I should’ve known that the moment I mentioned the Pitt-West Virginia game in yesterday’s post that the game would be a slow paced, grind-it out affair. I’d have preferred a more fluid game with crisper passing and more accurate shooting, but it’s not like this was unexpected. Pitt forces a ton of teams to play the style of ball that they imposed upon the Mountaineers last night. Even with the less than impressive offensive execution of both teams, the game was still an interesting clash of styles and an intriguing matchup of each teams’ respective strengths. In fact, the game would’ve been downright enjoyable for me if I hadn’t had to listen to Dan Shulman and Dick Vitale re-read Pat Forde’s ESPN.com article all game long. Good job going the extra mile with your pregame research guys, I don’t know where you find the time.
Pitt is a good team that continues to be overlooked by most of the fans (even many in it’s own conference) despite a very nice season which has been significantly aided by Aaron Gray's emergence as an impact player. They are among the best teams in a very good conference. With that said, I still have trouble seeing them advancing too far into March. (See, I'm overlooking them.) This is probably due (at least in part) to my bitterness over the Panthers ruining an NCAA Tourney pool, or two, of mine in the last couple of years (I'm looking at you Brandon Knight). Beyond that though, it’s their lack of consistent offense that I find most troubling. More specifically, Carl Krauser is far too erratic and prone to bad decisions (both as a passer and a shooter) for me to trust him to lead a team that lacks another proven scoring option anywhere past the second round. Despite last night’s loss, I think West Virginia is much better equipped for tournament success than Pitt though, as last night showed, if they can’t knock down a high enough percentage of three pointers to draw defenses out to the perimeter then they become extremely vulnerable to teams that rebound well and defend the paint.
Another team that needs to be able to hit perimeter shots to be most successful is the Florida Gators. After years of being a team who relied (at times exclusively) on perimeter scoring, the Gators are loaded with big men capable of scoring against the best in the front lines country. However, the true success of Florida is ultimately determined by the ability of it’s perimeter players, most notably Taurean Green and Lee Humphrey, to consistently hit three point shots thereby opening up the paint for guys like Noah and Horford to operate free of double teams. Perimeter shooting will be of the utmost importance tomorrow as Florida matches up with the best frontline they’ve seen all year as well as the only one in the SEC that can claim to be as good or better as the University of Florida’s. I’m speaking of LSU who boast three possible future NBA first round picks in Glen “Big Baby” Davis, Tasmin Mitchell and, Tyrus Thomas who has come from nowhere (he redshirted w/ a neck injury last year) to lead LSU in rebounding while also ranking second on the team in scoring. While this game is not a “must win”, it is extremely important to the Gators for two reasons. First, after Wednesday’s loss to USC, Florida now sits two full games behind Tennessee in the SEC East. If Florida loses tomorrow, they pretty much assure themselves of no better than second place in the conference. Second and more importantly, Florida needs a win against a ranked team to stay within range of a top 2 seed in the NCAA Tourney if they want to continue to entertain thoughts of playing the first two rounds in Jacksonville. The Gators are certainly good enough to advance to the Sweet 16 without the benefit of playing in front of a partisan crowd but with the youth and relative inexperience on this team, it would be a plus.
While the Men’s Basketball team embarks on it’s most important game to date, the University of Florida’s #1 ranked Baseball team is set to open it’s season tonight at home against the University of Cincinnati. Florida returns nearly their entire roster from last year’s National runner-up, including the reigning SEC Player of the Year in 1B Matt LaPorta who teamed with two other Gators on the USA Baseball team this summer. We’ll have to see how Florida’s pitching holds up as the season progresses (especially in the SEC) before we’ll know if these guys have the necessary makeup for a run towards redemption in Omaha. However, one thing anybody can already see is the masterful job that’s been done by Pat McMahon restoring this program to it’s former glory and possibly to greater heights than any who’ve come before him.
I have to admit that I was surprised to see four Pistons make the All-Star team. Personally, I thought that Rip Hamilton would end up left off the team only to be added as Jermaine O’Neal’s replacement. Despite the fantastic season that Detroit is having (is it four All-Stars good?). I didn’t think that the Eastern Conference coaches would be able to rationalize leaving Gilbert Arenas off the team while he’s averaging 28 a game (he could be looking at the least acclaimed major scoring season of all-time) and managing to keep his team at .500. Plenty of people point to that .500 record as reason enough to leave Arenas off while citing the lack of improvement by the Wizards this year as some sort of indictment towards Arenas. Did I miss something here? The Wizards lost Larry Hughes and replaced him with Antonio Daniels, who even at his very best is a major downgrade in overall ability at the other guard spot. Yet, when you look at the abortive season that Daniels is currently having, shouldn’t we be amazed that Arenas is able to keep this team even close to.500 with a cast of characters that includes Awvee Story and Donnell Taylor. Of course, it’s all a moot point now that Arenas has been added but I couldn’t help but wonder how Arenas reacted to the news of his (temporary) snub. Did he throw another platinum chain out the window? Did he just walk up to Brendan Haywood and punch him in the face to make up for all the assists that Haywood has ruined this year? Did he go out to the parking lot and take a leak on the hood of Eddie Jordan’s car? There’s no way that Gilbert just shrugged it off and went home, is there? Somebody find out and get back to me.
One last note: Arenas' 28.2 pts/game average was the highest scoring average for a player not selected to the All-Star Game since World B. Free. Though I've seen very little of Free's game highlights I find myself thinking that maybe, between the gunning and general craziness of Arenas, he and Free might be kindred NBA spirits who've just now found each other through the magic of the All-Star snub. Seriously, doesn't Gilbert feel like he would've fit in quite well in the mid-70's NBA?
...and the Oscar goes to...
While I’m discussing the eye of the beholder dynamic that invariably makes up the selection process for any type of award, I figured that I’d discuss an Oscar nomination that more than likely slipped under your radar. The Oscars have had some curious nominees over the years for sure, but none could’ve possibly had the explosive potential of this year’s nomination of the Three Six Mafia for Best Song for their contribution to the Hustle & Flow Soundtrack It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp. That’s right the folks who brought you Spinners and Sippin' on some Sizzurp are now nominated for an Oscar. Kind of devalues that little gold man a little don’t it? While I can’t disagree with the sentiment of the song, I do find it hard to believe that this was one of the 4 best songs included in all the movies released during 2005. Whatever. I’m just psyched at the thought of these guys stumbling on stage with pimp cups in tow as they and their entourage of 35+ “businessmen” scare the ever living shit out of Pierce Brosnan and Jodie Foster. If I didn’t know this was true, I’d think that I had passed out on the couch while watching re-runs of Chapelle’s Show after chugging a whole bottle of Robitussin. Instead, I’m already making plans to at least keep the Oscars on my second TV at the off chance that these bamas actually win.