Monday, April 21, 2008

Just Getting Started...

With each round's first game complete, the NBA playoffs has demonstrated its excitement and unpredictability from the start. Day 1 featured a double overtime thriller and an impressive debut, while Day 2 featured a shocking upset and an established dominance by the favorite. But the playoffs have only just begun, and there is no doubt that there will be more great things to come.

Saturday afternoon featured two great matchups. For the third straight year, Cleveland & Washington met again in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Lebron and company were outplayed in the first 3 quarters, but pulled away in the 4th en route to a 93-86 victory. James led all scorers with 32 in the contest. The second matchup, San Antonio versus Phoenix, was a rematch of last year's controversial series between the two foes. Phoenix's early attempt at revenge was foiled when Michael Finley buried a 3 with seconds remaining to send the contest into overtime. Phoenix looked to have to the game won again in the closing seconds of overtime, when Tim Duncan hit an unlikely 3 with 3.0 seconds remaining. In double overtime, it was the Suns face to face with a loss, down 115-112, when Steve Nash nailed a tough fade-away 3 to tie it up with 15 ticks on the clock. However, Manu Ginobli was the answer in the clutch; driving to the rim for the tough layup that fell with 1.8 seconds left to give the Spurs a 1-0 series lead. Duncan led all scorers with 40.

In the night cap, Chris Paul made his playoff debut and didn't disappoint. The MVP candidate and rising star nearly made the playoff record books, dropping 35 points in his first career playoff game. Paul also spread the ball around, adding 10 assists. In a game that the Mavericks appeared to handle early on, marching to a 12 point lead at the half, the Hornets stormed back behind the leadership of their MVP. Paul launched the comeback with a 7-0 run by himself in the 3rd quarter. Minutes later, the Hornets led 86-74 after capping off a 30-10 run. The young Hornets, who looked inexperienced in the first half, proved why they had been atop the Western Conference standings all year with a 104-92 win. In the final game of Day 1, the Jazz easily took down the Rockets 93-82. Will T-Mac ever get that playoff series victory?

In Sunday's first game, behind Dwight Howard's 20-20 performance (25 pts & 22 rebounds), Orlando easily defeated Toronto 114-100.

In a physical game with a lot of jawing between the two teams, Kobe and the Lakers rolled to a 128-114 victory over the Nuggets. Bryant had foul trouble early, but his 18 4th quarter points left him with 32 when it was all said and done. The real story was Pau Gasol who took over while Bryant was sidelined, leading the Lakers in scoring, rebounds, and assists. Gasol had 36 points on 14-20 shooting, 16 rebounds, and 8 assists for the near triple-double in his first career playoff win. Denver had no answer for Gasol. The poor defense that had been hindering their potential all year was exposed once again. Frustration began to set in at the end when Kenyon Martin was T'd up along with Bryant, in an altercation between the two. Allen Iverson then followed that up receiving a double technical after arguing with an official on a call that ejected him from the game. Denver needs to sort out their problems fast, before they find themselves on an early bus back home.

Sunday had played out as planned until Philadelphia rolled into the Palace at Auburn Hills in Detroit. In Sunday's only upset, Philadelphia, one of the NBA's surprise teams of the year, hung tough with Detroit the whole way in the Game 1 matchup. Then, in the final minutes, the Sixers closed the Pistons out. The Pistons had many chances to win/tie the game late, but missed the shots they needed to make. The Sixers deserve much credit for the way they played. Andre Miller led Philadelphia with 20 points. It should be interesting to see how the Pistons respond to the upset. I would expect them to come out strong in Game 2.

In the final game of the weekend, Boston established themselves as the powerhouse they are. The Celtics cruised past the Hawks to a 104-81 victory that was no contest. The Big 3 combined for 50 points and were all smiles in the closing minutes of the game. With victories for both Boston and Los Angeles, the road begins for a potential clash between the two #1 seeds with such a historic past. Will history repeat itself once again? Regardless, expect a playoffs nothing short of spectacular.

Image taken from Yahoo! Sports

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The One That Got Away...

With 2:12 seconds remaining in the second half, the Memphis Tigers held a comfortable 60-51 lead over the Kansas Jayhawks. Memphis started the game slowly and trailed 33-28 at the half, but the Tigers had responded midway through the second half and now had complete control over the game. This is when the tide began to turn. After a Kansas basket, the Jayhawks stole the inbound and immediately hit a three to cut a 9 point lead to 4 in a matter of seconds. Next, Kansas' strategy was to make Memphis beat them at their worst aspect of the game: free throw shooting.

Memphis responded by shooting one for their last five at the line and gave Kansas one last glimpse of hope. A glimpse Mario Chalmers took full advantage of. With 10.8 seconds on the clock, Kansas' Sherron Collins took the inbound, crossed Derrick Rose, and hurried the ball up the court. Collins then handed the ball off to Chalmers who launched a contested shot over the out-stretched arm of Rose. Chalmers said it felt good when the ball left his hands & he couldn't have been more right as the ball hit nothing but net, tieing the game at 63 with 2.1 seconds left to play. After a missed half court prayer by Dozier, the game was heading for overtime. Kansas had put on an unbelievable 12-3 run to end regulation.

In overtime, with Memphis' Joey Dorsey fouled out of the game, and the momentum all on Kansas' side, the Jayhawks extended the run to 19-3, and took a comfortable 6 point lead early in overtime. The Tigers were never able to recover from the deficit and Kansas prevailed with a 75-68 victory. Kansas' Mario Chalmers, who Jim Nantz dubbed "Super Mario" after the game, received the honor of the Final Four's Most Valuable Player. Chalmers finished the game with 18 points and 4 steals.

With two minutes left in regulation Memphis had a championship in their sights. The players were all smiles, and the team was confident they had the game just about wrapped up. But, oh how quickly the tables turned when Kansas made its last push for greatness. Coach John Calipari of Memphis was criticized for some of his decision-making down the stretch. Many felt he should have used a timeout after Rose made the last free throw to increase the lead to 3 with 10.8 seconds left. Calipari also claimed that Memphis was trying to foul Kansas on their last possession to avoid allowing them to shoot a game-tying three, and gave credit to Collins for getting past Rose without giving Rose the chance to foul him. It seemed pretty obvious Rose had the opportunity to foul Collins but did not to attempt to, which would suggest not all the players knew they were in a fouling situation. A timeout after Rose's free throw would have given Calipari a chance to make sure his team knew the situation and what they were supposed to do.

However, what it all comes down to is plain and simple. Kansas stepped up and did everything they had to do in the closing two minutes of the game and in overtime. Memphis, on the other hand, did not. Calipari and his players claimed it did not matter that they shot 59% from the free throw line for the season, because they would always come through when the game was on the line. It isn't surprising that the team that had killed its championship hopes in the last few years with free throws, managed to do so again when the pressure was on. Memphis only has itself to blame for its complete breakdown with two minutes remaining. Kansas was well-deserving of the championship. When it mattered, they finished. Memphis had the championship in their hands, but could not finish. Now they are forced to live with the ill-taste of the game they let get away for the rest of their lives.

Image taken from Yahoo! Sports

Monday, April 7, 2008

65 to 2...

After a crazy month of March & part of early April, the madness is finally at its end. A tournament that saw two #2 seeds fall in the second record, and a #10 seed fall a basket short of the Final Four, came down to the four #1 seeds fighting for a chance at the title. The two teams to shine in the Final Four were Kansas (36-3) and Memphis (38-1). Right off the bat they announced their presence with authority. They wanted it more than North Carolina & UCLA; that's all there was to it. This brings us to the final game. A game that will decide who the best team in college basketball is for the 2007-08 season. So who's it going to be?

Both teams are well-deserving of their spot in the title game, but one team seems to have emerged as the best in the tournament. That team is Memphis. While Kansas, as I mentioned a few days ago, is the best "team" in college basketball, Memphis is just too talented. Kansas has no one superstar, but they have a bunch of players that know their role, play great defense, and perform with excellence within the system. Memphis, however, has proven all year they are the best. Aside from one slip in a loss against Tennessee, Memphis is 38-0 on the year. They dominated their weak conference, as they should, but additionally handled the likes of USC, Arizona, & Georgetown in the regular season as well. In the tournament, aside from a nail-biter against Mississippi State, Memphis has cruised to the title game, winning their last three games by 15 or more.

After their loss to Tennessee in early February, Memphis has responded with a 12 game win-streak, silencing the criticisms of analysts that claimed they were incapable of winning the "big game". Well, now they've reached the biggest game of their careers. Memphis finally has the chance to show everyone that although Conference USA is a mid-major conference, the team at the top of that conference is just as good as any school from any power conference.

Over the last few games, Memphis has stepped up their free throw shooting significantly. They've shot 80.8% over the last 3 games after they ranked third worst in the nation at 58.3% on the season & shot 55.2% after the first two rounds of the tournament. Their inability to shoot free throws all year long, however, should not be overlooked. When a national championship is on the line, the charity stripe feels much farther away from the hoop and the basket looks much smaller for most players. Poor shooting from the line and poor shooting from the outside could cost Memphis the game.

Lastly, just a few quick things to note. Kansas is a great team. They have the components to win a national championship. If Chalmers and company can shut down Rose & Douglas-Roberts, the championship is theirs for the taking. They came out playing unbelievable against North Carolina, and then faded in the second half before a late surge at the end. I can't count Kansas out of it. Especially with the inconsistency Memphis has shown shooting from the outside and from the free throw line in the past years. Kansas has a great defense and a great offense. UCLA, known for its defense, couldn't shut down the Tigers on Saturday night. However, UCLA lacks the offense Kansas has when Rush and them are shooting well. You can't count out Kansas. If there's one thing for sure, it is going to be a great game.

My Prediction:
Memphis 79 - Kansas 76

Images taken from

Friday, April 4, 2008

All Four One's...

For the first time in NCAA history, all four #1 seeds have advanced to the Final Four. In a tournament that has featured many upsets, no cinderella could take down the top seed in each region. Kansas (35-3), UCLA (35-3), Memphis (37-1), and North Carolina (36-2) were all put to the test at some point in the tourney, but they were all able to prevail with some big-time play down the stretch. So now that every #1 seed advanced, how do we determine who the favorite is? In all seriousness, it could go either way. All four teams have what it takes to win it all. The Final Four is really just a toss up. One thing is for sure though. If any of these teams have a sub-par game, their opponent will jump at the opportunity to take over the game. Each team is going to have to play at their best to have a shot.

I know you all aren't reading this to hear me say all the teams are great and the tournament is a toss up. It's pretty obvious from the #1 posted next to their team names on the bracket that these teams are the best. So here's some insight on who I think will prevail. I successfully predicted 3 of the 4 Final Four teams (North Carolina, Kansas, & UCLA) in my bracket. My last Final Four team was Texas (so I only missed by a game). I let history decide for me and picked Texas over Memphis, because no four #1 seeds had ever all advanced to the Final Four. I also liked how Texas played the Elite 8 close to home. But all of that is in the past. The future is what matters.

So here are my predictions:
North Carolina 86 - Kansas 82

Although I consider Kansas to be the most well-rounded TEAM in the tournament, I think they're just overmatched. North Carolina has the nation's leading offense and they can hurt you in so many different ways. With a healthy Ty Lawson, they can run the offense at their up-tempo speed and truly play at their best level. Also, I think the effort and determination of Hansbrough will shine on Saturday night, as him, Lawson, & Ellington carry North Carolina to the National Championship.

UCLA 67 - Memphis 65

Memphis, Memphis, Memphis...I really just cannot decide on Memphis. Aside from free-throw shooting, it's all there (then they go and make 30-36 from the line in the Elite 8 versus Texas). But they had a sizeable lead when they made those free throws & most of them (14-17) came from Douglas-Roberts, their leading free throw shooter at 70% on the year. When the big game has been on the line in recent years, Memphis hasn't answered. When they have absolutely needed to make free throws, they have missed them. On top of that, UCLA is a very experienced team, reaching the Final Four 3 years in a row now. They also have an equally matched freshman superstar (Kevin Love), to match Memphis' Derrick Rose. I think UCLA's experience and relentless defense will be just enough to take down the Tigers. UCLA has been tested a few times in the tournament so far, and Darren Collison & Kevin Love have proven they can answer those challenges. I like UCLA to continue to do the same against Memphis.

Image taken from Yahoo! Sports