Saturday, August 30, 2008

Welcome Back College Football

The Good: I like the new clock rules. Having the games end in less than 4 hours is clearly an improvement. I’m also happy to see them speed up the college game without abandoning the “Clock Stops on 1st Downs Rule”. It is always nice to have a few differences between the college and pro game.

The Bad: I haven’t seen many televised sports since March. And I’m already sick of some of the commercials again. The Buffalo Wild Wings commercial where they all hide from their boss has clearly passed its expiration date. I also really hate those ESPN commercials where the guy does his fantasy team on his phone while at some event. Thank goodness for channel surfing.

The Ugly: Have you seen the Big Ten Network commercial where the coaches are all asking recruits to come to their school? What’s up with the Paterno shot at the very end?

As for the games, it is too early to say much. Texas A&M had perhaps the most embarrassing loss in my opinion, but we’ll check back in a few weeks and maybe we’ll know more. Instead I’ll leave you with a few other random thoughts:

Rich Rodriguez is clearly more likable than Lloyd Carr. I say this because he, you know, shows some emotion occasionally. Yes he lost to Utah today, but I’m looking forward to seeing more of Michigan over the next few years.

Did you hear the story of how Georgia coach Mark Richt didn’t have a scholarship for a player, told Sylvester Croom to recruit the player, and Croom did? I learned this anecdote during Mississippi St.’s upset loss to Louisiana Tech. Does this mean Mississippi St. is officially Georgia’s JV team?

What did Steve Spurrier tell his team at halftime on Thursday Night?

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Spain vs the US

Disclaimer: I’m happy the US won and I’ll be proud when they win the gold medal.

But that was disappointing. As a fan of competitive basketball, I was hoping Spain would put up more of a fight. There are a few different ways to look at this.

1) The US played their best game of the tournament. They saved their best game for the elite competition. The US made 7 of 11 threes in the first half and shot 58% for the game.

2) Spain wasn’t really trying. Regardless of the outcome, Spain won’t meet the US again until the gold medal game, so they had no reason to reveal too many of their offensive sets, ect.

3) Spain may be the second best team in the Olympics, but they are significantly worse than the US.

I’m hoping the answer is 1 or 2 so we still get a competitive game for the US as this tournament continues. But it sure looked a lot like #3 today.

Goat of the Game: Jose Calderon. Calderon has become a leader for the Toronto Raptors but he was no match for the relentless US defense today. Calderon had several turnovers and shot just 1-9 from the floor. Of course Juan Carlos Navarro’s 2-10 also hurt.

On the positive side, there were a few highlight reel plays today:

Play of the Game 1: Tayshaun Prince’s ridiculous alley-oop pass to Lebron James that was way above and to the right of the cylinder. Only Lebron James could have caught that ball and made that play.

Play of the Game 2: Ricky Rubio alley-oop pass to Rudy Fernandez in between a swarm of US players.

Play of the Game 3: After a loose ball ricocheted off of several players Ricky Rubio tried to back it out, only to have Dwayne Wade steal it and take it coast-to-coast. Dwayne Wade has just become a steal-machine in the Olympics.

Future Schedule

At the moment, only one game on Day 5 matters. China vs Greece will decide 3rd place in Group B. (OK, Croatia could also lose to Iran and Australia could beat Lithuania, but I’m going to assume BOTH of those events don’t happen.)

Doug Collins speculated today that Greece might try to throw the game against China to avoid Argentina in the quarterfinals and the US in the semis, and I think that makes a lot of sense. The only question is whether China will do the same thing. I think Day 5 could be a very bad day of basketball. Instead, let’s preview the Quarterfinals for Wednesday morning.

US vs Australia: Australia has more talent than just Andrew Bogut, but they’re still going to get crushed.

Argentina vs Greece / China “winner”: Argentina has not looked as sharp in this tournament as they did when they won the Gold Medal in 2004, but they may have been saving themselves. This could be the best game on Wednesday.

Spain vs Croatia: I still haven’t watched a full Croatia game, so I don’t have a real feel for this team. But don’t count them out.

Lithuania vs Greece / China “loser”: Another terrific match-up, but I think Lithuania is better than people are giving them credit for. People still seem to like Argentina more than Lithuania despite the fact that Lithuania won Group A.

Day 4

China vs Germany

Germany has a reputation for being a jump shooting team and the same can be said of China in this tournament. (I’m not sure I’d say China wants to be a jump shooting team, but nobody seems to miss more lay-ups and 6 foot floaters than China.) And as a result of the well-defended jump shots we got one of the worst shooting games of the tournament with both teams shooting under 35% for the game. But the excitement in the fourth quarter, and the importance of this game (loser likely eliminated from next round), kept the drama alive despite the poor shooting.

Just like against Spain, China built a 13 point lead with about 6 minutes left in the fourth quarter. But even as China made a basket, you could tell none of the fans watching felt like the lead was big enough. And sure enough, a host of jumpers by Germany cut into the lead. Dirk Nowitzki’s three cut the lead to 1 with just two minutes to go, and with a minute to go in the game Dirk had the ball in his hands with a chance to take the lead. But two big calls against Nowitzki ultimately decided the game. After a traveling call on Dirk had caused him to turn it over with 2 and a half minutes left in the game, Dirk went to the basket and was called for a charge with only a minute to go. Nowtitzki’s runner went down, but the officials ruled Yao Ming had position and drew the charge and Germany would get no closer.

Yi Jianlian’s jumper in the final minute padded the lead and provided the final comfortable margin, but if you are looking for an image of victory for China in this Olympic basketball tournament, it was Yao Ming standing tough in the middle, drawing a charge, and holding off the German comeback.

Australia vs Russia

This was another huge game. The winner would advance out of Group A and the loser would be eliminated from the next round. In the first half, Australia was much more balanced than Russia. Australia took the ball to the basket in transition, made shots in the post, and made open threes when appropriate in the offense. I particularly thought David Anderson provided a nice spark. Russia on the other hand was almost completely dependent on the inside game. Aleksey Savrasenko really kept Russia in the game with his inside baskets. Still, Russia trailed by 16 at halftime.

Russia opened up the second half with a number of steals and momentarily trimmed the lead to 7. Andrei Kirilenko may have lost some of his offensive firepower over the years, but his long reach continues to force turnovers. But Australia eventually adjusted to the fact that Russia was cheating and looking for steals, and the Australians made some easy baskets to extend the lead back to 17. Russia’s John-Robert Holden made some key jumpers including a three pointer to end the third quarter, but it ultimately wasn’t enough. Russia simply didn’t have enough perimeter play and balance to advance in Group A. Australia’s reward for this victory is a quarterfinal match with the winner of the US-Spain game.


Lithuania vs Croatia: Lithuania outscored Crotia by 17 in the final period and is now set as the top seed in Group A. Lithuania should face the loser of Monday’s China vs Greece game in the quarterfinals.

Argentina vs Iran: Argentina defeated Iran and holds the second seed in Group A. Argentina should face the winner of Monday’s China vs Greece game in the quarterfinals.

Greece vs Angola: Greece scored 100 in the victory.

And now folks, its time for the main event. US vs Spain.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Day 3

Due to a lack of desire to sleep, I’m not going to provide any recap of Day 3 of Olympic Men’s basketball, but Day 4 looks terrific. Let’s look at the games:

Friday Night

Russia (1-2) vs Australia (1-2): Both teams have lost to Croatia, defeated Iran, and lost to one of the two favored teams (Lithuania or Argentina). Although there are some tie-break scenarios where things would cut differently, this looks like an elimination game. The winner will likely get the fourth and final quarterfinal slot in Group A.

Greece (1-2) vs Angola (0-3): In Group B, Spain and the US seem to have the top two slots locked up and Angola is unlikely to advance. The leaves Greece, Germany, and China fighting for two slots in the quarterfinals. Greece has already beaten Germany, giving them the early lead in the competition, but they cannot afford to lose to Angola here.

Saturday Morning (Watch the Replay)

Croatia (2-1) vs Lithuania (3-0): Lithuania tries to maintain its hold on 1st place in Group A as Croatia sits a game back.

Iran (0-3) vs Argentina (2-1): Eh.

Saturday Morning

They somehow saved two of the best games for the morning on the weekend.

China (1-2) vs Germany (1-2): This could very well be an elimination game with the winner likely advancing to the quarterfinals. (China may have a second chance if they lose, since China could still defeat Greece in its final game. Germany ends with the US so they desperately need a win here.)

Spain (3-0) vs USA (3-0): The pretournament favorites, both teams are undefeated in Group B. This is why we watch international basketball.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Olympic Mens Basketball Day 2

The streaming video seemed to be working well over the weekend, but tonight the basketball replays keep breaking up. I'm just going to go the easy route and recap the game I recorded off MSNBC this morning.

Game of the Day, Day 2:
Spain defeats China in Overtime after overcoming a 15 point second half deficit.

MVP: Ricky Rubio, Age 17. The Point Guard was 0-4 from the field, but his relentless defense (including 5 steals) finally wore down China's guards. China had a chance to win on the final posession of regulation, but Rubio forced a turnover and Spain pulled away in the extra session. Here's why I like Olympic Basketball and College Basketball over NBA basketball. I love to see players diving on the floor and giving it their all from start to finish. Rubio personified all of that and his tenacious defense was clearly the deciding factor in a game where Spain did not play well.

Play of the Game: Rubio pulled down a rebound and dribbled out towards the three point line. He appeared to be pulling the ball out to settle things down, but instead made a ridiculous no-look pass to Pau Gasol for a dunk. Seriously, look for this pass on Youtube in a few days, it was the ultimate fake-out.

Ridiculous Sharpshooter: Zhu Fangyu. Whatever you do, do not leave Zhu Fangyu open. He followed up a 3-3 performance against the US, hitting 5-8 from downtown against Spain. Spain's defense was absolutely outstanding in this game and if it wasn't for the hot hand of Zhu Fangyu and former NBA reserve Wang Zhizhi, China would have been blown out.

Key Reserve: Felipe Reyes. If you thought Ricky Rubio was the unknown factor on a loaded Spanish roster, what about Reyes? He had a couple of huge baskets to key the Spanish comeback.

Mr. Basketball: Pau Gasol. China had no answer for the big man. Spain continued to feed him in the post, and if not for his dominance China would have built an even bigger lead.

Mr. Clutch Shot: Marc Gasol. Trailing in the final minutes, Spain pulled Pau Gasol from the game and put in his brother Marc Gasol. It made no sense at all and yet there was Marc catching the ball and hitting a fall away jumper over Yao Ming to complete Spain's huge comeback.

Missing in Action 1: Jose Calderon (point guard of the Toronto Raptoers) had an off night but Rubio and Rudy Fernandez easily filled the void. While Rubio provided the defense and crazy assists, Fernandez kept taking the ball to the basket and he was also a star.

Missing in Action 2: Yi Jianlian. With Yao Ming struggling with conditioning and foul trouble, China played Yi for 38 minutes and he was basically invisible. Maybe the Chinese national team was right about him not getting enough development in Milwuakee. They expected more from their 20 year old 7 footer.

Punch Line: I really feel sorry for the Chinese fans who saw their team nearly pull the big upset. It really looked like China was going to defeat the defending World Champions, but instead the Chinese fell to 0-2 in pool play. Spain remains the second best team in this tournament, and when you look at the depth on this team, I'm really looking forward to this weekend's game against the US.

Wednesday Night Schedule

Germany vs Spain: A rare terrific game that you can watch live in the evening in the US at 9pm on the Olympic Basketball channel or using the streaming video feed on NBC's website. If you can pull yourself away from Gymnastics, this is a good one to watch.

Australia vs Iran: Australia has started 0-2 in group play and looks to avoid disaster here.

Thursday Early Morning (Watch the Replay)

Angola vs China: China finally picks up a much needed win or Angola pulls the ultimate shocker.

Russia vs Lithuania: Russia tries to bounce back after a loss to Croatia, but Lithuania is now the favorite it Group A.

Thursday Morning

US vs Greece: Toughest test to date for the US. One of the next 3 games will probably be close, and this may or may not be the game.

Argentina vs Croatia: Croatia's surprising run would become shocking with a victory against Argentina.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Olympic Mens Basketall Day 1

Random thoughts:
-Olympic Basketball Games don’t have endless TV timeouts!
-Does anybody else miss the NBA on NBC music? This stuff is great.
-The horn when you check in and out of Olympic basketball games is really obnoxious.
-The Olympic Basketball courts have benches by the scorer’s table for players that are about to check in. No more sitting on the floor!

Recap of early games

Germany defeated Angola: Angola reminds me of a solid mid-major team. The tallest player is about 6’8”, but they play as a team. If a team has a cold shooting night against them, they can pull an upset.

Russia defeated Iran: Iran on the other hand will definitely surprise me if they win.

Croatia defeated Australia: Yawn

Spain defeated Greece: Greece has a couple of exceptional guards in Dimitris Diamantidis and Vasileious Spanoulis. (Oddly, as I stare at the ESPN boxscore, it lists them as a Forward and a Center despite the fact they are both under 6’5”. Hey ESPN you might want to fix that.) Anyhow, other than a few nice drives to the basket by those two guards, Greece didn’t seem to have a lot of energy against Spain. Allow me to paraphrase one of the announcers. “Hey, Greece is on the Mediterranean. Who wants to work hard? Josh Childress signed a contract in Greece not only because the Euro is much stronger than the US dollar, but because they only play 1/3rd as many games as the NBA. It’s a good life.”

Lithuania vs Argentina

A few thoughts on what turned out to be the most entertaining game of the first day:
-A player on Argentina was called for an intentional foul at half-court, despite the fact that there was no fast-break opportunity. I guess he didn’t go for the ball.
-At one point, four players stepped into the lane before a free throw was taken and yet there was no lane violation.
-Lithuania committed a shot clock violation and its players stopped moving, but Argentina picked up the ball and ran down for an uncontested lay-up.

Ah, the vagaries of international basketball. The announcers described Olympic refereeing as “wildly inconsistent”. But apparently it is “better” than it used to be. There are now 3 referees instead of 2. Of course, they are all from different countries and have completely different interpretations of what a foul is.

First half: The refs swallowed their whistles and as a result we got a very physical half with horrible shooting percentages, particularly in the first quarter. I loved the scrappy defensive effort, especially since the fans were definitely into this game, but I’m not going to argue with the people who thought this game was ugly early.

They showed Manu Ginobili sitting on the bench with his coach giving him instructions. He had this look like: I’ve won 3 NBA titles, an Italian league title, and an Olympic Gold Medal. Why are you talking to me?

Second half: Both teams scored 50 points in final 23 minutes so things definitely picked up. Lithuania built a 12 point lead with 6 minutes to go, partly because Scola was in foul trouble and Ginobili was resting on the bench.

At about the 5 minute mark, the pace of the game quickened and Argentina took control. With the exception of two vital threes from Lithuania’s Linus Kleiza, Argentina went on a huge run, including threes by Ginobili and Nocioni. An eventual 11-0 run by Argentina tied the game with 90 seconds remaining.

With one minute left, Nocioni missed a three that would have given Argentina the lead. At 25 seconds left, Ginobili was fouled (but it wasn’t called), and then he missed a jumper.

With 2 seconds left, Linus Kleiza hit a three pointer that turned out to be the game winner for Lithuania. This was an absolutely terrific game.

As indicated in my mini-Olympic preview from a few weeks ago, these were the two favored teams in Group A, and they delivered. Argentina should still be strong enough to wins its remaining games. The key for both teams is to finish in the top 2 and avoid playing the US or Spain in the quarters.

US vs China

OK, now it is time to live blog the US vs China.

Yao makes a three pointer for the first points of the game. China isn’t going to win, but at least the Chinese fans will have that as an Olympic memory.

After a beautiful pass inside to Dwight Howard, I am quickly reminded what phenomenal passers the US has in its starting lineup.

Early play of the game: It is 2 on 1 for China, and the US player slips leaving the lane wide open for a lay-up. Suddenly LeBron James comes out of nowhere to block the ball. Awesome.

Hey look, a motivated Dwayne Wade.

China is absolutely on fire from 3 point range.

Anthony has got to stop taking 3’s. This is the only way the US loses.

Hard to believe China is in the game given how many fade away jumpers they’ve taken.

LeBron James with another sick block at the start of the 2nd quarter. His two blocks have absolutely defined this game.

You know, for players like Kevin Garnett and LeBron James, the true utility players of the NBA, the Olympic Games really are the ultimate showcase for their versatility. Garnett may not be on the team anymore, but LeBron absolutely shines in this situation. LeBron can dominate the game on defense, and when he is called upon on the offensive side of the court, he can do everything. He can handle the ball, make the pass into the post, receive the pass in the post and finish.

On the flip side, players like Chris Paul and Deron Williams who are absolutely vital to winning teams in the NBA sit in the background at the Olympic games. Speaking for Deron, he dominates by having the ball in his hand and cerebrally breaking down a defense. But in the Olympics, you just aren’t going to have the ball in your hands often enough to shine.

Basically, what I’m trying to say is that if I’m a GM in the NBA, I’d have a tough time choosing between LeBron James and Chris Paul. But in the Olympics, there’s no question. LeBron is clearly the best player.

Huge inside bucket by Yao Ming in the half-court. The margin was starting to get dangerous for the Chinese.

Chen Jianghua, the 19 year old back-up point guard for China is really playing well. He hits another 3 and we’re tied at 29.

Hey remember what I was saying about Anthony taking 3’s. The same might be said about Deron Williams right now.

The US just needs to stay out of the half-court game. The starters are back in for the US and a string of steals has given them a lead. China answers with a 3 to stay close at 35-32.

Alley-oop, Kobe to Lebron James, and the US leads by 9. Another steal, Kobe to LeBron, no good, but Kobe dunks it himself.

This is sick. Jason Kidd, full court cherry-picking to Chris Bosh despite China having 3 guys back. The US is on fire 47-34.

The US was 1 of 12 from three-point range in the first half. (Kobe hit the only three.) China was 8 of 16 from three-point range in the first half. And the US still leads by 12.

Yi Jilian with a sick dunk over Carmelo Anthony to start the second half. Yao Ming had missed a wide open three and Ji Yilian took advantage of the international goal-tending rules to slam it home off the cylinder. Carmelo is not having a good day.

The US is rolling now and I’m quickly losing interest.

Deron Williams just tried to dunk on Yao Ming but came up short. Nice try Deron. A few minutes later Deron drives on Yao. Deron draws the foul but Yao gives him a smile as he swats the ball away. Yeah, I’m stretching for something interesting to talk about at this point.

And the US scores over 100 and picks up the easy victory. LeBron James was clearly the MVP based on his defensive play, but Kobe Bryant played well too. Carmelo Anthony had probably the worst game of any US player, but he’ll have plenty of opportunities to bounce back. The next game for the US is against Angola.

Monday Night

Iran vs Lithuania: Lithuania is now the favorite in Group A.

Croatia vs Russia: I haven’t seen Croatia, but from what I’ve read, they seem to be playing well lately. This could be a good game.

Watch the Replay Monday Overnight

Greece vs Germany: This is a key game. Both teams have the talent to advance out of pool play, but a loss here could make that difficult.

China vs Spain: China could easily start 0-2. Starting with the US and Spain is as tough as it gets.

Tuesday Morning

Angola vs US: Yawn.

Argentina vs Australia: Key game for Argentina who wants to avoid going 0-2. They should have enough talent to beat Australia but it should be interesting.