Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Ohio State University @ the University of Southern California, September 13th (That Girl Guest Column #3)

Me: So That Girl and I are going to have a brief chat about the prospects of either of these possible national title contenders-

That Girl: They're not 'possible' national title contenders, they *are* title contenders, given that both of them don't play in the SEC and this is likely the only tough game either of them play.

Me: Uh, OK, then. This promises to be a good matchup-

TG: If you call USC by 21 a good matchup.

Me: What? Definitely tOSU 21-USC 17. Definitely.

TG: And what makes you think that?

Me: Well, honestly speaking, these might be the two deepest teams in the country in terms of talent- every position for both teams goes at least 2 or 3 deep, despite injuries to the Buckeyes and TE Vernon Davis, OLB Keith Rivers, QB John David Booty, and perhaps most importantly, three-year starting DT Sedrick Ellis. In fact, depth-

TG: -will be a huge advantage for USC.

Me: Why?

TG: Well, let's think about this. If Mark "Dirty" Sanchez, USC's starting QB, goes down, he has a former #1 in the nation, five-star caliber recruit to replace him. If Todd Boeckman goes down, Jim Tressel is going to rely on a guy who hasn't played a snap of college football in four years and an 18-year-old kid who is still trying to put his jockstrap on.

Me:...who also happens to be the most talented and heavily-recruited quarterback in history.

TG: Right, so he's also the most overrated.

Me: Wait, if Pryor is overrated, how can you say Mitch Mustain is overrated?

TG: Mitch Mustain is 8-0 in the SEC, the toughest conference in America except for maybe the NFC West. Questions?

Me: I will agree with you that USC's players tend to be more highly rated coming out of high school; however, generally speaking, Jim Tressel tends to develop his players well. For example, a former two-star recruit named Troy Smith became, under his tutelage, a Heisman-trophy winning quarterback-

TG: -who was overrated because he played against non-SEC competition, then choked in the biggest game of his life and became a benchwarmer for the Ravens, who will probably cut him to go play Mexican football or something.

Me: *Canadian*, thank you very much. You can't blame the Debacle in the Desert all on Smith, though-

TG: Exactly! It was a team failure.

Me: *suspicious* Well, yes...

TG: And seeing as this is the exact same team that got [censored] up the [censored] by Florida, and then proceeded to get [censored] again like a [censored] [censored] [censored] by LSU the next year, can you explain to me why this might be any different?

Me: Well, obviously, this team is harder, stronger, faster, better than either of those two teams, and both those defeats were for reasons other than talent: Florida was simply the better team on the field that night because tOSU thought it could walk in there without being properly prepared, and the LSU game was much closer than the score indicated; had our boys executed a few key plays properly-

TG: Like the ones where they tried to score, and didn't?

Me: Umm, well-

TG: Not that you would know anything about scoring, of course.

Me: Wait, what-

TG:...watching Tresselball all the time! *ba dum ching* Thank you, I'll be here all week. In any case, I don't see how a unit that is essentially unchanged from two years ago- we're talking offensive line here- can possibly protect a talentless quarterback like Todd Boeckman from one of the fiercest pass rushes in college football.

Me: Well, obviously DT Fili Moala and DE Everson Griffin are going to be formidable threats, but you have to understand that this is an OL group that has been through the fire together for the past three years, unlike USC's patchy group of-

TG: Five-star linemen? Who are projected to become all-pros in the next 10 years?

Me: Well, yeah, but we have BEANIE-

TG: And don't get me started with that crap. If your starting running back is named after a toy hat children wear, perhaps you should start being very, very afraid of Rey Malauga.

Me:...who is the second best MLB in college football, after James Laurinaitis.

TG: Laurinaitis disappears in big games.

Me: He set a record for tackles in the BCS championship game last year!

TG: Well, yeah, but that's because his DT's were getting blown off the line, as they will be when Kris and Co. come to town.

Me: Actually, the game's being played at USC.

TG: Oh, it is? Sorry, I was wrong; USC by 40. Their home-field advantage is better than anyone's, unless you count SEC schools.

Me: Umm, Stanford? Hello?

TG: Booty was hurt.

Me: Yes, and remind me, what string QB was Stanford on? Their third? And were they a 40-point underdog? Oh yes, they were. And how many games did they win last year? Four? Like the number of times USC was able to score against them in an entire game? And, oh, let's not forget, they lost to Notre Dame, which, as you may have heard, was a little down last year.

TG: Yes, but we beat ND 38-0, so therefore we must be better than Stanford since Notre Lame beat them.

Me:....Right. In any case, I'm not saying the Buckeyes are the superior team by any means-

TG: That's because they're not.

Me: Would you let me finish? All I'm saying is that the Buckeyes are deep, talented, experienced, and hungry as hell. They have a definite chance to beat USC.

TG: Just like you have a definite chance of being straight.

Me: Shut the **** up.

TG: Thanks folks, we'll be back next week to talk about Maurice Clarett!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

That Girl Guest Column #2
Sometimes I wonder about what's really out there in the universe.

On one hand, I am, at heart, an astronomer, a gazer at the stars, one who looks at the vast, unfathomable beyond and sees billions upon billions of galaxies chock-full of the potential for...something. As Mr. Sagan said, if there wasn't anyone out there, it would be an awful waste of space.
On the other hand, I am, in head, a biologist, and I look at the near-miraculous odds that we faced in our evolution and think to myself that there is no possible way it could possibly ever happen again.

Then I look at the guy who's holding out flowers to me, and I realize that yes, there is alien life in the universe. It's right here, actually.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Notes from today:

-This is what I fear will happen to me someday:

-My roommate has a wonderful list of Spanish argut/slang/palabras de la calle, including:

"Encularse: to become pussy whipped"
"Caquero: stuck up"
"Hasta la quinta, pura, purísma mierda: Out in east bun (sic) f***" (i.e. Kansas)
"Meterse el dedo: to tickle the taco"
"Putear: to be a whore"
"Con huevos: To go balls out, to put some muscle behind it, like you have balls"

Monday, August 11, 2008

Olympic Basketball
A message to all the "basketball liberals" of the world (note: not the same as political liberals, but there's a lot more overlap than they would care to admit): the US Olympic basketball team is not, in fact, selfish. It is not showoff-ish. It is not individualistic, or fundamentally unsound, or mean-spirited, or unable to work together as a team, or unable to shoot from the outside, or lacking in heart/size/skill/coaching.

That was 2004's team.

That's not to say this edition of Team USA is unbeatable- far from it. A number of the savvier sportswriters (i.e. the ones who have actually watched this team play) have noted a couple of weaknesses: free-throw shooting, half-court sets to get open looks from the 3, sustained defense, difficulty against the zone when Deron Williams isn't in, even a propensity for deferring too much.

Let's listen to that again: a propensity for deferring too much. That means Kobe is passing up shots he would have taken in the NBA (are you listening, basketball liberals? or busy burning David Stern's business plan and tape of Coach K's Mastercard commercial in effigy?), which, yes, given that he's the most potent offensive force currently playing on a court, is a bit of a problem. Occasionally. But are you even listening to me?

Let's talk about what this team can't do: play the Princeton offense. Slow the game down. Get good looks on the ouside consistently in a half-court set. Play from behind. Avoid sloppy, incredibly *sloppy* turnovers occasionally.

But what about what it can do? Never have to play from behind. Tenacious, hellacious, and selfless pressure defense (notice: not zone, not trapping...that's what you do when your team doesn't have the players). Turnover dominance. Near-perfect execution of fast breaks. Nailing open shots like it's nobody's business (getting open shots is the problem) Out-hustle and out-athleticize anybody in the game, except *maybe* Spain, on a down day. And occasionally, every once in a while, run a beat-four-guys-in-the-lane, thundering-dunk NBA-style iso play with LeBron, Kobe, Carmelo, Chris Paul, Deron Williams, or DWAYNE WADE, just to remind everyone that we can.

Oh, and let's talk about depth and team organization: Team USA goes a legit 12 men deep. Easily. I would feel just as comfortable with Paul, Redd, Tayshaun, Bosh, and Boozer (the last 5 men) as I would with Kidd (?), Kobe, Wade, Lebron, and Howard (the first 5 men). And they play well together. Coach K is not an X's and O's kind of guy at the level of Mike D'Antoni (his assistant) or Greg Popovich (the other candidate for head coach). What he is a genius at is getting players prepared to embrace their roles in and to embrace them in a disciplined, smart way. Guess what? Coach K got Kobe to accept *not* being the centerpiece of the offense, and made him care about defense (side note: when Kobe actually cares about playing defense, he's a sickeningly good one-on-one guy, and reminds me a little of MJ. Except MJ was better) Coach K got Chris Paul and Deron Williams to be comfortable with coming off the bench to spark the offense; Coach K got Carmelo to play up to his *nasty* potential as a FIBA swingman with LeBron (most wings are too small and most forwards are too slow to keep up with those two). And he did it while working under the crushing assumption that if he wins, it's because "he had the best players" (true, but not the whole truth) whereas if he loses, it's because of "bad coaching" (completely untrue).

Watch K's Duke teams, the really dominant ones from the early '90s. Watch K's Olympic team now. Then cringe in memory of a bronze-medal winning team that had Stephon Marbury (!) in its starting backcourt.

What does this mean? It means the same thing everyone else has been saying: Team USA is a favorite. But not a jugernaught.

Yes, Team USA performed well under potential at the 2006 world championships in Athens, eventually taking third place after a humbling loss to Greece (damn pick-and-roll). But imagine this: now the players have two more years of experience in FIBA-style rules (different levels of acceptable contact for fouls, really strange goaltending rules, and a larger key, mainly), a much higher level of motivation (this is the real thing, and the medal rounds are stressful one-and-dones, similar to March Madness...which Coach K owns a 66-18 record in) and senior leadership under Kobe (on defense) and (supposedly) Kidd. So what's down the road for the US?

Greece, with its disciplined, massive players, will slow the game down and try to make Team USA play a lot of methodical, half-court basketball, which is exactly what every team should be doing. Pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop will slowly wear away at US defense; tight, well-executed zone defense will make the US pay dearly for every shot. The question: can they minimize the numbers of turnovers from their ballhandlers, and prevent the US from shooting well from the outside? It's an iffy question, and I'd give the US team 50-50 odds.

Spain/Argentina both will play a more uptempo style; Spain, in particular will try to beat the US at their own game with man-to-man defense and quick, NBA-style outside-inside offense. We have the athleticism edge; Spain has size and experience and (possibly) a little "extra help" from the refs, depending on how much they hate us this year. (Recall, Tim Duncan refused to go Olympic again because of shoddy treatment from the refs). Argentina will try to mix-and-match the two styles, and has an NBA-quality roster to do so. Again, I'd give them roughly the same odds: 50-50 against Spain and maybe a little less against Argentina, who has Manu Ginobli, who terrifies me.

So, take heart, and take heed: brighter days are ahead! Win or lose, this edition of Team USA won't embarrass it's homeland.

PS: And yes, I still think a college team would be better, both for the image of American basketball (our Joes can beat your Pros) and because it would be hellaciously fun to watch. Imagine this starting lineup:

PG: Derrick Rose (Memphis)
SG: Stephen Curry (Davidson)/Jon Diebler (OSU, because I watched him in high school and am deeply afraid of him)
SF: Michael Beasley (Kansas St.)/Billy Walker (Kansas St...maybe graduated?)
PF: Kevin Love (UCLA)/Kyle Singler (Duke)/James Mays (Clemson)
C: Tyler Hansblahbah (UNC, but only because patriotism demands it...also it's easier to be a short center in international ball)

On the bench: OJ Mayo, because he's an idiot and it would be great to have him humbled.

I can just see the Greek coach pulling his hair out trying to stop little Stephen Curry :)