Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Dog Days

It’s been awhile since I’ve done a play-by-play (or “Running Diary” as it has been made famous by Bill Simmons) of a sports game. However, I felt like I haven’t truly weighed in on this year’s NCAA Tournament and that I needed to do so. Plus, I like using these posts as a way to expand the appreciation of a sporting event out to some of the main constituents of my audience such as girls and musicians who don’t really follow sports or only follow sports out of nostalgia for a team from their childhood that they actually didn’t know that much about.  See, I need to make these people (who read my blog) appreciate sports in the way that I do, if only for a brief second. And if I have to make fun of myself, digress on Scream 4, or throw a little music discussion in there, well I’m going to do it.

So, I take you back to last night, where I sat on the couch in my apartment and watched the 2011 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship between the Butler Bulldogs and the University of Connecticut Huskies.


-We’re live in Houston for the NCAA Tournament Championship. It's a battle of the dogs: The Huskies and the Bulldogs. In an actual battle of my preference for a dog, a husky would win by a huge margin. Have you ever seen a husky? They are way better, furrier, more handsome and cuter than a bulldog. If you say the opposite, I will never trust your judgment in anything.

- Back to the top, what are we doing in Houston? By all accounts this is an awful city. I saw the Championship Game in 2008 and it was in San Antonio, which was a great place to have a huge, collegiate event that involves lots of eating and drinking. From what I’ve heard, Houston sucks and is very spread out. Nothing even approaching the feel of the Riverwalk. This is already a bad start.

- Another bad sign: during the Butler intros, each player is going down to pet the bulldog, but there are no frontal bulldog shots.  The CBS crew better step it up and know where their bread is buttered. (I’m sure there was a dog metaphor there but I didn’t feel like carrying it out.)

- We get a closeup of Butler coach Brad Stevens. If Butler wins, I’ll look forward to seeing Topher Grace play Stevens in “Bulldogs: An Underdog Story,” which would come out in approximately 2015.

- Next there’s a closeup of Jim Calhoun who, when he retires, could play some kind of criminal in the next Boston crime movie. I mean he’s already got a criminal background with all those NCAA violations!

- I’m actually rooting for UConn because I like Kemba Walker and my friend Rich went there. Kemba has a definite Danny Manning in 1988 vibe and you have to like that—plus he’s from the Bronx and that just seems tough to me.

- Clark Kellogg and the always pleasant Steve Kerr break down the game. The “X-Factor” edge goes to Butler. Not sure what that means, but I’m intrigued!

20:00 – Tip-off goes to UConn as Jim Nantz confidently states, “Time to settle the Madness.” Umm…

19:40 – UConn opens up the game with a herky jerky Olander layup. He scored the first basket against Kentucky, so if you believe in omens, this is a good one.

18:54 – Stigall hits a three pointer for Butler. Both teams are looking very tight.

18:22 – Oriakhi with some nice post moves and a bucket. The name Oriakhi will always make me hungry for some kind of Asian-fusion food, though. I think that’s a plus. Maybe its even an “X-Factor.”

17:07 – Kemba is 0-3 already.  He’s had a couple of good looks. Mack’s been driving into him. Mack is smaller but has a bigger upper body. I like his control and strength. I noticed it last year against Duke but even moreso in this tournament. 4-3 UConn.

15:58 – First TV timeout. I’m hoping for a Scream 4 commercial.

- There is no Scream 4 commercial, but let me take a moment here to talk about the Scream franchise. I’ve made a big deal on my Twitter account and also amongst my real-life friends about seeing Scream 4 when it comes out on April 15. Some people are baffled when I talk about it. That may be because I get so excited and start screaming about how no less than 20 people (as a group) should go and see a Scream movie. I say that because there is no better horror movie to watch in a group, spilling popcorn, sharing popcorn, making jokes, making out, than a Scream movie.  I remember seeing the first Scream in 1997 and how it changed my world.  I don’t particularly like horror movies, but there is something about the Scream franchise. It could just be the meta-element of it and the humor that factor brings, but there is just something so right about it even down to the names of the characters: Billy Loomis, Mrs. Loomis, Sidney Prescott, Gail Weathers, Dewey Riley, Tatum Riley. The acting is always just a good mix of earnestness and self-aware cheesiness that fits perfectly. Plus you have the built-in convention of knowing that the opening scene is going to result in a murder but are still entertained for how it will unfold.  Anyway, I’m looking forward to Scream 4 (Why is Gail Weathers wearing a Ghostface mask in one of the commercials? What does it mean?)

- There is a Your Highness commercial however.  Portman looks great, but it looks like she’ll be continuing the streak of Oscar winners immediately releasing their worst movies right after they win the Oscar.

15:17 – Matt Howard nails a three. Howard is the first college basketball player I’ve seen in awhile who actually looks like a college kid. 6-4 Butler. Let that score sink in for a little bit.

13:55 – Butler misses another shot. Both teams are shooting terribly. NBA, where art thou?

13:19 – Howard is fouled by Okwandu. Okwandu and Oriakhi. Ethiopian and Japanese fusion. Does that work? I think I’d eat that.

13:05 – Kemba hits his first shot of the game.  I really like Kemba. He has a great Iversonian charisma without any of the foreboding danger.

12:34 – After a Butler miss, Kemba drives in transition and gets an “and one.” He’s relentless, never stops attacking. It’s been quite a month with Kemba in the spotlight.

- A break in the action and there’s a Big Bang Theory promo. I always forget that CBS actually has TV shows.

12:21 – Nored at the line for Butler and he makes two free-throws. 13-9 UConn.  I love this Butler team because they have players with classic awkward college basketball names like Nored and Hahn. It reminds me of the late 90’s.

11:58 – We’ve reached the second TV timeout. “Coming in the Air Tonight” hard rock cover leads us into the break. Just awful.

11:45 – UConn looking too big for Butler right now.  Florida did too in the Elite 8, but they didn’t have someone like Kemba on the perimeter to balance out the offense.

10:44 – Jeremy Lamb comes back in the game.  I take back what I said about Howard. Lamb is the first player in years that actually looks like a college kid. Bad facial hair and all.

9:17 – This first half is really, really sloppy.  Howard gets a tie-up.  He’s the white Kevin Garnett for this Butler team. What?

8:16 – Mack’s handle and game remind me of Jamaal Crawford’s game from Finding Forrester.

7:13 – Stigall with a huge 3. Butler takes the lead 16-15. Wait, what? 16-15. Is this 1947?

- During the commercial break we get a Honda Accord commercial featuring “The Only Living Boy in New York” by Simon & Garfunkel. I’ve been wanting to weigh in on this song for awhile. It’s obviously one of the top 5 songs by Simon & Garfunkel and possibly one of the Top 75 songs of the 70’s or the 60’s depending on which decade you allocate the song to. It definitely shows off Simon’s best use of the studio and all of the tricks he developed on Bookends. It also gives a good little nod to the Beatles and their technique of recording cacophonous vocals. I know that people hate on this song because Zak Braff used it in Garden State, but my question is, how many of us were talking about this song before that movie? I mean, I’m sure a lot of music critics and historians were, but people of my generation, how big of a Simon & Garfunkel fan were you before you heard that song? I think a lot of us heard that song, realized we really liked it, found out it was on Bridge Over Troubled Water, picked that album up and realized it was amazing. So, don’t completely hate on Zak Braff.  I’ve had about twelve beers already by the way.

6:40 – Kemba with a jumper.  He keeps plugging away even though he isn’t having one of his best games.  I feel like the dam’s going to break for him in the second half. 17-16 UConn.

5:40 – Jim Nantz is really pushing to remind us how much he enjoyed last year’s final and his call of Hayward’s last shot. Meanwhile, Howard misses after a nice post move. I say he finds some kind of niche in the NBA.  Maybe I’m crazy but I see it for some reason.

4:44 – Clark Kellogg calls getting points in the paint, “gobbling up glass” and follows that metaphor all the way through by saying about Butler that points in the paint aren’t “a big part of their menu.” Ummm…

4:10 – Mack hits a three. 19-19.

44.8 – Um, basically nothing happened in the past four minutes.  This is a BAD game.

0.2 – Mack drains a forced, long three that had me say, “Ughhh…WOW!” Butler goes into the half with the lead 22-19.

- During halftime (as I listen to Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Greg Anthony discuss how awful this game) seems like a good time to elaborate on what the past two NCAA tournaments have meant. Butler, which is a school from a mid-major conference (aka not a school with a traditional athletic program) has been in the Championship Game the past two years. Last year’s tournament and this year’s tournament have been perhaps the two most unpredictable tournaments of all time. However, there has been a noticeable drop-off in overall play as well as a lack of excitement or interest in the regular season. This is due to the fact that players come to college for one year, we don’t learn anything about them (so we don’t really follow the teams that closely) and then they leave for the pros. The level of play drops because the teams can’t really become fluid with each other and the players don’t learn the nuances of the game that they would if they stayed two or three years.  Now, players have been leaving college early since the mid-90’s. It’s only become more of an issue recently because of the NBA’s 19 and over rule about entering the NBA. Now kids simply pick a school because they essentially have a year to kill when they could have once gone to the NBA. Players like Kobe, LeBron, Garnett, Jermaine O’Neal and Amar’e Stoudemire really weren’t going to gain anything from playing college basketball (well, maybe Amar’e would have learned defense, but then again Carmelo didn’t learn it in his one year at Syracuse). But perhaps there is logic to the fact that the players who would go from high school to the NBA would never consider college and that only players who wanted to play college ball would continue to play college ball. All I know is that I am a fan of the 19 and over rule because college athletics has always been a bit of a sham. The fact that the kids now have to go for one year isn’t that much of a difference. They are taking up scholarship chances for other players and I see how that is unfair, but I’d like to see the stats on the increase of one and done players. It was happening in the past, but I feel as though modern media coverage has made it an even more focused issue now.  As an NBA fan and a fan of college in general, I would want players to stay for at least two years so they could hone their skills, learn from good coaches and get some experience at an intermediate level before jumping into the NBA. It would increase the quality of play and also help the marketing of players due to the fact that they would be playing on national television during March for at least two years. That can only help NBA scouts evaluate talent a little bit better (I’m not saying that will get markedly better, but it would be of some aid). This is obviously a complicated issue involving corruption of the NCAA, the state of the NBA and also the prestige of higher education. However, there has to be some system that works. Although, more and more it seems like collegiate athletics may have to evolve in some way or another, though I’m not exactly sure what the eventual solution will be, because schools making money off of players who can’t take gifts or work just seems like it will perpetuate the cycle of corruption.

- Now, halftime laundry fold. I’ve already had about thirty beers so its all good.

19:32 – Stigall opens up the second half with a three.

17:39 – Napier takes a terrible shot. He passes to Lamb, which leads Jim Nantz to say, “Napier feeds Lamb!” Lamb nails the shot. 26-25 UConn.

16:57 – UConn on 7-0 run. This reminds me of the VCU-Butler game from Saturday. Butler just seems to hang around and never completely fall out of a game.

15:39 – Nantz asks Kellogg why the shooting has been so bad. He adds an extra “Why?” in. It sounds like he is pleading with Clark after some kind of horrible atrocity, which I guess this game is.

13:39 – Lamb steals an awful pass and dunks. First dunk of the game! Thank God!

12:38 – I’m having trouble even writing comments about this game. Butler literally can’t make a shot. It’s unreal. It’s like a Buffalo Wild Wings commercial.

12:29 – First bulldog closeup!

11:08 – Napier feeds the Lamb. 37-28. UConn pulling away a bit here.

10:45 – Smith spins to the basket and…misses. No! That was an easy shot. This is literally getting insane.

10:15 – Walker with an unbelievable finger roll. We needed Marv for that (No offense MJ).

8:45 -  Break in the action and a “Poor Shooting” graphic is shown on the screen.  I feel bad even joking about that fact.

8:20 – Butler is 8/49 shooting for the game. Let that stat just soak in.

7:30 – Oriakhi hits a jumper. 41-28 UConn.

6:11 – Smith with a layup! A layup! The dam has broken.

5:49 – “They have defended, they have executed, they have Walker, Texas Ranger.” – Jim Nantz, April 4, 2011.

5:49 - “Unparalleled ineptitude.” – Clark Kellogg, April 4, 2011.

4:36 – VanZant nails a three. How about them apples! Random Good Will Hunting reference.

 2:56 – Good shot of “Old Man” Donyell Marshall in the crowd. This game might be the most anticlimactic moment in human history. Glad I decided this would be the night to dust off the old play-by-play.

1:39 – Mack makes a three! 49-41 UConn.  Still time for more “unparalleled ineptitude.”

33.1 – Butler fouls. UConn is about to win. Its Kemba at the line of course.  He makes both free throws.

0.0 – Lamb dribbles out the clock and UConn wins their third National Championship, all of them under Jim Calhoun.  UConn’s run was extremely remarkable even though tonight has been extraordinarily anticlimactic with all the setup. I don’t want to take any credit away from UConn team because this time of college basketball is what it is, but as I mentioned before, NCAA basketball is at a crossroads and even though this atrocious game sort of magnified it, its not necessarily a great place.

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