Wednesday, April 9, 2008

I'm Back!!

Rock Chalk Championship

Go ahead: argue all you want about how Memphis lost the National Championship Monday night in San Antonio.

You can point to the Tigers missing four of their last five free throws in regulation. You can insist coach John Calipari should’ve called a timeout at some point in the last 10 seconds. You could even put on your own coaching hat and argue Memphis should’ve fouled on the play that ultimately sent the game into overtime and solidified Mario Chalmers’ place in Kansas hoops lore.

But, being the positive guy I am, I’m going to take a different route – a novel one, perhaps: instead of blaming Memphis for losing, I want to give Kansas credit for winning.

Yes, Memphis made those crucial mistakes down the stretch. Up nine with just over two minutes to play … most teams would close the deal. But if Kansas doesn’t take advantage of those mistakes, the point’s moot.

Kansas held Memphis to 1-for-9 shooting down the stretch. And before Sherron Collins hit a big trey in the closing minutes of regulation, Kansas had been dreadful from behind the arc. Before that shot, the Jayhawks had gone 1-for-9 from distance.

Oh, yeah … there’s also Chalmers’ shot with 2.1 seconds to play that sent the game into overtime and allowed the Jayhawks to ride their momentum all the way to the national title. Just think: if Chalmers misses that shot, the Tigers hoist the trophy, have their One Shining Moment, and instead of holding Calipari’s feet to the fire over the mistakes, we’re talking about how Memphis was good enough to overcome its flaws.

Which, 38 out of 40 times this year, the Tigers were.

But Memphis didn’t lose this game; Kansas won it. Without the big treys from Collins and Chalmers, we’re touting Calipari as a coach and his players as the epitome of athletic greatness. Instead, Bill Self is about to cash in one way or another and we’re subjected to the sports media making constant 1980s video game references (something tells me Chalmers isn’t a plumber and doesn’t have a fondness for mushrooms).

Then again, shouldn’t the team hoisting the trophy get some sort of props for that?

Is Eight Enough?

For Pat Summit, I seriously doubt it.

Tennessee won its eighth national title Tuesday night with a 64-48 win over Stanford. Go ahead, read that again. I’ll understand if “eighth national title” is a little hard to believe.

After all, we’re talking John Wooden territory.

I’ve had the privilege of knowing Pat Summit and speaking with her on a few occasions following the Lady Vols’ annual romps of Old Dominion (sorry, Monarch fans, but it’s true). And as nice and pleasant as she is off the court, it’s Summit’s drive and work ethic and intensity on the court that makes so much of Tennessee’s success possible.

Then again, having Candace Parker helps.

The All-American, Player of the Year, two-time national champion – whatever superlative you choose, Parker is a talent unlike anything women’s basketball has seen in a long time, if ever. She plays all five positions, is an offensive threat as well as a pretty good defender.

And you try playing in the NCAA tournament with a bum shoulder.

Parker will change the way women’s basketball is played – with her speed, agility and power – and possibly even the way the sport is viewed. The Final Four aside, when does the mainstream sports media talk about women’s hoops? Mostly when a lady dunks – which Parker has done three times in the past two years (including twice in one NCAA tournament game last year).

Parker, along with four other seniors, won’t be in Knoxville next year, so there’s a little unknown heading into next season. But if I know Pat Summit the way I think I do, something tells me the Lady Vols will be just fine.

Your first-place … Baltimore Orioles?!

When Spring Training started, my expectations were pretty low. If Baltimore managed to survive the 2008 season without losing 100 games, I would’ve been happy. This is what happens when a team that lost 93 games the year before loses its ace (Erik Bedard), one of its historically productive offensive players (Miguel Tejada) and threatens almost daily to move another star (Brian Roberts).

In March, team president Andy MacPhail needed to refer to a roster to determine who his players were. That’s not the best of signs.

But lo and behold! A week into the season, and my Orioles are 6-1, having won six straight after dropping the opener against the Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays. Let’s not get delusional here – Baltimore’s opening the year against some pretty weak competition in Tampa Bay and Texas, and in Seattle the Orioles faced a team with a hurt starter (Bedard, ironically enough) and a bullpen located in the infirmary.

Baltimore will come crashing back down to earth, and I stand by my desire to not lose 100 games this year (we may stink, but we’re not the Royals). That said, MacPhail seems to have a plan in place, and I like some of the young talent this team has – specifically Nick Markakis and Adam Jones – who Baltimore picked up in the Bedard trade. And if MacPhail thinks he can get some value for Roberts, then by all means, move him.

But word of caution to O’s fans: Things are going to get a lot worse before they get better. What else should you expect from a rotation that relies on Steve Traschel and Daniel Cabrera?

No comments: