Monday, February 28, 2011

Vets in Revolt

Friday afternoon, I took a little break from work and went for a walk to hit up the ATM and buy some lottery tickets. When I returned, there was an email from Adam EatShit inviting me to go to the Sixers game along with his girlfriend, uncle jellyfish and a few other friends. I gladly accepted, and believe it or not, I was looking forward to seeing the remains of Tracy McGrady, who has been playing pretty good basketball lately, in person.

I decide to duck out of work about 20 minutes early, throw on some more comfortable clothes and down a few drinks before the game. So I get to my house and turn on ESPN as I get ready, and what do I see? That Tracy McGrady, Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Rodney Stuckey, Ben Wallace and a slew of other Pistons didn't show up to the shootaround (or showed up insanely late), apparently as a protest aimed at coach John Kuester. Awesome.

Then I heard Kuester had said he'll go with the guys who showed up for the game. Great. Not only was I going to see the Sixers play a terrible team, but I was probably going to have to see them play a terrible team without most of its best players and a short roster. Fantastic.

Even though the Sixers could pull to .500 on the year — honestly an impressive feat when you consider where this team was a month into the season — I wasn't overly excited to watch them play a disinterested, overmatched, shorthanded squad. So I got loaded as I waited to meet up with uncle jellyfish, hopped on SEPTA and got to the game.

It was exactly as expected. There were McGrady, Rip, Prince, Stuckey, Wallace along with Austin Daye and Chris Wilcox, glued to the bench with their warm-ups on, never once moving from their seats. The Pistons played just six players on the night. Six. The Sixers played 9.

Unsurprisingly, the game wasn't even close, and honestly, it wasn't all that interesting either. Yes, the Sixers took care of business against an inferior, depleted opponent to pull to .500 on the season, winning easily 110-94, and the Sixers got great performances from their four best players this season: Jrue Holiday (12 and 10), Andre Iguodala (21, 11 and 7) and Elton Brand (20 and 17) all had double-doubles, and Thaddeus Young led the Sixers with 24 points off the bench, making 12 of his 15 shots. But beyond a few exciting defensive plays and dunks, I was more excited that it was Friday than I was at this game. The Detroit veterans in revolt sort of spoiled my mood.

However, I do have to give the Sixers their due. They followed up the win on Friday by holding off the Cavaliers yesterday — though they did blow another big third-quarter lead to make it closer than it should have been. Regardless, Holiday nearly had another double-double, leading the way for Philadelphia with 13 points, 9 assists and 6 rebounds, and six Sixers in all scored in double figures. Under the first-year tutelage of Doug Collins, your Philadelphia 76ers are now officially a winning basketball team, at least for the time being (they take on the Mavericks tomorrow night).

The most impressive and potentially important thing about the Sixers of late is that they are taking care of business and beating the teams they should beat. In February, the Sixers went 9-3. Those three losses came at the hands of the Knicks, Magic and Grizzlies, three teams with winning records and in position to make the playoffs if the season ended today. In that time frame, they've disposed of all the bad teams they played: New Jersey, Minnesota, Washington, Detroit and Cleveland. You can throw Houston in there too if you'd like —  the Rockets are a game under .500 right now.

The fact that the Sixers have handled every bad team they've played of late is a really good sign. Then you factor in wins against the Knicks, Hawks and Spurs this month, and you can see why the Sixers stood pat at the trade deadline. You don't have to agree with it — personally, I don't, but I do understand why they did — but you can't deny that this team is looking much better than anyone could have hoped coming off a horrific 2009-10 season.

I'm not about to fool myself into thinking this team can win a playoff series, but I'm starting to suspect the Sixers will give Miami, Chicago, Orlando or whoever they end up playing more than a handful. The same way they did a few seasons ago against the Pistons.

As for this current incarnation of the Pistons, I have to admit, I understand the frustration of an incompetent coach. Kind of makes me wonder why no Sixers revolted against Eddie Jordan last year.

And I'm about to lead a revolt against Tim Curley and the Penn State athletic department. Why, you ask? Because after I watched every second of St. John's knock off fledgeling Villanova Saturday, I go and read that Steve Lavin wanted the Penn State job back when he was fired by UCLA. But Penn State didn't even contact him back, mainly because they didn't want to shell out the kind of money Lavin would command.

Are you kidding me? The same school that doesn't shy away from hiring the best of the best in virtually every other sport on campus — like shelling out huge bucks to get Cael Sanderson for wrestling — wouldn't even talk to a proven coach from a big-time program that is renowned as an excellent recruiter. Instead, they opt for the incompetent Ed DeChellis, a guy I wouldn't feel comfortable having as the coach of my high school alma mater's basketball team.

Now all Lavin has done is transform St. John's into one of the best teams in the Big East in his first year that is surely headed to the NCAA tournament, and has one of the nation's best recruiting classes coming in. Penn State meanwhile has not made a single NCAA tournament under DeChellis, has been a bottom dweller for most of his tenure, and even with this season's strong showing, Penn State is an NIT team that loses its best player to graduation and will most assuredly drop back down to the basement of the Big Ten in 2011-12.

I'm sorry, but that's just unacceptable, and the athletic department is to blame. We've been hearing forever that all Penn State needs is that one big recruit or one big coach to make something of the program. Seven years ago, a big-time coach who brings in big-time recruits went out of his way to show interest in the job, and Penn State gave him the cold shoulder. No wonder so many students there return the favor. That sort of indifference and stupidity in regard to the basketball program is why people like me, who have roots outside of Penn State, spend infinitely more time consumed with Temple and Villanova and other higher profile programs. Because those schools care about putting a good product and reputable basketball program together. Penn State doesn't.

As for Lavin, I'd say things have turned out pretty good for him. St. John's continued its surprise season by beating Villanova at the Wells Fargo Center Saturday, and they did it leading pretty much from start to finish.

I know a lot has been said about Dwight Hardy lately, especially when discussing Big East Player of the Year candidates, and Saturday was exactly why. Hardy was unbelievable. He scored a game-high 34 points. He was 9-16 from the field, 5-9 from three and 11-13 at the line. And he made some truly remarkable shots, a couple in big moments to stave off a Nova run. It was an impressive performance to say the least, and proof that he definitely belongs in the POY discussion.

For Nova, the slide continued. It was their third straight loss to a ranked opponent, all at home, and now a team that was expected to contend for the Big East title is 9-7 in conference play, with two very difficult games — at No. 9 Notre Dame and at No. 4 Pittsburgh — to wrap up regular-season play. The way the Wildcats are playing, they could very easily be staring at a .500 conference record when it's all said and done.

Lately, the reason has been simple: Nova hasn't had its two best scorers, its two senior guards, play well at the same time in forever. When the slide began, Corey Stokes couldn't throw a beach ball into the ocean. Then he got hurt. Corey Fisher did all he could, carrying the offensive load, but it wasn't enough.

On Saturday, Stokes finally showed up again. He scored a team-high 20 points, going 7-11 from the field and 6-10 from three. It was just what Nova needed … except that as Stokes re-emerged, Fisher fell off a cliff. Nova's leading scorer finished with just 2 points. He went 1-10 from the field. And no matter what kind of performance the team gets from Stokes and Maalik Wayns (10 points) and anyone else, Nova will not win with Corey Fisher netting just 2 points. If he's not in double digits, the chances are Villanova will lose.

It was the second straight game Fisher failed to reach double digits. Stokes finally got out of his funk against the Orange last week, scoring 24 points, but Nova lost largely because Fisher shot 3-16 and finished with just 8 points. Same thing happened Saturday. In his last two games, Fish is 4-26 from the field and has scored a combined 10 points. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that Villanova needs Fisher AND Stokes to play well in order to win. And that's been the root cause of this skid. The fact that the two senior guards have not been able to play well at the same time has crippled the guard-oriented offense of Jay Wright, and Nova has struggled because of it.

Just take a look at the numbers. Since January 17, when Nova lost at UConn, the Wildcats are 5-7. In those seven losses, Fisher and Stokes failed to both score in double digits five times (one of those games, against Pitt, Stokes did not play). Only the losses at Providence (Fisher, 15; Stokes, 13) and Rutgers (Fisher, 23; Stokes, 10) saw Nova lose when both scored in double figures, and the Rutgers game had the combination of that absurd ending and Stokes barely reaching double digits.

On the flip side, Nova has only won two games in which either Stokes or Fisher failed to reach double digits. One was the victory against West Virginia, in which Antonio Pena, Mouphtaou Yarou and Maalik Wayns each picked up Stokes' slack by scoring in double figures. Then came the win at Depaul with Stokes inactive, but Nova needed 34 points from Fisher and overtime to beat a really, really bad Depaul team.

The formula for Nova is simple: If Fisher and Stokes score, Nova wins. If one of them fails to show up, they lose. The solution is not so simple. Because lately, every time Stokes has a good game, Fisher struggles, and vice versa. All I know is these seniors better figure it out if they expect to make any sort of run in the Big East and NCAA tournaments.

Lavoy Allen, meanwhile, is a senior who is most definitely figuring things out when his team needs it the most.

The Owls came out insanely flat against a game George Washington team Saturday and found themselves getting blown out in the first couple minutes. Then Temple put the vice grip on GW defensively, and worked all the way back to get within three by half. From there, it was the Lavoy Allen show.

Temple's all-time leading rebounder was everywhere, altering a shot and hauling in a board on one end, then finishing around the rim —  and even once from deep — on the other. He put forth a 6-minute spurt where he made every damn play. A block here, rebound there, pass here, bucket there. He looked like the player many expected heading into the season, when he was a preseason favorite for A-10 Player of the Year.

His performance turned what at one time had been a huge lead for George Washington into a 16-point blowout win for Temple. Allen was dominant with 19 points, 16 rebounds and three blocks. He didn't have a single turnover, only committed 2 fouls and shot 8-12 from the field. It was the type of performance you expect from a senior leader when his team truly needed it. And Lavoy answered the call.

The other good news for Temple is that Juan Fernandez seemed to get rejuvenated in the second half. His numbers overall weren't good — 2-8 from the field for just 6 points and 2 assists — but he hit two big three-pointers and looked confident taking them. And if there was any question about those shots jolting him back into feeling good about himself, he fired a one-handed, behind-the-back pass for a bucket, the type of pass we saw him make from time to time the past two seasons but has been conspicuously absent this year.

Hopefully it's the game that gives Juan his confidence back and lets him find his game again. Because if Temple can get Fernandez playing good ball, the Owls can be a legitimate Sweet 16 team. If not, it would take a Herculean effort by Allen, the kind he put forth Saturday.

Finally, I wanted to give Tyler Zeller and John Henson more praise for their performances last night in the 87-76 win over Maryland.

Zeller was outstanding. He scored 25 points on 10-16 shooting, and the best part about it was Kendall Marshall kept feeding him the ball. The biggest frustration last year was watching the UNC guards ignore Zeller time and time again, despite the fact he is this team's best player. Not last night. Marshall saw Zeller was scoring at will, and he kept feeding him. Marshall, by the way, had 10 assists, 6 boards and 3 steals. Something tells me this team doesn't miss Larry Drew.

For his part, Henson had a near triple-double: 10 points, 15 rebounds and 7 blocks. The way he and Zeller control the paint has me thinking the Tar Heels may do more damage than anyone expects come tourney time. Of Henson's 7 blocks, 5 of them were spectacular. He just seems to be able to reach heights most shot-blockers can't because of his freakish length.

When you add the interior dominance of Zeller and Henson to the increasingly stellar guard play from freshmen Harrison Barnes (21 points and 6 boards last night) and Marshall, not mention better play from Dexter Strickland and Leslie McDonald, you have a legit threat in the tournament. The Tar Heels can score and rebound, always a dangerous combination. And you know they'll be well-coached.

Unlike the Pistons. And Penn State.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Claude Giroux is Ridiculous

One of the biggest differences between basketball and hockey is that in basketball it's easy to see when one player has a dominant performance. Even if you didn't watch the game, you can check the box score and the numbers often tell the story: 50 points, 20 rebounds, 15 assists. Individuals put forth dominant performances all the time in the NBA.

In hockey, one player's dominance usually isn't as obvious. There are several reasons for that. One, basketball players play a much larger percentage of the game, with the stars rarely sitting. In hockey, players jump on and off the ice constantly, rarely playing more than a minute or two at a time. And you can't look at a box score and determine the impact a player had on the game nearly as well as you can by looking at an NBA box score.

But on some nights, a player just jumps out on the ice. You notice him every time he's out there. He looks like he's moving two or three times faster than everyone else. And he makes you say, "Wow!" time and time again. Last night was one of those nights for Claude Giroux.

Ever since he first came up and dazzled the NHL with his incredible skill, tenacity and resolve, Giroux has been compared to another smaller yet incredible NHL superstar, Peter Forsberg. Well last night, Giroux was Forsberg, Eric Lindros and Sami Kapanen combined.

He skated backward the way a defenseman does, a la Sami Kapanen, while completely laying out the Islanders' best player last night, Frans Nielsen, with a picture-perfect hip check.

He was freight-training people and flying all over the ice the way Lindros used to. And he made insanely absurd offensive plays, proving the Forsberg comparisons aren't just hyperbole.

Giroux was just on a different level than everyone else last night. The only other player that was even remotely in the stratosphere was Nielsen, who created tons of scoring chances and completely schooled Matt Carle on the game's first goal.

But even Nielsen couldn't compare to Giroux. It looked like there were two or three No. 28's in Orange and Black last night, that's how impressive he was. Every shift, Giroux went full speed. He made several remarkable defensive plays, routinely lifted the stick of an Islander, possessed the puck, back-checked, and made ridiculous pass after ridiculous pass. The only thing he didn't do was score, and I was certain he would.

Ultimately, he didn't but he came oh so close several times. Andrej Meszaros may have earned first star of the game with his game-winningi overtime goal …

… but Giroux was the best player on the ice, by far, and his line has taken over as the team's best. Giroux, Jeff Carter and James van Riemsdyk have been playing out of their minds lately, and it's become my favorite line on the team. Carter, the shooter, works incredibly well with Claude, and JVR is reunited once again with Claude to form the young scoring duo the Flyers envisioned when they put those two together at the beginning of last season.

It was annoying as hell watching the Islanders force overtime with that late goal, but watching Giroux was a joy. He had one of those performances that went well beyond the two assists that the box score shows. He was everywhere, doing everything, and he's is truly becoming one of the very best all-around players in the NHL.

When you can stand out as the best player on the best team in the Eastern Conference — a team that includes established stars like Chris Pronger, Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Danny Briere and Kimmo Timonen — you're truly entering the realm of elite players. That's where we're out with Giroux. He is just absolutely ridiculous.

As great as Claude was, I want to give a shout-out to a few other Flyers for last night's effort. For starters, it was the captain who got things going for the Flyers, pouncing on a loose puck in the slot and scoring the game-tying goal in the 2nd period. The Flyers are undefeated this season when Mike Richards scores a goal. He may not be as flashy as Giroux, but we've seen Richards have the type of performance Giroux had last night several times in his career.

And I thought the second best line for the Flyers last night behind the Giroux-Carter-JVR trio was the fourth line of Darroll Powe, Jody Shelley and Dan Carcillo. It's not often I say that. But last night, Powe, Shelley and Carcillo played almost every shift in New York's end. They didn't generate that many scoring chances, but they cycled the puck and maintained puck position in the offensive zone damn near every time they were on the ice. The Islanders, who were breaking out of the zone and creating rushes all night long against Philadelphia's top three lines, couldn't get out of their own zone against the fourth-liners most of the night.

Of course, once I mentioned to my roommate that I thought the fourth line was playing awesome, they were on the ice for Matt Martin's first goal to make it a 3-2 game in the third. Still, with the exception of that shift, Carcillo, Powe and Shelley had an outstanding game.

Not as outstanding as Claude, but it's not often a player dominates the way Giroux did last night. Although, Claude is beginning to make a habit of it. He really is ridiculous.

It's Friday, Time to Dance

I am incredibly entertained by the show Community, especially the Troy and Abed scenes, so here are some of their musical stylings. Oh, and Troy, aka Donald Glover, is also a legitimate rapper. He goes by the name Childish Gambino. Enjoy.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Frustrations of Playing at Duke, and Other College Basketball Business

Going into a game at Cameron Indoor Stadium, you expect a little favoritism for the Blue Devils. It's something everyone knows and expects will happen. Over the years, especially since the turn of the millennium, you just expect Duke to get the benefit of the doubt on the calls.

When your favorite team is playing at Duke, you know that going in. But it sure as shit doesn't make it any easier to watch.

Let me get this disclaimer out of the way: Temple didn't have much of a shot at beating the No. 1 Blue Devils last night. With two starters on the shelf — Michael Eric done for the year and Scootie Randall out indefinitely — the Owls were undermanned and outclassed. It would take a perfect game even with Eric and Randall in tow to win at Duke. Even with an impressive first half defensively, you just knew it was only a matter of time before Duke would turn it on. They're the number 1 team in the country for a reason, and with or without the benefit of the doubt from the referees, they were going to beat Temple, most likely pulling away in doing so. That's exactly what they did, blowing out the Owls in the second half to win 78-61.

Now that that's out of the way, let me explain to you why everyone else on the planet hates Duke, and no, it's not simply because they're jealous of Coach K's success. I admit, that's part of it, but it's far from the whole story. After all, traditional power such as Kansas, UCLA, North Carolina and Kentucky are far less universally disliked. The main reason? No matter against who, what, where or when — but especially at Cameron Indoor — Duke gets the benefit of the doubt on calls. All the damn time. And what makes that so fucking frustrating is that Duke doesn't need that help. The Blue Devils are so damn good already, the last thing they need is help from the refs. But that doesn't stop the referees from playing favorites, whether they do it consciously or not.

The first half of last night's game was agonizing to watch. Even though Temple played Duke incredibly close in the first 20 minutes, it was almost more frustrating to watch than the second half.

There were at least 5 or 6 fouls called on Temple in the first half alone that were nowhere near fouls. On one, Rahlir Jefferson was called for a reach or block or something on Kyle Singler when he didn't even touch him for a second. If anything, maybe a foul could have been called on a reach in by Aaron Brown, but the replay showed Brown didn't touch Singler either. Didn't matter. Two shots.

That type of shit was happening the entire first half. Ramone Moore picked up two quick fouls. Ditto Juan Fernandez, who ended the first half with three fouls. And that put an already undermanned and less talented Temple team even further behind.

On the other end, things weren't much better. Several times, T.J. DiLeo — who I admit is mostly worthless — got bulled over, clear charges. Had a Dukie flopped the way DiLeo did, it's an automatic charge on the opposition. DiLeo didn't draw a call once.

And most frustrating of all, there were at least 5 times where a Duke player just camped out in the lane, yet the Blue Devils weren't called for a single three-second violation. On one, I swear to god — as did Arkansas Fred — that Singler was in the lane for 8 seconds. I was screaming at the television for a damn three-second violation. Nothing.

And that's why people hate Duke so much. Beyond the smugness of their fans and the hateable faces of their players and coach …

… they just always seem to get the calls. And they don't need them. They're good enough on their own. That's what makes me and everyone else hate them so damn much.

But like I said, that had minimal impact on the outcome. It's just incredibly annoying. Duke is simply a far better team than the Owls, who are certainly no pushovers. Kyle Singler was outstanding, scoring a game-high 28 points, and he got enough help from his teammates to keep Temple honest.

The Owls really only had two guys show up to play. Rahlir Jefferson carried Temple in the first half, scoring 10 points and making great decisions with the basketball. But he was silent in the second half, scoring only one more point the entire way. Still, he was around the ball and finished with 11 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists, a steal and 2 blocks.

Unfortunately, his only other help came in the form of Lavoy Allen, who quietly was the best player on the court not named Singler. Lavoy, who has had a fairly underwhelming season overall, was outstanding last night. He scored a team-high 17 points —  second only to Singler's 28 — and added 13 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks. Hell, he even made 3 three-points in 4 attempts after having only two made threes all season going in.

Sadly, those were the only two Owls to show up. Their leading scorer, Ramone Moore, got in foul trouble early and never got into the flow. He had just 8 points and shot just 3-7 from the field. Khalif Wyatt couldn't provide the offensive spark he's grown accustomed to, going just 2-9 from the floor and netting only 6 points. And Juan Fernandez continued to be missing in action, as he has all season long.

The fuck you forget how to play basketball?

Coming off a breakout sophomore season last year when he averaged 12.6 points while shooting 43 percent from the field, 45 percent from three and 85 percent from the line and won the A-10 tournament Most Outstanding Player, Fernandez was expected to take the next step and be this team's leader in the backcourt. Instead, Juan has regressed to an alarming degree. This season, he's scoring just 10 points a game. He's shooting a career-worst 35 percent from the field and career-worst 30 percent form three, and his free throw percentage has dipped to 76 percent. Last night, he was an abysmal 2-10. Somewhere along the way, his confidence disappeared. He no longer makes the brilliant passes we saw the past two seasons, no longer shoots with confidence, no longer trusts his game.

If he doesn't step his game up, especially with Scootie Randall on the shelf, Temple won't have much of a chance defending their A-10 title in the tournament. The Owls need him to be the tough foe everyone's come to expect in both the A-10 and NCAA tournaments. Let's hope he can find his game and get back to the player he was last season.

In other NCAA basketball news, I just wanted to share a few thoughts on Villanova, Penn State and North Carolina as well.

As we all know, Nova is struggling quite a bit right now. They've lost three of their last five games — one at Rutgers and two at home — and are just 5-5 in their last 10. Oh, and things aren't getting any easier for them to wrap up the regular season. Their last three games are against No. 23 St. John's, at No. 9 Notre Dame and at No. 4 Pitt. Basically, the Wildcats are in a little bit of trouble.

Not "going to miss the tournament" trouble, obviously — Villanova is 21-7 after all and ranked 15th in the nation — but trouble in terms of the Big East Tournament for sure. Right now, Nova is 9-6 in the conference, tied with Cincinnati for 7th. They're already on a skid, and they could very easily lose their last three games to finish at .500 in the Big East and miss out on a bye altogether. And unless they can find a way to make a deep run in the conference tournament, they won't be heading into the NCAA tourney with much confidence or a very favorable seed. So these final three games — all of them incredibly tough — are vital.

To be honest, I think one of the reasons Nova has struggled so much recently traces back to coach Jay Wright. Wright is unquestionably an outstanding coach and recruiter. He took a Villanova program that was on life support and has turned it into a national power. Just two seasons ago, he led the Wildcats to the Final Four, and he's churning out NBA players left and right. But this season, I think Wright has made some crucial coaching errors, magnified during this rough stretch.

For one thing, Wright has been tinkering with his lineup all season long and took much, much longer than usual to get his starting lineup set. That hasn't been his M.O. over his career at Nova. Typically, he finds his starting five early in the season and sticks with it. But this year — in part due to injury (and the year-long absence of top recruit JayVaughn Pinskton certainly hasn't helped) — we've seen so many different starting lineups that's it's hard to discern who is a starter and who is not at times. Of late, he's been going with a big lineup: Corey Fisher, Corey Stokes (when he's been healthy), Mouphtaou Yarou, Isaiah Armwood and Antonio Pena. That's far from the Nova way, when we've grown accustomed to three- and even four-guard lineups: Mike Nardi, Kyle Lowry, Randy Foye, Allen Ray, Scottie Reynolds, Dwayne Anderson, Fisher, et al. For a while, that was the case, with Maalik Wayns starting in place of Armwood, giving Nova the three guards it's grown accustomed to. And while Wayns has certainly struggled with turnovers and ill-advised shots at times, the Wildcats were playing much better basketball with him in the starting lineup than with him coming off the bench.

Then you look at some of Wright's in-game strategy of late and it has you scratching your head. In the epic collapse at Rutgers, his end-of-game coaching was laughable, something I never thought I'd say about Jay Wright. The Scarlet Knights started to catch fire from three late in that game, to the point where the last thing you wanted was for Rutgers to be in position to tie or win the game with a three. So after Corey Fisher missed a critical free throw late that would have made it a four-point game and practically iced it, the only smart thing to do was to foul Rutgers and make it a free-throw shooting contest the rest of the game. That way, Rutgers couldn't tie the game with a three, and chances are Nova would come out on top as the superior foul-shooting team.

I know there's a debate about playing defense and fouling with a three-point lead at end-of-game situations, but the reason I say fouling was the only smart thing to do is simple: Villanova is the best free-throw shooting team in the Big East, shooting 76.2 percent as a team. To prove it was the way to go even more, Rutgers is a really bad foul-shooting team, shooting just 66.7 percent on the season, and they were lighting it up from three. You make it a foul-shooting contest, and more than likely Villanova escapes a scare against a horrible team and gets a W. Instead, Wright didn't play the percentages, and disaster struck:

Yes, it was Corey Fisher who missed a critical free throw and then "fouled" (seriously, I still don't think he touched him) a three-point shooter to suffer the four-point play loss, but Wright also failed to put his players in the best position to win following that miss by Fisher. It wasn't one of his better moments, and that inexplicable loss really started this slide over the past 5 games.

After that, they lost to a really good Pitt team at the Pavilion by just three. That was followed by Nova struggling to outlast a bad Seton Hall team, winning by just three themselves, and they barely escaped DePaul with a two-point win, needing overtime to defeat the last-place team in the Big East.

Then there was Monday night at the Wells Fargo Center. In an important game against Syracuse, a game that was critical in determining seeding for the Big East Tournament, specifically the coveted four spot for a double bye, Jay Wright thought it would be a good idea to throw a freshman that missed the majority of the first half of the season in for the final four minutes with his team trailing in a tight contest. Yeah, instead of going with Maalik Wayns or Dominic Cheek, two more proven, seasoned players and one in particular in Wayns who has come up big late in games for Nova, Wright rode with James Bell, a guy who had played a total of 19 games and had only played 2 minutes to that point on the night.

I was screaming at my television, asking why Bell was in at such a critical juncture, and even more livid when he played the entire rest of the way. In that time, Bell missed two free throws, turned the ball over and missed a meaningless three with time winding down. He didn't help Nova at all. Yet he was in the game, and I was baffled.

It turns out that Wayns was suffering back spasms, that's why he wasn't in. But still, why not go with a guy like Cheek, someone who has been in some wars, even though he admittedly was struggling with his shot too? I'd still feel more comfortable with a sophomore who has played in a lot of big games at Nova than a freshman that has played very little.

So here we are with Villanova faltering as the season winds down. It would be tough to expect Nova to be as good as last year after losing a first-team All American in Scottie Reynolds and important contributors like Reggie Redding and even Taylor King, not to mention the unexpected season-long suspension of Pinkston. But it wasn't out of the realm of possibility to expect Villanova to be playing its best and vying for Big East supremacy by this time of the year. That hasn't happened, and things are only going to be tougher from here on out.

Then there is my alma mater, Penn State. As recently as Saturday, I heard Digger Phelps, Hubert Davis and Jay Bilas all proclaim that Penn State is an NCAA Tournament team. Those guys seem to be under the impression that with three more teams added this year, every major conference will get pretty much every decent team in. This makes absolutely no sense, because there are only three teams being added, not a dozen. The pundits don't seem to grasp that. Any smart person who understands simple math does. And any smart person, despite some people proclaiming there are still crucial road tests for the Nittany Lions, knows Penn State is nowhere near a tournament team.

Does that mean Penn State is the embarrassment that it has been for more than a decade and mostly has been under the incompetent Ed DeChellis? No. Much like the Penn State team that won the NIT in 2009, the 2010-11 Lions are tough and far from a pushover. They've beaten Michigan St., Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota at home, lost by just three at Ohio St. and just one at Purdue, and defeated a Duquesne squad that is fourth in the A-10. But that doesn't make them a tournament-worthy team, especially when you look at the full body of work.

For starters, Penn State is just 14-12 overall. They are a game under .500 in the conference, sitting at 7-8, and they have only one road victory all season long. Read that again: Penn State has just one road victory the entire season, and that came at Indiana, a team that is 12-16 on the season and tied for last in the Big Ten with Iowa at 3-12. And in their road games, they've lost seven by double digits. I'm sorry, but if you can't win any games of consequence on the road whatsoever, you don't deserve to be dancing even a little bit.

Then you factor in some of the losses. This team lost at home to Maine. Maine, for christ's sake, an American East team. And they lost that game by 10 points. They lost by 13 at Mississippi, got blown out by 23 at home against Maryland, lost by 10 at Virginia Tech, got rolled at home by 15 against Purdue. They lost twice to Michigan. And they offset their wins at home against Illinois, Michigan St. and Wisconsin by getting destroyed on the road against those teams in the rematches. This month, Penn State lost by 17 at Illinios, 19 at Michigan State and 10 at Wisconsin. How, exactly, is this a tournament team?

Even if they somehow miraculously beat Ohio State next Tuesday, this team's résumé simply isn't good enough — at least not without a deep run in the Big Ten tournament. And frankly, I don't see either of those two things happening. Hell, they may not even beat Northwestern or Minnesota, two of their final three opponents. Both games are on the road, after all.

Talor Battle is a really, really good player. And some of the younger guys are showing promise and playing hard. This team is far from a laughingstock. But they're not a tournament team either. They just aren't.

However, the Tar Heels are. After a dismal 2009-10 season and a shaky start this year, North Carolina has quietly had a very nice season. UNC is 21-6 overall and just a game behind Duke in the ACC, sitting at 11-2 in conference play. They've won 9 of their last 10 games, with the only loss coming at Duke — and that was a close game the entire way, losing by six when it was all said and done.

The way things are going, the regular-season finale in Chapel Hill against Duke could determine the ACC title. Fresh off a 12-point win at NC State, UNC has just Maryland and Florida State (who they beat by 20) before the clash with Duke. And unlike Villanova, Carolina is playing its best basketball of the season right now.

Harrison Barnes has played the second half of the season like he was expected to play the entire season. Kendall Marshall has been outstanding since being inserted to the starting lineup. And Tyler Zeller and John Henson give the Tar Heels two of the better interior players in the nation. This team rebounds, plays smart and gets contributions from just about everyone. They aren't as loaded as the title teams Roy Williams has coached, but they're getting there.

While I still think they're a year away from being elite, they're getting better every game and could make a deep run in the tournament. It's rare that North Carolina flies under the radar, but with the dominance of Duke in the ACC combined with a bit of a down year for the conference — not to mention everyone's love affair with the Big East — that's exactly what's been happening for Carolina this year. The Tar Heels are quietly having a very impressive season, and the nation will begin to take notice in March.

Hopefully, it begins with a statement victory against Duke to wrap up the regular season. Thank god that game won't be in Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Honoring Rod, Lavoy, Aaron, Eddie and Rick

I want to say congrats to Rod Brind'Amour on his number being retired. Congrats to Lavoy Allen for becoming Temple's all-time leading rebounder. And congrats to Aaron McKie, Eddie Jones and Rick Brunson on their induction to the Temple Hall of Fame.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Nothing but Brotherly Love for Rod Brind'Amour

Every Philadelphia Flyers fan that was lucky enough to witness Rod Brind'Amour's 8-plus seasons in South Philadelphia loves the guy. Brind'Amour wasn't just a fan favorite here, he was the fan favorite. Philadelphia loved him, and he loved Philadelphia right back:

"I loved my time in Philadelphia. There are certain players that play in that city that really do well and love it, and I think I was one of them. I’ve said this many times - the day I got traded from Philadelphia was one of the worst days of my career. Up until that point I bled orange and black. It was an extremely tough time for me to leave that place because I loved it so much. They’ve got tremendous loyal fans there that every player, if there’s a list of a couple teams they wish they could play on, Philadelphia's always at the top of that list because of the organization and because of the following and the reception that you get there. They keep you on your toes and they keep you honest, but they’re always there for you, and I think that says a lot about that Flyer fan base.”

The day he was traded to Carolina was an incredibly bittersweet moment. On the one hand, the Flyers got in return their future captain in Keith Primeau, a man who almost singlehandedly willed the Flyers to the Stanley Cup Final but came up short as his teammates didn't give quite enough help against Tampa Bay.

On the other hand, they lost the heart and soul of the team, the guy who did anything and everything he could to win. Brind'Amour was never confused for Mario Lemieux or Jaromir Jagr or even Eric Lindros. He wasn't going to lead the NHL in scoring, though he was no slouch offensively — seven times he scored at least 24 goals in Philadelphia, topping 30 four times, and he put up at least 74 points six times as a Flyer, including 97 in 1993-94. But he was as a good a two-way forward this league has ever seen, year in and year out worthy of Selke consideration. On the penalty kill, he was arguably the best I've ever seen — Mike Richards, Shjon Podein and anyone else you want to name included.

In the face-off circle, he was easily the best I have ever seen and there's a pretty good reason for it: He literally was one of the very best the game has ever seen, routinely winning more than 60 percent of his draws and often leading the entire NHL in face-off percentage.

But even more than his numbers, Rod Brind'Amour is one of the all-time favorites in Philadelphia because he truly embodied this city. Philadelphia is a tough, rough, blue-collar city. All they ask of their athletes is to play hard, work hard and win. Rod Brind'Amour did all those things for his entire career — from the moment he stepped foot in the Spectrum locker room until he finally hung up his skates in Carolina. His offseason workout routines were the stuff of legend, and that hard work came through out on the ice. He was dominant in face-off circle, impossible to move off the puck. He played physical. He was a defensive master, tasked his entire career with shutting down the opposition's top line. He won battles along the boards, could score, could pass, did whatever was asked of him. And his strength was almost mythical. The argument used to go that so few players fought Brind'Amour because he was perhaps the strongest player pound-for-pound in the NHL — but he certainly was willing to drop the gloves when needed.

Brind'Amour was always in motion, always working hard, always playing inspired hockey. He never took a night off, a shift off, a moment off. And really, that's all we ask. That is why even after more than decade since he last laced them up for the Flyers, he's still as beloved as anyone in this city.

When the Carolina Hurricanes made it to the Stanley Cup Final, there wasn't a Flyers fan alive rooting against them. The reason was simple: We all wanted to see Rod Brind'Amour hoist Lord's Stanley Cup, even if he couldn't do so wearing the Orange and Black. And he did it as Carolina's captain.

Tonight, the Flyers head down to Raleigh to take on the Hurricanes. And in a classy move befitting the class Rod Brind'Amour displayed during his playing days, the Carolina Hurricanes are retiring Brind'Amour's jersey with his old team in town — a team that is now coached by Peter Laviolette, the man behind the bench when Brind'Amour finally hoisted the Cup he had chased for so long.

It's not often that a player who made only one all-star game appearance in his career (in 1992, his first season as a Flyer) is so beloved in two cities. But Rod Brind'Amour is. He spent 8-plus years in Philadelphia, where he became and all-time favorite, the iron man of Flyers hockey, and then went on to play another 9-plus in Carolina, where he won two Selke Trophies as the league's best defensive forward and of course led the Canes to the Cup while wearing the C.

Tonight is going to be special for every hockey fan in Philadelphia and North Carolina, perhaps just as special as it will be for Rod Brind'Amour himself. For all the Flyers fans, all the Hurricanes fans, all the hockey fans across the globe, I just want to say thank you to Rod Brind'Amour for giving us all so many wonderful memories and for truly being the type of player and person that parents can feel proud to have their children emulate. No one deserves this recognition and adulation more.

It's Friday, Time to Dance

I just spent the last two days in Washington, D.C. for work with limited email access and little time to enjoy myself. Anyway, here's some footage of Donovan McNabb doing work and dancing his face off.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Power Outage

It's only fitting that yesterday and today the intense winds here in Philadelphia caused brief power outages in both my house and my office. This weekend, Villanova and the Flyers sustained power outages as well in their losses — Nova down in manpower and the Flyers continuing their season-long impotence on the power play.

On Friday, I headed up my parent's way and hung out with silver fox. During the course of the night, I told him that I wish Dominic Cheek would play more. For whatever reason, I just feel like he can contribute in a lot of ways if he gets the playing time. Little did I know I was about to get my wish.

Unfortunately, it happened due to unfortunate circumstances. Early on Saturday, I found out that Nova's leading three-point shooter and second-leading scorer Corey Stokes was out of action. That meant Villanova was down a lethal offensive weapon against a really good, really tough defensive-minded Pitt team. Not good. To beat Pitt, even at the Pavilion, the Wildcats had to be at their best, and missing Stokes made that very challenging. But, all it really did was make the two teams even, because the Panthers were without their own star. Pitt's leading scorer Ashton Gibbs didn't suit up either.

Basically, neither team was playing with a full deck, and it showed. Big time.

Silver fox and I were invited to Arkansas Fred's house to watch the game … and were left out in the cold because Fred wasn't home in time for the start. Forced to listen to the first few minutes in my car, we rushed inside and headed straight for the basement to watch the game. We shouldn't have been in such a hurry, because the first half was about as ugly as a half of basketball gets.

Yes, Nova did take a four-point lead into halftime, but it was hardly pretty. Without Corey Stokes, the Wildcats struggled to get anything going offensively. They couldn't hit anything from beyond the arc, and Maalik Wayns, who was reinserted back into the starting lineup to replace Stokes, was atrocious in the first 20 mintues, turning the ball over recklessly, missing layups and open jumpers, forcing bad shots. It was painful to watch.

The first half was so disjointed that not a single player hit double digits. Corey Fisher, the guy expected to carry the offensive load without Stokes, had just four shot attempts in the first half. Wayns was just 1-7 shooting, and the Wildcats made shot 38.5 percent from the field and made only one of six threes. The good news was Pitt didn't do any better, shooting 32.1 percent and going 0-fer from beyond the arc, hence the three-point lead.

But in the second half, it was the Pitt's Philly guys that took over. Brad Wanamaker, Wayns' former teammate at Roman Catholic, had 15 huge second-half points, and Chester's Nasir Robinson added 8 of his own. For the game, Wanamaker finished with a game-high 21 points and basically made every play down the stretch that Pitt needed. Robinson had 15 points and 7 rebounds himself, getting to line 14 times in the process. And he also was involved in the game-changing play early in the second half.

With Nova still up 3 just a few minutes in, Robinson fouled Mouphtaou Yarou —  the lone Wildcat who was having a pretty nice game. The two got tangled, and in stepped Isaiah Armwood to break it up. Or so it seemed, because actually what Armwood did was nonchalantly throw a punch at Robinson. That led to a long break so the refs could go to the monitor, and from that moment on, Pitt took command.

Shortly thereafter, Pitt took the lead and began to play from ahead the rest of the way. For a moment, it looked as though the Panthers might run away with it. But Yarou continued to get things going, and suddenly Wayns began to heat up. Then, the Cats suffered another death blow. With just under 5 minutes remaining in a very tight contest, Corey Fisher got called on an incredibly tough charge, jump-stopping in the lane. Wanamaker went down, probably still moving, and drew the charge. It was Fish's 5th, meaning Nova had to play the final five minutes without their top two scorers.

Wayns and Yarou did everything in their power to keep it close, and Nova found itself down by three with the ball and just 26 seconds remaining following a huge steal by Antonio Pena. With 13 seconds left, Jay Wright called a timeout. Naturally, the ball was placed in Wayns' hands to decide things. After an awful first half, he had heated up and was the guy you wanted taking the potential game-tying shot. But Pitt ran two guys at Wayns, so he gave it up to Cheek. Instead of taking his time and either getting a good look or getting the ball back to Wayns, Cheek, the player I had suggested needed more playing time, threw up a wild shot that didn't go in. By the time Cheeks tracked down his own miss and tossed it out to Wayns, time was expiring. Of course, Wayns launched a shot after the buzzer that went in a second too late.

In the end, it was the Philly guys who decided it. Wanamaker and Robinson led Pitt to victory, while Wayns was just a second too late. It was an especially biting loss following the embarrassing ending at Rutgers. But when it came down to it, Villanova simply didn't have enough firepower to overcome the absence of Corey Stokes and then the loss of Corey Fisher in the final minutes.

That game left a bitter taste in my mouth, but the good news was I ready to put it in my rearview mirror and head to the Flyers-Kings game. A few months ago, I purchased tickets to Sunday's game as part of my Spectrum seats package and headed on down to the game with my cousin.

What we witnessed was one of the ugliest 40-shot performances in hockey history.

The Flyers lead the Eastern Conference in goals scored and trail only the Canucks and Red Wings in the entire NHL. However, since the calendar flipped over to the shortest month of the year, they've averaged only two goals a game heading into Sunday, including being shut out against the Lightning. The goals have been a little harder to come by.

To try and reverse that trend, Peter Laviolette decided to tinker with his lines. Usually, I'm 100 percent on board with just about anything Laviolette does. He just seems to know what buttons to push when at all time times. But I really, really wasn't feeling the super line of Mike Richards, Claude Giroux and Jeff Carter. Not because I have any problem with that trio skating together, but because that meant the third line was Andreas Nodl, James van Riemsdyk and Dan Carcillo —  three young players that have never been asked to carry a line in their entire careers.

Basically, the game was a disaster. Yes, the Flyers outshot the 40-25. Yes, Scott Hartnell in particular had a couple of golden opportunities to bury the puck and couldn't, and the Flyers played a large portion of the game in the Los Angeles end. But something was off from the very start.

It began when a group of upper middle-aged people sat behind us. These morons didn't know a damn thing about hockey. I mean, not a thing. One of the guys didn't even know who Alexander Ovechkin was, and in the final minutes of the third period with the Flyers still trailing 1-0 and failing to solve the Jonathan Quick puzzle, one of the ladies in the group tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I knew why Gagne wasn't playing. I stopped for a second and tried to calm myself down. I thought for a second that she was joking. When I realized she wasn't, I said in a very annoyed tone, "What do you mean? Simon Gagne? He's not on the Flyers anymore. He's on the Lightning."

If there was ever a time that punching a female should be allowed, that was it.

The thing that was odd about the game was that the Flyers were totally outplaying the Kinds on the scoreboard, but that's not what my eyes told me. Los Angeles was crisper with its passes. They had an easier time getting out of their own zone and retrieving pucks in the offensive end. And Quick was simply outstanding. He stoned Scott Hartnell twice, pounced on any and all rebound attempts and basically won the game for the Kings.

At the other end, Sergei Bobrovsky was matching him save for save. He made an insane breakaway save, stretching farther than any man should able to stretch, and came up with huge save after huge save late. The lone goal he surrendered 17 seconds into the second period sort of caught him and everyone else offguard, but you can hardly blame the loss on Bob. He stood on his head besides that.

Bobrovsky was the best player in the game for Philadelphia, and the only other player on the ice that outperformed him was his counterpart.

But the reason the Flyers lost the game, possibly even more than running into an outstanding performance by Quick, was the joke that is their power play. The Flyers had three power play opportunities alone in the second period —  two too many men on the ice penalties and tripping minor by the Kings. A little over a minute into the second too many men penalty, LA tried to gift the Flyers a goal by taking a tripping penalty, giving them more than a minute of a two-man advantage. Yet time and time again, the Flyers would lose the draw, allowing the Kings to clear and kill valuable time. Then they couldn't get set up, couldn't get shots through, couldn't do anything on the power play. When you add another early power play in the third, the Flyers had four golden opportunities to tie the game, yet they failed to even pose a threat. I'm not even sure that they had more than a shot or two combined in those four power plays. It was embarrassing, and this team's power play has been an embarrassment all season long.

The Flyers have the deepest offensive lineup in all of hockey. They've scored an insane amount of goals. Yet their power play operates at a measly 17.5 percent. That puts them at 17th in the NHL, behind teams such as the Islanders and Wild, two teams that have struggled to score goals all season long. It just doesn't make any sense. The Flyers were so bad on the power play Sunday that it got to the point that you wish they could decline the penalty.

The worst player of all was Jeff Carter, one of the most potent scorers in the league. He was just awful Sunday. All game long he was turning the puck over with terrible passes. He kept losing face-off after face-off, especially on the power play. And he looked out of sync playing with two other centers. I know the Flyers haven't scored at a high clip this month, but I'm not sure why Laviolette would tinker with the Giroux and Carter pairing. Those two have been so hot playing together with another winer, whether it be Nikolay Zherdev or James van Riemsdyk. Putting them with Richards, who has been so good with a rotating door of wingers, seemed to throw them all off.

But I'm not too concerned about that. Laviolette will the get the lines right, and those three will be just fine. The power play on the other hand is a concern. It has been all year. Nothing has worked, and it's tough to figure out. I still don't know why the Hartnell-Briere-Leino line isn't just one unit in and of itself. That trio was again the one line that really looked good Sunday, and they've been awesome together all year. Why not just leave that chemistry in tact and play them together up front on the power play? As it currently stands, Giroux's been out there with Briere and Hartnell on one line, with Richards and Carter playing with either Ville Leino or JVR lately. It hasn't worked. So it's probably time to change things up again, because on Sunday it got so bad that I was calling for the Betts-Powe-Shelley to get a chance. They couldn't have done any worse.

The good news is that even more offensive help is on the way. The Flyers traded two draft picks for the young, talented Kris Versteeg, a player they're all too familiar with after losing to his team then, the Blackhawks, in the Stanley Cup Final.

Versteeg has had 14 goals and 21 assists this year as a member of the dreadful Maple Leafs, and even though he has just 13 power-play points, perhaps he can infuse some life to the man advantage. He will be playing with a much better cast of teammates.

I'm completely on board with the Versteeg acquisition. He's a young, versatile player that can score and play on just about any line. I'm guessing this means we see very little if any Zherdev and Dan Carcillo the remainder of the year. We'll see, but it's a nice problem to have.

Oh, and it's ridiculous that that hit by Stoll on Pronger late in the third wasn't called a penalty. It was the definition of boarding, hitting a defenseless player from behind near the boards. Regardless, it was an incredibly stupid retaliation penalty for Pronger to take with the Flyers down a goal late in the third period. I hated this weekend.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Video: Allen Iverson's College Battles

When I was scouring YouTube for my Ray Allen post, I came across some pretty sick footage of Allen Iverson at Georgetown battling a ton of great college and NBA players. Since it's Friday and I don't feel like doing any work — which I'll greatly regret Monday — I figured I'd share.

And this just because.

Ray Allen, the Most Prolific Three-Point Shooter Ever

Last night, the two greatest shooters I've ever had the pleasure of truly watching for their entire careers were in one building, and fittingly, Ray Allen passed Reggie Miller as the NBA's all-time leader in three-pointers made.

Seeing them embrace after Allen's 2,561st made three, I couldn't help but think of the contrasts between the two. When you really break it down, the only thing Reggie Miller and Ray Allen had in common was the amazing efficiency they've had watching the ball hit nothing but the bottom of the net. After that, the similarities end.

Reggie Miller had that unconventional, funky shooting motion, slapping his wrists together. It's something you'd never teach a youngster to try and imitate. Ray Allen's shot is the epitome of perfect form — squaring the feet, straightening the elbow, release at the highest point, perfect followthrough. It's almost as if god put him on this earth to show kids the exact form you should aim for. Reggie Miller was a brash trash-talker. Ray Allen has barely made a peep over his career. Reggie did most of his damage running of screens and bombing away. Allen, while being tremendous running of screens himself, had a little more hops and could create his own shot and get the rim in his younger days. Reggie is ringless. Ray finally got his with Boston.

Their personalities couldn't be more different. But they will always, always have that common moniker of great shooter. And now Allen can claim the title as the best, or at least most accomplished, three-point shooter of all time.

I vividly remember his playing days at UConn, first going up against Kerry Kittles, then Allen Iverson.

And as a Philadelphia 76ers fan and Allen Iverson connoisseur, I've closely watched Ray Allen's career ever since. Their personal rivalry began back in the Big East, when Ray Allen and Allen Iverson used to straight go at.

Of course, that rivalry's biggest game was decided by those two, when Ray hit the ridiculous shot that toppled Iverson's Hoyas to win the Big East Championship in 1996.

And I watched Allen and Iverson rekindle their rivalry in Iverson's very first game in the NBA, with Iverson putting up 30 points against Allen's Bucks.

That rivalry would last for years. The Bucks of Ray Allen, Sam Cassell and Glenn Robinson were among the biggest threats to Iverson's run at an Eastern Conference title along with … you guessed it, Reggie Miller's Pacers. When Iverson and the Sixers finally got past the Pacers in the 2001 playoffs and then outlasted the Toronto Raptors, all that stood between the Sixers and the NBA Finals were Ray Allen's Bucks.

I watched as the Bucks, led by Allen, fought tooth and nail before ultimately falling to the Sixers in seven games. And I remember Ray Allen basically saying there was a conspiracy to get the Sixers into the Finals:

"I think there's no question about that. The league, as a marketing machine, the bottom line is about making money," Allen said. "It behooves everybody for the league to make more money, and the league knows that Philadelphia is going to make more money with L.A. than we would with L.A."

I remember the very next year when Philadelphia was hosting the All-Star game. I went to the three-point shootout and dunk contest with silver fox and Arkansas Fred — specifically recalling Shane Battier, fresh off playing the rookie-sophomore game, coming out the wrong door and looking up all confused at the crowd outside waiting to get in, then walking through the crowd and running right into Arkansas Fred and silver fox, true story — and every time Ray Allen came up, he was getting booed. The out-of-towner next to me, who kept hilariously making fun of Funkmaster Flex — the night's MC — asked me why everyone hated Allen. I told him it was because of his comments in the Eastern Conference Finals the year before, and he couldn't stop laughing. (Jason Richardson won the dunk contest by the way, and that was the year the stupid wheel of a classic dunk was used.)

But even though Ray Allen was a rival of my favorite Sixer ever, even though he made those absurd comments, I could never bring myself to hate the man. His game was just too smooth, too impressive, too good, and the work he put in made me love his game even more.

Ray Allen could always shoot, and he still is as good a shooter as anybody. Everyone knows that. But what some people might not remember is just how incredible an athlete Ray-Ray was in his younger days. He could sky. He could get to the rim. He could beat his man off the dribble, finish in the paint, do just about anything offensively. After being on a contender in Milwaukee, he never complained about his obscurity in Seattle. He just went about his business, the first one to arrive and last one to leave, and became a leader. Even going Hollywood as Jesus Shuttleworth didn't go to his head or take away from his preparation.

Ray Allen has simply put in the work day in and day out since the moment he arrived at UConn, and he hasn't relented ever since. He went a long, long time chasing that ring, and when he finally won it in Boston, I was happy for him. And I'm happy that he's now the all-time leader in three-pointers made. Because watching him for the past 16-plus years has been a real joy, first at UConn and now back in New England some 14 years later.

Ray Allen is easily the greatest shooter I've ever seen. He has the most beautiful jump shot and quickest release my eyes have ever witnessed. If you had to pick one player in the history of the league to use as a teaching tool on how to shoot, you'd go with Ray Allen, his form is that pure. And if the NBA and sports in general had more players, more humans like Ray Allen, we'd all be better off.

Congrats, Ray. You deserve to go down in the history books. And I feel privileged to have watched your career unfold, and lucky that I've gotten to see that sweet shot for all these years.

It's Friday, Time to Dance

So I found this today …

Thursday, February 10, 2011

It's Not How You Start …

… It's how you finish. Anyone who's been associated with sports, no matter at what level, has heard the cliche. Last night was a prime example how and why that cliche came about.

All three basketball teams I was watching and rooting for last night started strong and jumped out to nice leads … and all three of them finished poorly and ended up losing. It began with the Sixers playing a nearly flawless first quarter against the Magic, taking a 27-18 lead after 12 minutes of play only to get eaten alive by Dwight Howard and lose 99-95. Shortly thereafter, Villanova took a seven-point lead into the half and went up by double digits with just minutes remaining before self-destructing in the final moments … missed free throw, not fouling, then the dreaded four-point play to lose by a single point.

Then everything came crashing down to make my night a total loss. North Carolina went out and completely dominated Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium in the first 20 minutes, going up by as much as 16 and taking a 14-point lead into halftime … only to get blown out by 20 in the second half to lose 79-73.

When it was all said and done, it didn't matter how great the Sixers, Wildcats and Tar Heels started. All that mattered was how Orlando, Rutgers and Duke finished. And I hated every second of it.

As for the Sixers, their loss was a little easier to swallow. When Dwight Howard goes 14-19 from the line, there's not many teams in the NBA that can beat the Magic, especially a team like the Sixers that really can't match up inside with Dwight. You have to give credit where credit's due. Howard was an absolute monster: 30 points, 17 rebounds, 2 steals and 2 blocks while going 8-13 from the field and 14-19 from the line. There's just no way Spencer Hawes, Tony Battie and Elton Brand can stop this man, especially when he's connecting on his free throws.

When you add the three-point shooting of Ryan Anderson (4-6), Jason Richardson (2-5), Hedo Turkoglu (2-4) and J.J. Redick (2-4), it's kind of amazing they only lost by 4. A lot of that can be attributed to Andre Iguodala's excellent game: 21 points, 4 rebounds, 8 assists, 3 steals. He clearly was desperate to make up for his own 4-point play blunder the last time these two teams met.

Sadly for Philadelphia, it didn't turn out that way. And as it happened, the mere fact that the Sixers were taking on the Magic proved a bad omen … the four-point play cursed another local team on the same night the Sixers tried to exercise their own 4-point play demons.

That the Nova-Rutgers game was even close in the final minutes is absurd. Villanova was up by 10 with less than three minutes to play, up by 8 with just 2 minutes to go. They looked to be in complete control. They're an excellent free-throw shooting team. But then they completely fell apart. I went to the kitchen to get a drink and a snack, and next thing I know it's a two-point game.

Turns out that back-to-back turnovers by Antonio Pena and Maalik Wayns turned into five points for Rutgers, and suddenly it was a two-point game with 99 seconds to go. Then this happened:

What seemed like a huge, game-sealing three by James Bell with 11 seconds left to go up 5 was answered by a stupid, ridiculous banked three by James Beatty just four seconds later. Then Corey Fisher, who had been the man all night for Villanova, had a chance to ice the game at the line with just 6 seconds left. Fisher is a 78.7 percent foul shooter this season and a career 77 percent shooter from the line. He's made numerous clutch freebies in his career. And he was having an outstanding game — he finished with 23 points, 10 assists and 5 steals.

The only other Wildcat you'd want in that situation more than Fisher is probably Corey Stokes, who is among the leaders in the nation in free throw shooting at 93.5 percent. Yet Fisher plain choked, missing the first shot. He hit the second to put Nova up 3 with just 6 seconds left, but it was still just a one-possession game, and I immediately said, "Foul! Foul! Foul!"

To me, it only made sense for Nova to foul so Rutgers couldn't tie it and just turn the game into a foul-shooting contest with seconds left. After all, Nova is one of the best free-throw shooting teams in the country, Fisher's huge miss notwithstanding. Jay Wright elected to just play straight-up defense instead, and it backfired. Big time. Fisher, who went from hero to potential hero to choker, went to complete goat. Jonathan Mitchell, who had been Rutgers' most lethal scorer all night, rose for a three. And he nailed it, right in Fisher's grill.

I couldn't believe it and was ready for overtime. Only I realized the official called a foul. I was stunned. Fisher hadn't run out on Mitchell, hadn't left his feet, and all he did was have his hand in the air. Sure, the hand was close to the elbow, but to me it didn't look like Fisher actually touched Mitchell at all. And if he did, Mitchell was the one who moved his elbow into Fisher. Corey was stationary and had his hand up before MItchell even shot the ball. But the foul was called, and it was disastrous. Mitchell nailed the free throw and gave Rutgers the improbable one-point win.

I really hate four-point plays.

I also hate Duke. I hate Duke with every ounce of my being.

For a while last night, it looked like I was going to be able to revel in a UNC victory. North Carolina came out and played a nearly flawless first half. They dominated Duke on the Blue Devils' home court in every facet of the game during that first half. John Henson and Tyler Zeller were completely dominating inside, grabbing every rebound, scoring in the paint and physically abusing Duke's front line. Harrison Barnes started out hot, hitting an early three, and Kendall Marshall was a magician with the ball. I cannot tell you how fun it is to watch this guy play. You really have to see him for yourself.

His court vision is out of this world. Playing for the first time at Cameron Indoor Stadium as a freshman, I expected some jitters from Marshall, but he had none. At all. He was calm and collected right from the start, making passes that honestly remind me of a young Jason Kidd. And he showed no signs of being overwhelmed. He still has a long way to go with his scoring, missing a few shots around the hoop that he should finish, but the way he commanded the game in the first half reminded me of Raymond Felton dominating at Cameron Indoor as a freshman. The future is insanely bright for Marshall and the Tar Heels.

The way North Carolina dominated in the first half gave me more than enough hope that they could pull out the victory. Tyler Zeller was unstoppable, Henson was making gorgeous moves and flying all over the court, and Duke seemed stunned. The only player who looked alive for the Blue Devils was Nolan Smith, who simply could not be stopped. If it wasn't for him, Carolina would have been up by 30 at half, and truthfully, they should have been up even more. There were at least 2 or 3 charge calls on Carolina that absolutely should have been blocks on Duke, the most egregious one called on Dexter Strickland. Kyle Singler slid under as Strickland was in the air and finishing, still moving on top of that. It should have been a three-point play opportunity for Strickland, only it was called a charge. It was awful, the type of call that only the Dukies get.

Regardless, it wasn't the referees that decided the game. Not in the least.

Being at home, you knew Duke was going to make a run in the second half. I just hoped Carolina could weather it and regain their form. For a moment, that happened. Duke came out and scored the first eight points thanks to Nolan Smith continuing to dominate, and I started to get a really bad feeling. Roy called timeout and UNC went back up by 10, but Duke had already regained its confidence. All they needed now was someone to help Smith out.

Kyle Singler wasn't that guy. He and Harrison Barnes completely canceled each other out. After Barnes' three early in the game, he went silent. Singler simply wouldn't let him get the ball. I hate Kyle Singler with a passion, but I have to say, I've never seen him play better defense than he did last night. He simply wouldn't give Barnes any room to breathe. Ultimately, that made him ineffective offensively. Singler scored just 10 points last night and shot a ghastly 3-17 because he expended all his energy defensively. His efforts did not go for nought though, because Barnes was held to just 9 points himself.

So with Singler out of the equation, Seth Curry filled the other scoring void. For a stretch of about seven and a half minutes, Curry went the hell off. In that time frame, he scored 14 points, and suddenly the game was tied. In that second half, Seth Curry looked every bit like his older brother. He was unconscious.

Right then and there, you just knew UNC wasn't going to win. Duke was feeling it, and Carolina had gone away from what was working in the first half. John Henson picked up his third foul early and had to sit. To make matters worse, Carolina stopped going inside to Zeller, who was completely dominating. In the first half, Zeller had 13 points and 9 rebounds. Henson had 10 and 6. But when Henson went out, the Tar Heels barely even looked to get the ball down low. Zeller was working and calling for the ball but was simply ignored. It was like watching Carolina last year, when their best players were Zeller, Ed Davis and Deon Thompson, all interior guys, yet the guards would go on long spells of jacking up jumpers and ignoring the big men. It happened again in the second half last night.

A large reason for that was Duke kept running two guys at Marshall, forcing him to give up the ball. That meant guys like Leslie McDonald, Reggie Bullock and Dexter Strickland had the ball in their hands, and that often meant they were shooting. That didn't work out too well. Bullock couldn't buy a bucket, missing all five shots he took last night. McDonald made just 3 of 7 attempts. And Barnes was nowhere to be found, either glued to the bench because he couldn't get open, or invisible on the court because Singler was glued to him.

Everything fell apart. Zeller, who finished with a team-high 24 points and a game-high 13 rebounds on 10-14 shooting, simply didn't get enough touches. Duke began to rebound better, and Seth Curry and Nolan Smith were unstoppable.

Honestly, I'm not sure I've seen a more impressive performance this year than Nolan Smith last night. He scored a career-high 34 points and did it in all ways — threes, drives, tough shots, getting to the line, you name it. He was awesome. Carolina had absolutely no answer for him.

This year, he has simply taken his game to whole new level. There's no doubt he has the ACC Player of the Year all sewn up. Last night he put to rest the doubts if there were any. And Duke made a statement that they are still the class of the league this year, blowing away Carolina by 20 in the second half.

But as painful as the loss was, it's not all bad news for the Tar Heels. Last night definitely proved they aren't far away from being back where they were a couple years ago, and they certainly have found a special talent in Kendall Marshall. The kid just impressed the hell out of me last night — six assists and just one turnover. Zeller and Henson are a formidable duo inside … so long as their teammates don't forget about them. And Harrison Barnes, while quiet last night, is going to really be something special if he sticks around.

They're not quite there just yet as last night's second-half collapse shows, but you best believe that the Tar Heels are coming. Now they, along with Nova and the Sixers, just have to figure out how to finish.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Tar Heels Are Coming

Two seasons ago, Roy Williams was cutting down the nets for the second time as head coach of his alma mater. Then, just like the first time around, he lost damn near every major contributor to the team. In 2005, it was Jawad Williams, Sean May, Raymond Felton and Rashad McCants who went on to the NBA.

In 2008, it was Tywon Lawson, Wayne Ellington, Danny Green and Tyler Hansbrough who won their title and pursued the riches of the NBA.

North Carolina was able to weather the storm from losing a quartet of NBA players in 2005-06 thanks to talent that was still in place and a trio of freshmen that came in and contributed right away. David Noel provided senior leadership, juniors Wes Miller and Reyshawn Terry steadied the hand, and freshmen Tyler Hansbrough, Marcus Ginyard and Danny Green proved the Tar Heels were in good hands. They finished 23-8, 2nd in the ACC and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament before getting upset by Final Four-bound George Mason.

Last year they couldn't handle things the same way. For the first time under Roy Williams, the Tar Heels really struggled, so much so that they didn't even make the NCAA Tournament. There was no Tyler Hansbrough to inject new blood into the roster. There were no David Noels or Reyshawn Terrys to show the guys the ropes. Marcus Ginyard, the player expected to be that guy, spent nearly the entire year hurt. That left Deon Thompson, a role player on the national title team, and Will Graves, a player who spent his entire career in and out of Roy's doghouse, as the senior most members of the team. And Graves did such a great job as a leader that Roy Williams dismissed him from the team this year, when he would have been a fifth-year season.

The rest of the team was composed of incredibly young players not quite ready to take on such a heavy role. The season was a disaster. UNC finished 20-17 overall. They went just 5-11 in ACC play. And things were so bad that the Wear twins, David and Travis, transferred after the season.

Things were supposed to be different this year. North Carolina had the top-ranked high school player in the country coming in, a player so highly regarded that he was named to the preseason All-America team, coming in along with highly touted recruits Reggie Bullock and Kendall Marshall. Tyler Zeller was now a healthy junior looking to lead, and John Henson expected to take the next step.

But when the season kicked off, the Tar Heels stumbled out of the gates, and expectations were tempered again. Harrison Barnes struggled mightily to adjust to the college game to the point that he couldn't even hit a shot. The rotation looked stodgy and unimpressive. Carolina lost back-to-back games to Minnesota and Vanderbilt. They lost by double digits at Illinois.

But then something happened. They beat a talented Kentucky team that was ranked 10th in the nation and a few games later lost by only two to a Texas team that is now ranked third in the country. After that loss, they rattled off five straight wins, albeit against weak opponents. But that gave a young team confidence.

Still, it looked like it meant nothing after they got embarrassed by a bad Georgia Tech team, losing on the road by 20. However, as embarrassing as that loss was, it looks like it could be the turning point in North Carolina's season.

The very next game, Harrison Barnes hit the go-ahead 3-pointer late, and including that game he's averaged 18.8 points per game while shooting 51.5 percent from the field since. That includes 25 and 26 points in back-to-back games, and a game-high 17 in a 20-point win over Florida St. Sunday. It took him a little while, but lately he looks every bit like the player he was expected to be.

Complementing Barnes has been fellow freshman Kendall Marshall. Seeing that Larry Drew simply wasn't the answer, Williams turned the reigns over to Marshall. All he's done since is turn into Jason Kidd 2.0. He's provided such a steady hand while taking Drew's starting job that Drew has decided to leave the team. Marshall responded by handing out 16 assists Sunday and now leads the ACC at 6.3 assists per game.

All the sudden, North Carolina has won five straight and 10 of their last 11. They are very quietly sitting at 17-5 on the season, and just a half game behind Duke for the ACC lead at 7-1 in conference play. A win tonight at Cameron Indoor Stadium, and the Tar Heels will be in sole possession of first in the ACC.

Suddenly this game doesn't look like it will be as lopsided as we once thought. Duke, who many were talking about going undefeated this season, lost their freshman phenom point guard Kyrie Irving and have since lost to Florida St. and St. John's. Meanwhile the Tar Heels are in the midst of a hot streak, and just came off a demolition of the same Seminoles that were the first team to knock off the Blue Devils.

North Carolina is the No. 1 rebounding team in the ACC. That's largely due to the interior presence of Tyler Zeller, who has been UNC's best player all year, and John Henson's length. They also have the highest field goal percentage in the conference, with Henson leading the entire ACC shooting 58.4 percent. Henson also leads the conference in blocks at 3.1 a game.

Dexter Strickland has continued to improve in his sophomore season, and Justin Knox and Reggie Bullock have given UNC some quality bench minutes. This young team is finally coming into form. And if they can somehow manage to steal a victory tonight in one of the toughest places in the country to play, you better take notice.

No matter what the outcome tonight — victory or blowout defeat — it's safe to say the Tar Heels are coming. March is right around the corner, and this young team is playing its best basketball of the year. With a little more seasoning and a little more experience, they're only going to get better.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Pass that Cost Us $2,000

My weekend began by taking a gamble and ended with losing out on two grand. Let me explain.

After watching the Sixers almost blow a 10-point lead in the final two minutes against the Knicks Friday night before ultimately securing a two-point win, uncle jellyfish, my roommate and I contemplated where to kick our weekend drinking excursion off. Being that it was relatively cold and windy, we didn't want to stray too far from home. We also weren't too enthused about hitting up our typical watering hole, wanting to do something slightly different for a change.

Finally, we settled on Johnny Brenda's, a fine bar but one that typical inhabits a crowd that likes their jeans tight, music obscure and women tattooed up. Not exactly our typical scene, but nice for a change of pace. However, going there in and of itself was a crapshoot, especially with Adam EatShit eventually meeting us there.

Things got even murkier when we posted up at the bar and noticed an older woman sitting at the bar alone talking to her beer. But there were some nice-looking ladies, and we were having a relaxing time throwing back some brews. Then in comes another seemingly misplaced person sporting the spikey-haired look and expensive-looking clothing. Next thing you know, he comes up to the bar to get a drink and straight up cologne-bombs us. Seriously, this guy must have been wearing a half bottle of cologne. It was so bad we could hardly breathe. I'm not entirely sure what compels an individual to do such a thing, but people like him need to be stopped. Overbearing cologne can be just as bad as bad body odor. Really, the only thing worse is the stinky homeless people on the el that smell like urine, puke and feces.

Not long after Adam arrived a little later and discussed his disdain for the people around him, the cologne guy returned. This time, a few more beers in me, I let it be known that his stench was suffocating us. He failed to acknowledge the critique, but boy do I hope he heard it and heeds the advice. Seriously, there's no need to wear that much cologne.

The three of us wrapped up the evening with a few more drinks at our local watering hole, went home and relaxed a little bit, then went to sleep some time around 3:30 a.m. When I awoke, it was nearly time for the Villanova-West Virginia game.

We all there are no easy games in the Big East, but this one was about as painless as a win gets against a tough team. Villanova built an 11-point lead at halftime and ended up winning by 16 at the Well Fargo Center. Corey Fisher continued to be the leader, filling the role Scottie Reynolds left behind after his All-American senior campaign last year. Fisher had 16 points and 5 boards. He got a big helping hand from his understudy as well, as Maalik Wayns scored a game-high 17 points on 6-10 shooting, adding 4 assists while turning the ball over just twice.

It's a little alarming to see Corey Stokes shoot just 5 times, but he was 2-4 from beyond the arc, and Nova didn't really need him to score big on Saturday. Hopefully the five shots were indicative of the game plan and not a sign that Stokes is becoming gun-shy during his shooting slump. Being a senior, I think he'll be just fine.

What does concern me, however, is the clock at the Wells Fargo Center during Nova games. If you watched the game against Georgetown held at the Wells Fargo Center, you know that the clock inexplicably stopped for almost a minute, causing a major delay. Well on Saturday, it happened again. Early on, the clock malfunctioned, stopping for a while while play carried on. Then there was a delay to figure it all out. What the hell is up with that? It hasn't happened once all season as far as I know during a Sixers game, so why has it happened twice in a row for games Villanova has hosted there? Operator error? I don't know, but it better be fixed before the back-to-back games at the Wells Fargo Center against Syracuse and St. John's later this month.

After the Nova game, I watched Temple fend off a game Rhode Island team 80-67. The main reason was once again Scootie Randall, man who has been carrying the Owls the past two weeks. Scootie was the best player on the floor Saturday, scoring a game-high 27 points on 10-13 from the floor and 6-9 from three. He also chipped in 7 rebounds.

It was Scootie's fifth straight game with at least 14 points. In that stretch, the junior has averaged 20 points a game while shooting an astounding 64.4 percent from the floor, a remarkable percentage for a guard/small forward, highlighted by Saturday's incredible performance and the 28 points he posted in the loss at Xavier. His insane play of late has vaulted him to second on the team in scoring at 11.4 points per game, trailing only Ramone Moore's 14.2. And he's been the biggest reason Temple has won its last four games despite quiet output from Moore, Juan Fernandez and Lavoy Allen.

On Saturday, Moore and Allen did give Scootie a helping hand. Ramone put up 13 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds and 2 steals, while Lavoy added a double-double with 13 points and 10 boards. But Fernandez went scoreless, missing all six of his shots, making Randall's play of late that much more important.

Despite the two losses in three games at Duquesne and at Xavier, it's been nice to see different players step up and carry the load at different times for Temple this year. Early on, it was Ramone Moore and Juan Fernandez doing the heavy lifting. Lavoy Allen, who had somewhat of a nondescript season, has been excellent at times, invisible at others. Khalif Wyatt has exploded offensively of late. And recently, it's been Scootie Randall leading the way. That will all serve the Owls well as they look to win yet another A-10 title.

After napping for a little bit, Toonces gave me a call. On Friday, he alerted me to his desires to go to Atlantic City on Saturday and told me to think about it. After a long night Friday and not quite enough sleep, I told him I was willing to go, but not all that enthused about driving that far to gamble. So I suggested we check out the Sugarhouse, which is literally in walking distance of my home.

He agreed to that, then took a nap. I did the same. Then I watched the Flyers handle the Stars in a 3-1 win and waited for Toonces. He got to my house right as the game was ending. We draft a couple beers, then headed to Delaware Ave. Following a few mongoloids in front of us, I entered the casino for the first time. Once we walked in, we were both asked for ID, a somewhat shocking request seeing as Toonces is 27 and I'm a month and a half away from turning 27. But I thought, no big deal, and began to take out my wallet. Then I remembered that for extenuating reasons, Toonces is not in possession of an ID for the next 10 days. He told the casino doormen as much, and they told him he couldn't come in. So we turned around, stunned at what had just taken place, and returned to my house to grab a beer and figure out what to do with ourselves for the rest of the night.

Our options were limited, but just stepping in to a casino triggered our gambling itch. That meant either Parx in Bensalem or the trek out to Atlantic City. Instead of making a decision ourselves, we let the coin decide. I flipped a penny — if heads came up, off to AC; tails, we stay in PA — and heads it was. As stupid as it may sound, we aren't ones to question the decision of the coin, so off we went, hoping Toonces wouldn't get carded in Jersey. There was no reason to believe he would, seeing as he never has before, but it would be one giant waste of time and gas if he did.

Thankfully, we encountered no such problems, and before I could blink, he was up like $120 playing craps. Satisfied with where he was at, I headed off to the poker room. There, I encountered a table of good players and was ready to play a good game. Only moments later, in walks a guy that looked a little like Eric Mangini. He sat right next to me at my table and immediately the odor of a locker room engulfed my area. I couldn't take it. The guy plain smelled. To make matters worse, he was a regular that knew all the dealers and wanted to make friends with everyone. Thus, he didn't shut up. The entire time. All fucking night. It was horrible, but I was committed to the table to match wits with some of the really good players that were there.

I have to give the man his due, he was a very good card player. But he annoyed the hell out of me, and all I wanted to do was bludgeon him to death with my keys. Thankfully, I restrained myself, but I didn't do so hot at the table. I won just two hands, one of which I chopped with another player. After hours of hanging on, I finally realized it was 5 in the morning and I was getting nowhere. I lost a little scratch, but nothing major, and rejoined Toonces. Neither of us walked out with more money than we entered with, but we didn't exactly lose much either.

Thus we embarked on our trip back to Philadelphia, and I finally got to sleep at 7 a.m. only to realize before I fell asleep that my wallet was gone.

I called Toonces, who was on his way home, to see if it was in his car. Luckily it was … but that meant I had to head out to Roxborough in the morning to get it. That turned out to be a real pain in ass. For starters, my roommates and I were hosting a Super Bowl party courtesy of the master culinary skills of uncle jellyfish. So there was some prep work that had to be done for that. Then, when I got to Manayunk, a bunch of lights were out on Ridge Avenue. And after retrieving my wallet, there was an accident on 95 near my exit and an accident on 76 that slowed up my trip.

By the time I got home, I was exhausted, running on very little sleep and needing to make it through the party. A half a Slack's hoagie helped me out a little. Then I took a nap to prep for the feast.

Our party consisted of two areas to watch TV downstairs, five homemade pizzas from uncle jellyfish, a ton of wings prepped by a combination of uncle jellyfish's wing sauce and my roommate's wing sauce, boatloads of chips, vegetables, crackers, pepperoni, salmon, dip, potato bites, and all other sorts of munchies. Then there were the desserts — Termini Bros. cannolis, homemade cookies, ridiculous homemade eclairs. We were feasting to the point of sickness, and that was essentially the whole point of the day.

To be honest, I just wasn't all that interested in the Super Bowl. Don't get me wrong, I watched and watched the entire thing, but I wasn't as invested as I wanted to be. Sure, I wanted Pittsburgh to lose, but at this point I'm so used to seeing the Steelers or some other team I hate (Patriots, Cowboys) win the Super Bowl that I'm used to it. The biggest thing I was watching for was to see if we could hit our numbers for a quarter or the game.

Two of my roommates, uncle jellyfish, Adam EatShit and I bought three $100 blocks. The payout was $2,000 for the first three quarters, $4,000 for the final score. One of our blocks was Green Bay 4, Pittsburgh 6. If you watched the game, you know just how close we came to taking the pot at halftime.

The Packers scored twice in the first on an Aaron Rodgers touchdown pass to Jordy Nelson and a Nick Collins pick 6 to go up 14-0. We had our 4. Then the Steelers added a field goal to make it 14-3 in the second quarter. One more field goal for Pittsburgh and no scoring for Green Bay, and we'd be $2,000 richer, $400 a man. And we looked to be in prime position.

After the Steelers forced a three-and-out following their field goal, they methodically drove down the field. They were eating up clock and moving closer to field goal range. With less than 5 minutes remaining before half, it looked as though Pittsburgh was going to get into field position and give us the score we needed. Then, on a 2nd and 11 play, Roethlisberger threw his second pick of the game, an interception that cost us $2,000. Rodgers led the Packers right down the field and hit Greg Jennings for a touchdown to put Green Bay up 21-3.

As if I needed another reason to hate Ben Roethlisberger.

From that moment on, I was more excited about cramming my face than anything in the game. Yes, it was a great finish, with Green Bay just holding on for the 31-25 win, and yes Aaron Rodgers was incredible in taking down the Steelers. But I could have really used that $400. Thanks for nothing, Ben. The one time I was rooting for you to not throw an interception. I'm glad you lost. And I'm glad some people finally admitted that Aaron Rodgers is a top 5 quarterback.

Still, that $400 would have been nice.