansas

Bill Self is staying at Kansas. The speculation about Self's interest in the vacant men's basketball head coaching position at Oklahoma State turned out to be much ado about nothing.

Oklahoma State attempted to lure the coach of the National Champion Kansas Jayhawks to become its new men's basketball coach. And thanks to the deep pockets of multi-billionaire Oklahoma State donor T. Boone Pickens, Oklahoma State was reportedly prepared to offer Self $4 million per season and a $6 million signing bonus.

But after meeting with Oklahoma State Athletic Director Mike Holder, Self returned to Lawrence, KS, and hammered out a new contract with KU Athletic Director Lew Perkins. Self then informed Holder of his decision to remain at Kansas.

Self told the Associated Press:

"There was never serious interest on our part in leaving the University of Kansas."

Terms of Self's new Kansas contract were not announced. And according to Self, they have yet to be officially agreed upon.

The Kansas City Star reports that Self and Kansas have only agreed to "ball park figures."

But it appears clear that Self will be well compensated at KU:

"(Kansas) Chancellor Robert Hemenway declared Self would be the Jayhawks’ coach “for a long time to come.”

“Bill is going to be compensated to the highest level,” KU athletic director Lew Perkins said."

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Say It Ain't So: O.J. Mayo to Enter NBA Draft

Here's some news that's certain to come as a shock to all: CBS Sports is reporting that USC freshman guard O.J. Mayo has decided to enter the NBA draft.

Mayo plans to hire an agent, which will eliminate the prospect of his return to college basketball.

According to CBS Sportsline's Gary Parrish:

"The freshman guard (Mayo) signaled his intentions by wearing socks with the NBA logo in USC's 80-67 loss to Kansas State in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Mayo, who some say never met a shot that he didn't take, averaged 20.7 points, and set USC records for points scored by a freshman (684) and for 3-pointers made in a season (88).

USC coach Tim Floyd told the AP:

"This comes as no surprise. We are appreciative of everything O.J. did for all of us the year he was with us. We wish him well. I have no doubt that he will be a great professional."

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Oklahoma State to Pursue Bill Self

By Trashtalk Superstar

Representatives from Oklahoma State University have stated that the university intends to pursue Kansas' Bill Self to fill its men's basketball head coaching vacancy. Self, an Oklahoma State alumnus and a former OSU starting point guard, coached Kansas to the National Championship Monday night.

Self has stated that he plans to meet with Kansas officials to talk about a contract extension:

"What I’d like to have is like everybody’d like to have,” Self said. “I’d like to have some security. I don’t know what even Kansas would remotely be talking (about). We haven’t even talked about that. When I say security, I mean years, so hopefully that’ll happen.”

Last year, Kansas awarded Self a five-year contract extension. He makes $1.3 million in base salary and an additional $350,000 each year if he meets incentives.

But Oklahoma State has deep pockets, courtesy of billionaire Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens, who donated $165 million--which has now grown to $300 million--to the Cowboy’s athletic department. As the Denver Post notes:

"Oklahoma State is prepared to offer Self a salary of $4 million a year, plus a $6 million signing bonus. That would not only nearly triple the $1.375 million he makes at Kansas but would fly past the $3.5 million paid the current highest-paid coach, Florida's Billy Donovan."

But despite Oklahoma State's vast financial reserves--and T. Boone Pickens' largess--it would be surprising to see Bill Self leave Kansas.

When Self left Illinois to take over the Jayhawks in 2003, he proclaimed Kansas to be his "dream job." And while Self may be an Oklahoma State alum, a former Oklahoma State standout point guard, a former Oklahoma State assistant coach and a native Oklahoman, it would be difficult to imagine a scenario in which he would leave a program as storied as Kansas--especially now that he's won a National Championship in Lawrence--for the prospect of undertaking a rebuilding campaign at a conference rival institution.

Most likely, Self will use Oklahoma State's offer as a bargaining chip to renegotiate his contract with Kansas. Self's annual salary of $1.3 million still trails football coach Mark Mangino's $1.5 million.

But in a year in which there have been few high profile off season coaching changes, Oklahoma State's pursuit of Bill Self gives college basketball writers and talking heads something to talk about for a couple of days, now that the NCAA Tournament is over.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Rock Chalk Jayhawk: Kansas Takes Home Title

By Mark Buckets

It's be...a Kansas Jay-hawk.

That's a popular refrain these days, mimicking SEC football fans after an important victory. (or in this case, a title)

Kansas brings the first NCAA Basketball Championship in twenty years to Lawrence, defeating Memphis 75 to 68 in an instant classic that will be relived for years to come.

Including tonight, as ESPN Classic re-airs the game at 11 o'clock eastern.

Now that is what I call an instant classic.

As for how the game unfolded, just take a look at what Kansas went through to get to this point.

You think that your school went through adversity this year? (Paging all Indiana fans) Monday night's Championship Game was a microcosm of why, in the immortal words of Jim Valvano, you "never give up."

Need proof? Try rallying from nine points down with 2:12 to play to extend the game into overtime.

Not enough for you? The fans - and obviously the players - were cast under a huge shadow of uncertainty right up until tipoff as rumors swirled around San Antonio that Oklahoma State was anteing up for their head coach's services.

As if you needed more ammunition to be swayed, this all occurred within 48 hours.

Mario and the Miracles? Perhaps. Why not "A Season on the Brink: The story of Kansas' Final Four journey."

With all due respect to the good people at ESPN for releasing such a heart-felt film starred by Brian Dennehy, the title was truly representative of Kansas this year.

The sheer courage exemplified by Mario Chalmers was a thing to behold, as he administered a three-point dagger into Memphis' collective hearts to send the game into overtime.

Now they did need a bit of help from the Memphis Tigers. The Tigers' Achilles heel during the season reappeared on the grandest of stages, as Memphis missed four crucial three throws within that 2 minute time frame that could have sealed it.

Drive & Dish would like to extend a congratulatory handshake to the Kansas community, as your squad proved, once again, that hard work and good fortune are the pillars of success.

Kansas Wins National Championship

By Trashtalk Superstar

Last night, Kansas beat Memphis 75-68 in overtime to win the 2008 NCAA National Championship. The Jayhawks overcame a 9 point deficeit in the final 2:12 minutes of regulation to tie the game--thanks to a Mario Chalmers three pointer with 2.1 seconds left on the clock--and force the overtime period. But in overtime, Kansas jumped out to a quick lead and never looked back.

As the Kansas City Star notes, Kansas senior Russell Robinson opined:

"You couldn't have written it any better."
In a year in which all four #1 seeds advanced to the Final Four (for first time in the history of the NCAA Tournament), many observers were surprised by how uncompetitive Saturday's Semifinal games ultimately proved to be. Despite many prognosticators' high expectations for a memorable Final Four, Memphis and Kansas had--for all intents and purposes--run their respective opponents (UCLA and North Carolina) off the floor. And on a larger scale, most observers were similarly disappointed by the lack of competitiveness of this year's Elite 8 and Sweet 16.

If 2006 was the year of the Cinderella, 2008 was the year of the blowout win by the higher seeded team.

But last night's Championship Game provided enough excitement and drama to make up for an otherwise disappointing Final Four.

Yet despite the game's dramatic finish, things didn't go according to plan for Memphis and Kansas:

"This was not the smooth-running, fast-paced, high-scoring game everyone was expecting to see. As happens more often as not, things didn't quite work out the way they had been envisioned. The 2008 NCAA Tournament Championship Game was such a thing...

The Memphis Tigers were denied passage to the lane most of the night. Kansas owned the paint on the opposite end of the court, playing their regular game. Even so, the game remained tight throughout, aided by some sloppy ball handling by both teams. Kansas was not hitting three-pointers and Memphis was. And Derrick Rose, Memphis' second leading scorer, went cold for 24 and a half minutes (16 and a half in the first half).

Memphis was definitely out of sync. Memphis' Joey Dorsey was not blocking out Darrell Arthur and Darnell Jackson like he did all those other big guys on those other teams. Kansas was simply denying Memphis their game."
(Hat tip: Associated Content).


"And then Memphis' two best shooting guards, Derrick Rose, who had come alive with 12 minutes to go in the game and score a dozen points, and Chris Douglas-Roberts missed 4-5 from the line, giving Kansas a chance to tie the game with just a few seconds to go. And they did. With two seconds to go, Mario Chalmers hit an off-balanced three-pointer to tie the game. Memphis could not hit a subsequent half-court shot and the game went into Overtime.

Kansas immediately stole the ball -- after Memphis won the tip -- and scored. The momentum was all in Kansas' favor. Memphis "controlled chaos" style of basketball had lost its control. Kansas went on to win, 75-68."

Monday, April 7, 2008

Preview of Tonight's NCAA Championship Game

By Trashtalk Superstar

Tonight, Memphis and Kansas will play for the 2008 NCAA Men's Basketball National Championship. The game will tip off in little over an hour.

So what are Drive and Dish's thoughts on tonight's game?

For what it's worth, this is one of the toughest championship games to prognosticate in recent memory. Last year's Championship game was pretty easy to predict: Although both Ohio State and Florida had outstanding talent, Florida was the defending National Champion and Billy Donovan's team still had all the key players from its 2006 Championship team. Ohio State was talented, but the Buckeyes' best players were freshmen. And it usually takes experience to win championships. So a Florida win was easy to predict in last year's Championship game.

But Memphis and Kansas appear to be a toss up.

As alluded to, few freshmen are able to lead their teams to championships. And freshmen who have done so can probably be counted on one hand. What's more, the few freshmen who have led their teams to NCAA Championships (Carmello Anthony, Michael Jordan?) have played for teams that had talented upperclassmen surrounding them.

But Memphis' freshman point guard, Derrick Rose, doesn't play like any freshman point guard that I've seen (and that includes Ohio State's sensational freshman PG, Mike Conley, from last year). He plays with the poise and savvy of a 5th year senior. And he's as special a talent as the college game has seen in years.

What's more, Rose is surrounded by talented upperclassmen.

Memphis' back court tandem of Rose and Chris Douglas-Roberts may be without a peer in the college game. But Kansas' back court absolutely stymied North Carolina's much-hyped back court duo of Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington.

And it was Kansas' backup point guard, Sherron Collins, who did the most damage to North Carolina in the second half of Saturday night's Final Four Semifinal game.

Plus, Kansas has multiple point guards. And that makes them extremely dangerous.

As Drive and Dish noted before Saturday's games, Memphis has a collection of incredibly athletic, long, and skilled players on the perimeter. And although Kansas can counter with their deep, versatile back court and with Brandon Rush (himself a long, athletic, talented wing), Memphis should have an advantage on the perimeter.

Memphis' back court is simply bigger and more talented ... which is really saying something, considering how good Kansas' back court is.

And I'd be surprised if Kansas will be able to slow Derrick Rose.

Strategically, I think Kansas needs to take away the dribble drive from Memphis' guards. Memphis employs an almost revolutionary wide open offense, which takes its cue from International basketball. Unlike traditional college (continuity) offenses, Memphis' offense is not predicated on using ball screens to create shots. Rather, the Tigers push the tempo and try to beat their opponents off the dribble. Then they either finish at the rim, or dish to a cutter/kick it out to a perimeter shooter.

Memphis looks to get points via the play from which this website derives its name -- the drive and dish.

And they've got the ideal point guard to run that kind of offense -- Rose.

So, although Kansas beat North Carolina by pushing the tempo and running the Tar Heels out of the Alamo Dome, I think that Kansas will try to slow Memphis' running game and force the Tigers to run half-court sets.

Then Bill Self's Jayhawks will have to contain Memphis' dribble drive ... which will be easier said than done. However, if Kansas can manage to contain Memphis, the Jayhawks might be able to take Memphis out of its game--and force the Tigers to shoot jump shots.

While Memphis has the advantage on the perimeter, Kansas should have the advantage in the paint. Kansas has the bigger front line. And make no mistake: that's a significant advantage in in the Jayhawks' favor. Remember, Memphis' big man, Joey Dorsey, struggled against UCLA (despite the Tigers' overall dominance in that game). And although I expect Dorsey to come out with a chip on his shoulder tonight, I also expect Kansas to try to feed the ball into the low post.

Unless Dorsey plays like a man possessed, I don't think that Memphis' bigs will match up well against Kansas' front line.

So who do I think will win?

As I said before, this one is tough to prognosticate. I thought that, by virtue of having all four #1 seeds advance to the Final Four, this would prove to be one of the better Final Fours in recent history. And I couldn't have been more wrong.

Thus far, the entire NCAA Tournament has been characterized by one blowout after another. And the Elite 8 and Final Four weren't any more interesting ... which I really didn't see coming.

So, although this may seem like a cop-out, I really don't know what to expect in tonight's Championship game.

If it's a close game, Memphis' poor free throw shooting percentage could ultimately be their downfall. But poor free throw shooting hasn't been a factor in any of Memphis' games in this Tournament, to date. Plus, the Tigers have actually shot better from the charity stripe in the Tournament than they did during the regular season.

But I'll leave you with this: One of the best basketball minds that I personally know has been saying all season long that Kansas is the most talented team in the country, and that he expects the Jayhawks to win the National Championship. And for the record, this guy is a basketball coach and he starred on one of the most famous Final Four/Championship teams in college basketball history. I put a lot of stock in whatever he says.

And he's been talking Kansas up for some time.

So although I can see it going either way, my best guess would be Kansas if I had to pick the winner of tonight's game (but I still don't see how they'll stop Memphis' Rose and Douglas-Roberts).

But unlike Saturday night, I won't be surprised if either team wins tonight.

North Carolina Fans In State of Shock

Apparently, North Carolina fans have been in a state of shock since Kansas hammered the Tar Heels Saturday night in the Final Four Semifinals 84-66.

Scott Fowler dishes out a dose of Tar Heel fan drama, courtesy of the Charlotte Observer:

"The utter shock value of what Kansas did to North Carolina in the first half cannot be overstated. This was "The Sixth Sense" of surprise beginnings. Kansas led 40-12 -- 40-12!! -- after 15 minutes. Roy Williams looked ashen, like a ghost trapped in a nightmare dreamed up by an avid Jayhawks fan."

Fowler continues with his drama queen act:

"How many TVs were smashed throughout the Carolinas during that Kansas layup parade?

Here's how bad it was in San Antonio -- Tar Heels fans started cheering, loudly but sheepishly, when the Tar Heels had cut the Kansas margin to 21.

I never thought I'd see the day a Williams team could look so unprepared and so skittish at the beginning of a big game.

But this was it."

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Kansas Puts the Smackdown on North Carolina

Last night, Kansas slammed North Carolina 84-66 in the Semifinals of the 2008 Final Four. Bill Self's Jayhawks punched North Carolina in the mouth in the game's first few minutes and never looked back. And although North Carolina eventually made a run and pulled within 4 points of Kansas, the Tar Heels were never really in the game.

According to the Charlotte Observer, North Carolina guard Wayne Ellington didn't know what hit him:

"I can't tell you (what went wrong)," said Ellington, who scored a team-leading 18 points. "We just didn't have any intensity, any enthusiasm."

Kansas completely took North Carolina out of its game. Once they got down, the normally smart and disciplined Tar Heels started making dumb mistakes. Too many Carolina players tried to take the game over by going 1 on 1, rather than by working to get a good shot within the confines of to Coach Roy Williams' offense.

The normally smart Tyler Hansbrough was especially bad. Hansbrough was pushed off the block by Kansas all night. And when he did get the ball in the post, the Jayhawks double teamed (and sometimes triple teamed) him. But instead of passing out of the double team--and finding an open man--Hansbrough consistently tried to back his defenders down and manufacture shots. And that resulted in many off balance, bad shots being forced by the AP college basketball Player of the Year (that's when he didn't get the ball stripped from his hands by a defender).

Kansas completely frustrated Hansbrough. But he took himself out of the game with his lack of composure, and the resultant poor decision making.

On the perimeter, Kansas' Brandon Rush and Sherron Collins flat outplayed North Carolina's more heralded guards.

The game was a complete disaster for North Carolina. The Tar Heels' players got out hustled and out played by the Jayhawks. And Roy Williams got out coached by Bill Self--which few would have expected.

Kansas will play Memphis for the National Championship on Monday night. If they play like they did last night, Memphis will have their hands full.

Memphis, Kansas Roll Into Title Game

By Mark Buckets

It wasn't a Saturday night to remember at the Alamodome: In fact, for UCLA and North Carolina, it was one to erase from memory, as's Gene Wojciechowski eloquently puts it.

The two highly-anticipated National Semifinals that were played Saturday Night in San Antonio turned out to be two highly anti-climactic affairs.

In game one, Memphis took UCLA behind the woodshed and spanked the Bruins 78 to 63. The result itself wasn't as surprising as the way in which the Tigers dispatched of UCLA, executing the fast break to perfection and tearing apart the vaunted Bruins' half-court defense.

Derrick Rose and Chris Douglas-Roberts combined to score 53 of Memphis' 78 points, and delivered big play after big play to squelch any faint Bruin hopes.

In what turned out to be a huge game of redemption for Joey Dorsey - who verbally tore into Greg Oden before last year's regional final right here in San Antonio - the ripped 6-9 senior snagged 15 important rebounds despite not tallying a single point.

Dorsey did a phenomenal job in combination with Memphis' other big men to deny UCLA super frosh Kevin Love the ball in halfcourt sets.

On the flip side, UCLA's Darren Collison swung and missed on most likely his final attempt to capture a National Championship with the Bruins. He fouled out with two points.

The future of UCLA's current roster is in limbo heading into 2009. Kevin Love will most certainly declare for the NBA Draft, with Russell Westbrook and Darren Collison likely following suit.

The Memphis Tigers are hitting on all cylinders and appear to be on a collision course with destiny, aiming to become the first team to win 39 games in a season(after their record-breaking 38th tonight) and bring home the school's first National Championship.

There is no denying this Memphis team has surpassed most media expectations. In fact, the Tigers have believed in themselves from day one.

The eye of the Tiger was truly ruthless tonight in the Alamo City.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Preview of Tonight's Final Four

By Trashtalk Superstar

Tonight will mark the first time in the history of the NCAA Tournament in which all four #1 seeds will play in the Final Four. I always say that whichever team wins the National Championship isn't necessarily the best team in the country, but is, rather, the team that managed to catch the right breaks at the right time, cause the most match up problems for its opponents, get hot at the right time, get a little lucky and win the NCAA Tournament.

Remember, it's a single elimination tournament. The team that does the best job of surviving and advancing will be crowned the National Champion. Sometimes the best team wins the Tournament, and sometimes a surprise team rises up and wins the Tournament.

But this year all the #1 seeds have advanced to the Final Four. And, unlike some years, there wasn't much controversy over which teams got 1 seeds. All four 1 seeds were clearly the cream of the crop in college basketball for 2008. Which means that it should be one of the most interesting Final Four's in recent history.

But these things rarely go according to plan.

So here's what I expect from tonight's games:

Memphis vs. UCLA

Memphis has been playing like a National Champion. When they're on top of their game, they're practically unstoppable.

Memphis has a team full of incredibly athletic, long (tall for their position and long armed) perimeter players. It's one thing to be athletic. It's another to be long. But if you're as athletic and long as Memphis is, you're probably going to cause some serious match up problems for opposing teams.

What's more, the most important player on the floor in college basketball -- and especially in the NCAA Tournament -- is the point guard. In order to have success in the NCAA Tournament, a team must have consistently good play out of the point guard position (having a good big guy is also important, but everything starts with the PG). In Derrick Rose, Memphis has a point guard who is simply in another league. Although merely a freshman, Rose is playing better than any other PG in the college game.

Derrick Rose is the catalyst for everything Memphis does. When Rose is on his A game (which he has been all Tournament long), Memphis works like a well oiled machine. Derrick Rose has unusual poise, presence, court vision and leadership qualities for someone so young. He's probably already good enough to start at point guard for several NBA teams. And he may just be the most athletic guy on the floor in this year's Final Four.

UCLA also has an outstanding point guard in Darren Collison. And they have some athletic guys too. But, although he's a nice NBA prospect, Collison will struggle with Rose. Derrick Rose is bigger, stronger and even more athletic than Collison is (and Collison is quite athletic). And Rose has the ability to take over a game -- whether it shows in the box score or not (i.e., by attacking defenses, creating for others, pushing the ball in transition, scoring, etc.).

And even though UCLA's other guards and wings are quite good, I expect Memphis' perimeter guys to just be too tall, too long, too athletic and too good for UCLA to handle.

UCLA does have one advantage over Memphis: the presence of freshman big man Kevin Love. Love is big, strong and skilled. If UCLA can prevent Memphis from turning the game into a track meet, Love should cause major match up problems for Memphis.

Memphis' big man, Joey Dorsey, is used to being the biggest, strongest and nastiest guy on the floor. At times in his college career, he's played like a man among boys. But UCLA's Love is bigger and stronger than Dorsey. And Love has been playing like a first team All American recently.

However, Love won't be effective if UCLA is forced into playing an up-tempo game. And, make no mistake, Memphis will look to push the tempo. If Memphis can keep UCLA out of its half court sets and keep Love off the boards, then the game is theirs for the taking.

Although, if Memphis has an Achilles heel, it's their questionable free throw shooting. In the event of a close game, Memphis' poor free throw shooting could seal their fate.

Ultimately, I think that this should be the more exciting of tonight's games. Both of these teams are good enough to win the National Championship. Memphis will look to run; UCLA will look to pound the ball into Love.

Who do I pick to win this game?

This one's a toss-up, as far as I'm concerned. Earlier in the week, I thought that Memphis would cruise to victory. But the more I think about how these teams match up, the more I think that Love could be too much for Memphis to handle.

But if I had to put money on it, I'd say that Memphis should be able to push the ball and force UCLA into playing an up-tempo, full court game. And that should be enough to send UCLA home from its third straight Final Four appearance empty handed (without a National Championship) again.

So, if pushed, I'd have to go with Memphis.

North Carolina vs. Kansas

Everybody knows how good North Carolina is. They're talented at every position. They've got an outstanding point guard. They've got great wing players. And in bruising forward Tyler Hansbrough, they've got the (well deserving) AP college basketball Player of the Year.

When they're on their game, North Carolina is a juggernaut. Hell, they're even great when they're a little off their game.

But don't write Kansas off. The Jayhawks barely got past Davidson in the Elite 8. But that could actually be a plus for them coming into the Final Four.

They looked tight against Davidson. And they probably were tight. After all, how embarrassing would it have been for #1 seed Kansas to let tiny Davidson -- which was a 10 seed, for God's sake -- sneak into the Final Four? Remember, Bill Self's Kansas teams suffered humiliating first round Tournament losses in 2005 (to Bucknell) and in 2006 (to Bradley). Allowing Cinderella Davidson to crash the Final Four would have been bad.

But now that Kansas is in the Final Four, they won't have the underachiever label attached to them anymore. Which should be a liberating thing for the Jayhawks. And that could prompt them to come out loose against North Carolina. After all, practically everyone in the world knows about how great the Tar Heels are this year. And everyone knows all about Tyler Hansbrough. But Kansas hasn't gotten that kind of media shine this year.

So the Jayhawks might feel like they're being overlooked by the media, which could give them an "underdog" mentality. And that might equate to them entering the North Carolina game with a chip on their collective shoulders.

Teams that play loose, as if they have nothing to lose, and that play with chips on their shoulders are dangerous. And few teams are as talented as this Kansas team. If Kansas, with all its talent, plays loose and comes out like it has something to prove against North Carolina, they could very well find themselves playing for the National Championship on Monday night.

But Kansas will need to come out and punch North Carolina in the mouth early on. If they can do that, then all bets are off.

UNC and Kansas both have solid PG play. But I think North Carolina's Ty Lawson has the edge in this match up. Lawson is a certain future NBA player and he's as quick a guard as you'll find.

Kansas small forward Brandon Rush is also a sure fire future NBA player, although he'll be a 2 guard in the league. Rush is long, athletic and explosive. But what sets him apart is the fact that he can score all day long.

Like Rush, North Carolina shooting guard Wayne Ellington is also an athletic, big guard who can flat out score the ball. And he's also a sure-fire NBA prospect. But Ellington is also an outstanding shooter. He's dangerous anytime he has the ball -- no matter where he is on the court.

And I think that North Carolina has the advantage in the front court. Although Kansas' Darrell Aurthur is a wiry, athletic scoring power forward and Sasha Kaun does everything a good college big man should do, North Carolina's Hansbrough should be able to get the best of Kansas. The Jayhawks have a size advantage, and Kaun will probably give Hansbrough and the Tar Heels' front line more trouble than most people will expect. But it won't be enough to stop the AP college player of the year. Advantage: North Carolina.

Prediction: This game should be fun. Don't sleep on Kansas. They could really give North Carolina problems. And if they're loose and play with chips on their shoulders, they could easily win. I think that Kansas has the ability to take North Carolina out of its game. And if that happens, look out.

However, I expect North Carolina to play well and, ultimately, to get past the Jayhawks in a close game (possibly an overtime game). And Roy Williams' Tar Heels will probably go on to win their 5th National Championship (by beating Memphis) in two days.

But that would almost be too predictable.