Sunday, January 18, 2015

My Quick Take on the Looming Greek Elections

Unlike the last time they went to the polls, the fate of the world may not be decided by the Greek electorate on January 25th.  The German banks that were repaid by the troika - IMF, European Central Bank, European Commission - that bailed out Greece two years ago are liquid again; since they have gotten their money Germany apparently does not fear a Greek exit from the eurozone if Syriza wins.

Though the leader of that party, Kosta Tsipras, is a loon a vote for Syriza does have some good points, mainly as a vote in opposition to the austerity measures forced on Greece and other eurozone nations like Spain, Ireland and Italy. It's striking to see Europe cling to austerity; their economies are so weak that Greece - GREECE - was one of only 3 eurozone nations that saw economic growth in 2014.

Contrast that with the U.S., where President Obama - with robust Democratic majorities in the House and Senate - went in the other direction and passed a stimulus bill in 2009 that kept our economy above water and paved the way for a robust recovery that is still picking up steam. Republicans wanted to push cuts in spending and emulate the European elites they supposedly despise.

But the German banks were repaid so that's all that matters to the EU.

Also unlike the last elections in 2012, eurozone leaders do not seem that alarmed about Greece possibly leaving the common currency.  Again, their banks have recovered so Greece, which is only 2 percent of the European economy, is back to being a blip on the radar screen.

But having an EU nation drop their common currency seems awfully cynical, politically.  The economic union of Europe was supposed to herald a era of continental cooperation and integration.  Has the EU stopped aspiring to those lofty political and cultural goals?  Seems like it.

While I would love to see an anti-austerity party win the Greek elections, and see an anti-austerity movement pick up steam in Europe, I can't get behind Syriza. It's ironic that they are somewhat anti-American - Syriza has threatened to kick the U.S. Navy out of Crete, opposes sanctions against Putin, etc. - when what Greece really needs is to emulate the U.S. and become a meritocracy, embrace immigrants (which Greece USED to do), and convince the E.U. - from the inside, instead of dropping out of the eurozone - to try an Obama-style stimulus instead of austerity. 

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Beating NC State

For a native North Carolinian, someone Tar Heel born, it is hard to top beating NC State - in anything but especially basketball, especially especially at Reynolds.

Saying Reynolds is proof that I am a native but also reflects how growing up Duke was not the biggest rival for the Heels. In the 70s, the Blue Devils were home to Rand Paul and other right wingers in training but they hardly featured good basketball players.  That was NC State.

Kudos to the Pack for playing a tough game versus the Heels, and I never thought I would ever type 'kudos to Mark Gottfried' but he deserves credit for making NC State basketball relevant again. Ask the Dookies if State is back. Unlike Carolina, who has won 17 of the last 18 versus the Pack, Duke has lost two in a row to State at the RBC Center, 3 in a row on that floor including the loss to Mercer.

Of course, more kudos are due to Marcus Paige, who for the second year in a row took down the Wolfpack with 23 points, 9 assists, 4 steals and no turnovers. But unlike last year's duel with T.J. Warren, Paige had considerable help from J.P. Tokoto, Isaiah Hicks, and the entire roster on Wednesday night.  Tokoto was great on defense and came up with some big steals and hoops late, and Hicks was especially huge as he posted a career high in points with Brice Johnson in foul trouble. Kennedy Meeks and Nate Britt also made big-time plays for the Heels throughout the contest.

It was a win-win win: a great victory versus the Pack IN Raleigh, and another reason to love Marcus Paige.

GO HEELS!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Reset - for Paige and for Tar Heels everywhere

I think it's safe to say the Tar Heels hit the reset button on the 2014-2015 season after their come from behind win versus Louisville in Chapel Hill on Saturday.  More than two months into this season, and the team still felt off, stuck in neutral.  For every good win, over Ohio State in Columbus or the back-to-back wins over UCLA and Florida, there were equally odd losses to Iowa at home coupled with the 'meh' games at Kentucky and against Butler.

Ditto the players. Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks entered the season with altered bodies and great expectations. Both have played well at times, but there remain nagging questions about their offensive inconsistency.

But of course the biggest example of a player stuck in neutral, searching for a rhythm and flow, was Marcus Paige.  

Not only is he our best player, the pre-season ACC player of the year and first team All-American, Paige carries the burden of being an actual student-athlete. He's asked to make shots, lead the Heels to championships, AND lead Carolina out of our post-Wainstein funk.   

We, or at least folks like me, need him to save the team and help restore our alma mater's reputation.

That's a lot on the slender shoulders of the Iowa junior. But with 8.5 seconds left and the Heels down one, Paige found to way to balance all those responsibilities - or at least figured out a way to bank them high off the glass and into the basket - and lead the Heels to their most important win of the season.

A play that big, to cap off a comeback that important, can save a season for a team and a player.  

And when that player is Marcus Paige it makes us, Tar Heels everywhere, feel better about Carolina - Dean's Carolina, the institution we believe in and cherish, THE university of the people - too.*

GO HEELS! 

* I may be overdoing it a bit, but as you can tell I love Marcus Paige. He's as Dean as they come. Anyway, we'll find out if he has turned around our season on Wednesday versus State. It will be quite a game, if for no other reason it will be State's 'we just beat the crap out of Duke' mojo versus our 'The Marcus Paige who single-handedly took down the Wolfpack in Raleigh last year is BACK.'

NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP NOTE

If you only read one article about tonight's college football championship game read this one from the Post: Students Try to Find Their Place For College Football National Championship Game. The networks and big six conferences lined up the money, sponsors, boosters, capitalist pigs, and the athletes but forgot about the students. Big time college sports don't need to be reformed; they are fundamentally corrupt.   

Monday, January 5, 2015

Conference Players of the Year

Sure, January marks the beginning of a new year but for hoops fans it mainly marks the start of ACC basketball. Though it's true that since the ACC started it's football-fueled expansion there have been a few conference games in December, the real schedule starts in January. Just this weekend there were two double-overtime games, and a nice road win for the Heels, so the ACC is off to a good start.

The conference is also loaded. Notre Dame looked terrific in taking down the Heels tonight. The addition of Louisville, coupled with Syracuse the year before, has helped reorient the conference back to where it belongs - as the nation's pre-eminent hoops conference. In addition to three teams in the top 5 and five in the current top 20, two other ACC squads have been ranked this year.  That's seven teams - at a minimum - that should get bids to the NCAA tournament.

Tournament bids is one way to measure the strength of a conference; ditto final fours and championships. Another interesting way to do so is by looking at recent players of fhe year and how they have fared at the next level. The holiday break gave me a chance to look into how the last 10 POY in the big six conferences have done in the NBA, with some interesting findings.*

I broke the players into 6 categories: MVPs (6 pts); All stars (5); starters (3); in the rotation (2); earning a pro paycheck (1); busts (0).*

Using the categories here is how the conferences stack up:
SEC - 22
ACC - 21
Big 12 - 20
PAC 12 - 18
Big East - 16
Big 10 - 10

Though it's not a balanced hoops conference it's not surprising to see the SEC on top, buoyed by one MVP type, Anthony Davis, an all star in John Wall coupled with starters and solid rotation guys. The SEC also had the fewest busts.

The ACC picked up points with 4 starters (Reddick twice, Zeller, and Lawson) plus lots of rotation players. Surpisingly and embarrassingly, no recent ACC player of the year has made an NBA all star game. The conference that produced Jordan, Duncan, Worthy, Carter, etc. seems to have stopped producing them.**

The Big 12 rode two stars - Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin - with a good number of starters and rotation guys (Marcus Thornton, Glen Davis, Markieff Morris, Michael Beasley) adding points. The PAC 12 used the same formula, and scored better than expected, thanks to two All Stars in Kevin Love and James Harden plus some rotation guys (Josh Childress, Derrick Williams).

As expected the Big 10 and Big East, two conferences where players never seem to learn how to pass or shoot (with the exception of UConn) brought up the rear. The recent emergence of Randy Foye and Jeff Green were the Big East's saving graces. And who would have guessed that Draymond Green is the only Big 10 POY in the last decade to amount to anything in the League?***

* This is hardly the best way to look at player's impact. Kyrie Irving, for instance, only played 9 games for Duke so was never a candidate for player of the year, yet is an All Star. One and done players do not always win POY, though Davis and Wall did for Kentucky.
** An exception is Chris Paul, who in his two years at Wake was rookie of the year and first team all ACC, but lot POY honors to Jared Dudley and Tyler Hansbrough.
***  Michigan's Trey Burke may change that.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Back to the blog...and Wainstein

The combination of the holiday break, #dcRising* and the looming snap elections in Greece have prompted me to blog again, for the the first time since the World Cup believe it or not.

Of course, in the ensuing six months the big story has been the Wainstein report and the embarrassing academic and athletic scandal at THE university of the people in Chapel Hill.  I drafted two blogs right after the report came out, neither of which were good enough even for the low standards of this blog. But my few quick takeaways are: 
  • I've never been more embarrassed.  This scandal is deeper than just blaming football, though the timeline does correspond with FSU joining the ACC thus turning a basketball conference into another SEC wannabe.  How it could span 20 years is beyond me or any another UNC alum to comprehend
  • The silver lining has been Chancellor Folt. I was predisposed to like her since she is an enviro and it's great to see Carolina hire a female chancellor, but her performance and dedication to transparency in this matter has been inspiring.  Moving forward I am confident that she and Carolina will get this right.
  • Another silver lining has been, believe or not, Roy Williams. To his credit, when he took over from Matt Doherty he smelled something funny when he saw how many players were majoring in African-American studies (check out the 2005 national champs roster).  With Roy at the helm the basketball office started steering players away from that department in 2007, and there haven't been any Af-Am majors since.
  • No one knows what the NCAA will do, but many of you may recall that I think it would be great for Carolina to self-police itself.  Academically that has already started to happen, as male athletes (has there EVER been an academic scandal involving female athletes?) have to constantly check in with academic counselors on home work assignments, tests, etc.
This scandal has so tarnished the University that I'd support radical steps such as dropping out to the ACC and having Carolina join the no-athletic scholarship Patriot League, and give out scholarships solely based on need similar to the Carolina Covenant program.  

Of course, that is not going to happen.   

I did email Chancellor Folt about Carolina dropping football for a year, and surprisingly received a personal email back on that topic.  It was a nice reply, pasted below, and though we will not drop football I am confident about her oversight of our athletic program and the African-American department.  Go Heels (to class, that is)!

On Nov 9, 2014, at 2:56 PM, Chancellor Folt wrote:
Dear Mr. Manuel,
Thank you for your email.  I apologize for my delay in responding.  
What is revealed in Mr. Wainstein's report was difficult for all of us to hear. I am deeply disappointed by the duration and extent of the wrongdoing and the lack of oversight that could have identified and corrected these wrongdoings much sooner and saved you and our entire community so much anguish and embarrassment.

I understand your concerns about big time college football and the role of athletics at a great public university. Without question, our core mission as an institution is academics.  However, I believe we can offer strong academics and a successful athletic program.  In fact, I believe that athletics advances our academic mission.

That being said, we must do a better job of integrating academics and athletics. Moving forward, faculty will be involved more directly in reviewing our student-athletes’ eligibility and progress toward degree. We also are enhancing our efforts to align and enrich existing advising and support programs for student-athletes, and integrate them more fully with advising programs across campus.  Further, athletics director Bubba Cunningham began over two years ago to execute a plan to bolster integrity and accountability throughout the Athletics organization

This has been a very painful time for Carolina, but we have accepted responsibility and our leadership is united in moving forward with meaningful, long-term reforms.  You can learn more about the reforms we have implemented and the new initiatives just announced by visiting 
Carolinacommitment.unc.edu.  

Those who know our university best understand that this most unpleasant chapter does not define Carolina.  Our remarkable service to our state, nation, and world will continue to thrive.  

Please keep your faith in Carolina.  We pledge to do better and to make the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill even stronger. 

Best,

Chancellor Carol Folt

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Febra Copa de Mundo

Well, I certainly didn't see it coming, but with Greece and the US in the knock out round of 16 I've got World Cup fever.  How did I come to this diagnosis?  Consider:

  • the title for this blog post is in Portageez
  • I'm wearing a Nederlands Robin Van Persie #9 tee shirt
  • I'm listening to Jazz Samba, by Charlie Byrd and Stan Getz, as I blog
  • I just emailed my παρεα about a Greece vs. Costa Rica viewing party at Public Tenley tomorrow
  • I'm likely to watch Brazil versus Chile today at noon though I have no rooting interest in that game (outside of my friend Myke having done his Mormon mission there, and I want to vacation in Chile one day)
  • and finally I filled out a new World Cup bracket!
Yes, I took out a pen and filled in the bracket in today's Post... for the World Cup.  Though there are NO Tar Heels playing (that I know of) in the World Cup I filled out a bracket.

The bracket got me even more excited.  There are some interested match ups, etc.

Host Brazil is still the favorite to win it all, and should make the final four after beating Chile and Uruguay, who I think will upset Colombia (insert Suarez joke here: take a bite our of the Cafeterios, etc.).

Germany and France will match up in the other bracket after relatively easy wins over Algeria and Nigeria, respectively.  Though they have arguably ruined Europe 3 times in the  last century I have to admit the Germans looked fantastic against us on Thursday.  If they defeat France is a battle between the two founding nations of the European Union their final four match up against Brazil will be epic.  Those two teams have been the class of the World Cup so far.

The other side of the bracket is intriguing, too, featuring three of the world's top four countries.  

Greece, the number two country in the Athan Manuel Top Four Countries list, will have to take on Netherlands, the number three country on the AMT4, if both advance.  I see Greece taking down Costa Rica, but the Dutch will be much tougher.   Then again, no one saw us winning the 2004 Euro either, so you never know.  If that happens, we could play us in the final four.

It's not that much easier for US, though.  But bet on an upset of a very hot Belgium team. Our reward? Taking on Messi and Argentina. Though they wear Carolina blue, I see us upsetting them, too.

So out of a final four of Brazil, Germany, Netherlands and US, I see the US losing to Brazil in the final.  

But I like OUR chances, too, and Brazil may choke on the pressure to win on their home soil.  Either way, I have the fever.  

USA USA USA
Ελλας clap clap clap Ελλας

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Ellas, the Spurs and the World Cup

I don't expect Greece to win the World Cup - I'd obviously rather see the US win; the irony of a nation winning a world championship in a sport it doesn't REALLY care about is too good of a story - but it's amazing how dismissive 'football' commentators are about the Εθνικη's chances.

Greece is certainly not the most glamorous or exciting team, but besides my obvious ethnic bias this team should be taken seriously simply because they work!  

Guys like George Karagounis and Dimitri Salpingidis are grinders, and best of all instead of Greek fatalists they are American-style 'never give up' types.  

I don't think this team is as TALENTED as the Spurs, but they resemble Danny Green's team is that they are talented, team-oriented and above all workers at their craft. 

As we've seen with San Antonio, it's very easy to dismiss grinders - but you overlook them at your own peril.  

Greece 2 Columbia 0.








Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Not THAT sad of a day

What is the best way to start a blog about one of the saddest days of the year, the day when the Tar Heels stop playing basketball?

It should not be just about one game, the final game of the season, but I suppose one has to start there. Oddly enough, it does not feel that bad, reviewing the loss to Iowa State.  The Heels played well, rebounded much better in the second half, and made shots.

Though it was a tough loss, that game contained many of the things that made this year's squad interesting and fun to watch, and also likeable.  What's not to like about a team that beats Michigan State IN East Lansing, beats the defending national champs, and smites all of our main rivals - Duke, NC State and Kentucky - in one season?

Sunday's game was a microcosm of the entire season.  It had J.P. Tokoto spinning and dunking, with a few steals, mid-range jumpers, even a bad turnover; Kennedy Meeks at his Little Sean May/taking down Louisville AND Michigan State best; Leslie McDonald finally getting to play and contributing - even Jackson Simmons taking a charge.*

It featured James Michael McAdoo keeping his head up, his persistence finally being rewarded as his drives to the basket resulted in points late.  It was JMM displaying the calm and leadership we sometimes take for granted, and then having the toughness to hit 2 big free throws.

And it featured Marcus Paige. There are plenty of adjectives to choose from in describing his play on Sunday and this year.  The best one is Tar Heel.

There are but a handful of Tar Heels who are extra special for their innate toughness, tenacity, brains, leadership - an understanding of the values stamped on Carolina basketball by Dean Smith. It is a short list: Bobby Jones, Phil Ford, Jimmy Black, George Lynch and David Noel.  Many others, like Kendall Marshall and Ademola Okulaja to name a few, come close. But it's a short list.

Marcus Paige is already one of those all time Tar Heels.

One reason so many of us care so much about Carolina basketball is that it ties us to the University we love.  The reason basketball is so central to our connection, again, is Dean.  His humility, wisdom and excellence are what we think of when we think of Carolina.

Not Carolina basketball - Carolina.

For me, Marcus Paige evokes the same thing. He is the personification of all of Dean's Carolina values. At a time when the athletic program is doing all it can to embarrass the University, Paige - an Academic and athletic All-American - restored the values that make Carolina CAROLINA.

He led the comeback, once again, against Iowa State, but his turnover late may have cost Carolina the game (though ISU's incredible shooting, and our spotty transition defense that left too many shooters too open, had more to do with it).

But can we - do we - really blame Paige for not being perfect, after the season he had, after the plays he made, and more importantly the way he carried himself, the way he epitomized why we love Carolina basketball and Carolina?  No.

Marcus Paige, Tar Heel.

GO HEELS!

* The game also did NOT feature Brice Johnson.  More on that next blog.  I will also look at ahead at next year, which looks very bright since Marcus Paige just tweeted that he is returning next year.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Opening Round

In the words of Larry David, the first week of games in the NCAA tournament have been 'pretty, pretty good.'  I'd like to espouse on the entire week - NC State beating Xavier, the other 12 seeds ALL winning, etc. - but of course my twin poles* are Carolina's scintillating win and Duke's equally scintillating loss.

As a basketball game the UNC-Providence tilt was a great one. Both teams made shots and made plays all game. It's not unusual to see ugly games this time of year, with games that are filled with mistakes and missed shots; this was not one of those. Both teams played hard and played well.

For my money, despite my love for Marcus Paige and as great as he was late, this game was won by Brice Johnson.  He competed on both ends of the floor, and in this one his defense matched his always reliable offense. Brice did it all well.  He hit his array of half hooks and put backs, and made two big free throws down the stretch.

On D, he had two massive blocked shots after Bryce "Second coming of Harold The Show Arceneaux" Cotton had willed Providence to a 5 point lead.  And Johnson excelled throughout in executing one of THE cornerstones of Carolina basketball - the wall on defense.  Carolina started playing Cotton to drive, and on the times we did stop him it was often Johnson providing the back line defense.

As great as Cotton was Johnson turned out to be the best Bryce/Brice on the floor.

For a few minutes there thanks to Cotton and Mercer Carolina fans had to confront reliving two of the worst days in our hoops history - the loss to Arceneaux and Weber State in the first round in 1999, and 1979's Black Friday when the Tar Heels and the Devils both lost in the first round.** 

It was a head-scratching display by the Devils, as an ACC team coached by a Hall of Famer looked nervous and scared down the stretch. Conversely, Mercer looked confident and consistently made shots and plays. The body language from Rodney Hood after he was called for traveling said it all.  


This Devils team was weak at the point and down low all season, and both flaws were certainly exposed by the Bears. When Quinn Cook is the brains of the operation, you are in trouble. 

That is probably an overly harsh assessment of Cook.*** Hood and Jabari Parker both played nervously and badly, and when that happens this Devils team is going to lose, simple as that.


Still, kudos to Krzyzewski for his classy visit to the Mercer locker room to congratulate the Bears on their win. It takes a confident and centered man to do that, and I'm sure the players and staff from Mercer were touched by his words and visit.  A very Dean-like mover from a blue Devil.

Some more March Madness Musings
    
I still love Carolina's chances to win 5 more games. They had to play tough and smart to beat Providence, and did.  GO HEELS!

If the Heels don't win it all I hope that Virginia does. If the Hoos do not, I would happily root for Wichita State, where Eddie Fogler used to coach. Their coach, Greg Marshall, seems far too happy with himself (the greatest sin to the ancient Greeks) but it would be a great story.

Here are my round of 32 picks BTW: 
Florida - Pitt will give them a game though, thanks to their new-found offense
Stephen F Austin - riding a winning streak AND the mojo of that four-point play
Syracuse - Dayton will run out of gas
Kansas - Ho hum; Stanford can't hang with Jayhawks
Virginia - Scare from Coastal Carolina will make them better
Michigan State - Ho hum
Carolina - Marcus Paige is GOD
Villanova - No comment on this game
Arizona - See Villanova comment
ND State - These guys our pretty good, SD State untested
Creighton - A little bit better than Baylor
Wisconsin - Much better than Oregon
Wichita State - Chip on their shoulder leads them to win over Kentucky blue bloods
Louisville - They are much better than the team they are playing
Mercer - Call them butter because they are on a roll!
Michigan - This will be a great game that the Wolverines will win late          

I can not believe the CBS play-by-play guy used the word 'pollack' to describe Gonzaga's Polish-born center - and to do so while calling the game with Mike GMINSKI! Kudos to the G-man, who is one of the best color commentators in America, for immediately calling him out.

** Who knows, if this was 2019 maybe we would have lost. Or Carolina fans should play 19 in the lottery?

*** I think it's safe to say that Cook easily joins Laettner, Wojo, and Redick on the list of most loathesome Devils of all time.  That guys loves himself and his fellow right-wing boobs from Durham WAY too much, and thus he makes that dubious list.

GO HEELS!