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.  

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.


* 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.


Sunday, March 16, 2014

March Madness

An unsatisfying ACC basketball weekend* was salvaged by Virginia smiting the Devils in the championship game AND a pretty good draw for the Tar Heels in the NCAA tournament. The tragedy side of my Greek psyche was expecting much worse on Sunday. 

ACC Tournament
It was obviously good to see Duke lose.  Any day that Krzyzewski is sad is a good day for America.  As I posted on twitter over the weekend, Duke is like the Tea Party: some individual alums/members are nice, but as a whole both are bad for the country.

NCAA Tournament  
It is hard to quibble with the selection committee's work on the NCAA tournament. I was very glad to see six ACC teams, including N.C. State, make it. That is second to the Big 12's seven bids (actually they got eight if you count Nebraska though they apparently are in the Big 10 now - who knew? -  which by the way has 12 members, while the Big 12 has only 10 members.  Thanks football!)

Of course, I will quibble a little bit.  I agree with most Americans that BYU did not deserve an invitation to the big dance; they were very bad down the stretch.  Actually Nebraska should not have made it either; their one marquee win was over Michigan State without their two best players.

Colorado and Stanford, two Pac 12 schools, are also more suited to the NIT than the NCAA. If I was on the committee I would have dropped those four in favor of Wisconsin Green Bay, Louisiana Tech (who beat Nebraska I think),  Florida State and probably SMU and Larry Brown.

How could the selection committee pass on Larry Brown?

I keep scratching my head about Clemson, too. They finished with 10 wins in the ACC including one over Duke, yet never seemed to merit much consideration. It is great to have six teams in but the ACC probably should have gotten seven. 

So there is some quibbling over the teams but only a few on the seeding. UCLA probably should not be a 4, BYU should be in the NIT let alone a 10 seed, Kentucky is one of those nightmare 8 seeds, but that's about it.  

The number one seeds, however, seem obvious and just. 

But like many Americans I can not believe that Louisville is a 4 seed.  They seem like a 2 seed the way they have been playing lately.

Louisville is a reminder of the rigor that is the Midwest bracket. I guess the selection committee was not impressed by Wichita State's strength of schedule since they gave them a brutal path to follow if the Shockers hope to make consecutive trips to the Final Four.  
Their second round game could be against a Tennessee team that blew out Virginia. Get past the Vols and Kentucky or Kansas State could await. Both K teams are tough outs from tough conferences. If the Shockers go to the Sweet 16 they could see Louisville - who they will likely lose to - and if they make it past the defending national champs would likely see Michigan, another team that made the Final Four last year.

My only real upset pick is North Dakota State over Oklahoma. I have NC State winning two games including over St. Louis in the 2nd round, and George Washington over Memphis.  

I DON'T buy into most of the trendy upset picks.  VCU will not lose to SF Austin, and I do not buy into the Harvard thing.  Finally, I see Syracuse getting their act together enough to beat W. Michigan but lose to Ohio State.  

My bracket is here:  You can also join my group, Marcus Paige is GOD, from there. 

Unlike last year, Carolina got a great draw in 2014.  Iowa State and Villanova will be tough, but I love our chances of getting another shot at Virginia and going to the final four. Once there I have the Heels beating Louisville - again - then winning one for Dean, whose last game was a loss to Arizona in the 1997 Final FourThis time ol' Roy will win one for his mentor and take down the Wildcats for the National Championship - or something like that.


* The best basketball news of the weekend was attending the Wizards' scintillating win over the Nets of Brooklyn.  John Wall kept the Zards close until Drew Gooden - DREW GOODEN - took over in the 4th quarter and scored 11 of his 21 points to lead Washington to the win. This is a fun team led by a player, Wall, who has really grown as a leader and a shot maker.  It will be interesting to see the Wizards in the playoffs.