...says Denzel Valentine of Big Ten Tourney favorite MSU, which is 5-7 in its last 12 games. Cumong, man.
Update 6/4: Linked to articles on MO TE Spencer Ladner, PA RB Cameron Saddler, TX S Keanon Cooper, NJ LB Marcus Witherspoon, TX DE Kapron Lewis-Moore (downgraded to red; no M mention), TX CB Adrian Bushell, OH OL Zebrie Sanders, MI RB Jonas Gray, OR DE Ethan Johnson, OH LB Brandon Beachum. Added AZ RB Ray Polk, CA DE (DT?) Jamaar Jarrett, LA CB Robby Green. Linked to a trio of articles on some PA recruits: WR Jonathan Baldwin, LB Shayne Hale, and QB Terrelle Pryor, OL Lucas Nix, RB/WR/KR Cameron Saddler.
Removed PA LB Shariff Blake (no M interest), CA OL Khaled Holmes, PA OL RJ Dill, TX LB Joseph Ibiloye (dropped us). Linked to the Pittsburgh Sports Report's PA Top 50. OH RB Michael Shaw now has an offer. Linked to articles on WA DE Kavario Middleton, MI OL Rocko Koury, LA CB Robby Green. Moved NJ LB Marcus Witherspoon to committed.
Editorial Opinion: Bad news first: OH OL Zebrie Sanders has four official visits set and Michigan isn't one of them. They are: FSU, Clemson, Georgia, and USC (if he gets offered... questionable). Now, sometimes local guys who have been to nearby schools will schedule visits to places they haven't been just to get out and see the world, but instances of players taking official visits and then committing to a school they haven't officially visited are rare. He keeps naming top threes that have Clemson and UGA in them; half of the time Michigan is the third team and half the time it isn't. I am not optimistic.
High profile OR DE Ethan Johnson appears to be favoring USC and Notre Dame. Michigan gets some mention, but that ain't good.
We put out an offer to a Louisiana cornerback, Robby Green, who says we're in his "top seven" but not his top five. Specific! There is also a Scout article in which Green says we will get an unofficial this summer, but as per usual getting kids out of the south is tough.
...and, surprisingly, the buzz on GA DT Omar Hunter is that he's going to pick Notre Dame, not Michigan, after visiting both campuses. Obviously this is not so good. Evidently Hunter's longtime fandom was not particularly deep. Though losing a guy who Michigan was supposed to lead heavily for is a downer, it doesn't have much in the way of long term implications with Carr likely on the way out. If Michigan picks up a commit from instater Mike Martin, who's being ranked at about the same level as Hunter, the net impact on the final class won't be much. Still: frowns.
Anyway, on to other stuff: I'm beginning to develop a distinct fondness for atom-sized PA RB/WR/KR/PR Cameron Saddler. Part of it is the same reason I was more excited about last year's unfortunately unconsummated Marquis Maze commitment than would normally be warranted by his rankings and offers. I love tiny, electric kick return guys and love them even more when it signals that Michigan has been awakened by the Steve Breaston experience and is actively seeking anti-Walter Cross types to return various special teams thingies. Saddler doesn't quite have the awesome name potential of a guy named "Maze" -- the multifariousness of it all! -- but, yeah, I'd still be happy to get the little bugger. Especially when said little bugger announces to anyone and everyone stuff like this:
GSN: Are you and your cousin still thinking of going as a package deal?
Saddler: We're going to have to make the best choice for each of us, but, with the situation we're in right now, it looks like the best situation will be at the same school.
The default skepticism about package deals goes here, especially when the higher-rated player (Hale, by, like, a lot) hasn't said anything about one, but Saddler is really pushing this thing. Both have announced initial top ten lists. This is the intersection of the two: Michigan, Virginia, and WVU. Come on package deal... Daddy needs a new pair of recruits. (It should be noted that Saddler made an allowance for the Florida schools entering his top ten should they offer, which would add Florida and Miami to the set union and make the climb more difficult.)
Hale, for his part:
Where Hale and teammate Cameron Saddler had discussed going to college together, their respective lists include only a handful of the same schools.
"We still have Michigan and Virginia and West Virginia," Hale said. "We're definitely going to keep those ones around. We'll see what's best and what we should do."
Saddler may be favoring a panting UVA team...
Virginia appears to be the leader, as the Cavaliers are recruiting Saddler the hardest. Every member of UVa's staff send Saddler a handwritten letter and the coaches followed him around at the Nike Training Camp.
You can throw Brandon Beachum on the Inexplicable Lack Of Offer pile along with Jonas Gray:
One offer Beachum is still yet to receive is from Michigan. "I don't know why they haven't offered," he said. "I know they're interested. I talk to them a lot and they tell me how much they like me and want me to come to their camp coming up this summer.
"I like Michigan because they are a big program that is close to me. I have offers from b
ig-time schools that are eight, ten hours away, but Michigan is just three hours from me. I don't think I'm going to their camp though. I'm pretty much done with that. I think I've done enough.
Beachum's lack may be even more inexplicable than Gray's, as he is both a top-100 prospect to the recruiting services and in possession of a wide array of impressive offers: FSU, LSU, Oklahoma, and 22 others. He also plays linebacker, a position at which depth chart concerns are much less important than running back because there are three starting positions. It sounds like Beachum would seriously consider Michigan if he got an offer, but he's not going to beg for one. (This is another situation in which Ohio State and, apparently, Michigan have overlooked a highly touted local prospect. I wonder what's the deal.)
Speaking of Gray, he will camp in an effort to get offered:
In addition to Notre Dame, Gray wants offers from Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State.
"I'd like to camp for a day at those schools too," Gray said. "I think for sure I'll go to Minnesota and Colorado. I've got to see how recruiting plays out for everybody else. I might commit in October if my schools start filling up."
That ship has not quite sailed yet, but if he doesn't get offered at camp he's very probably gone.
New people of serious interest. A couple Texans are looking northward with Michigan in mind. Safety Keanon Cooper "favors Wisconsin slightly" over a bunch of midlevel schools and Michigan -- his dad lives in the Cheese State:
The other school that Cooper says he always liked is Michigan. "My favorite player was Charles Woodson," he said. "My brother is also an Ohio State fan, so it was always fun to watch the big rivalry game. They have great players every year and get great exposure. They are always on TV and I like the coaches a lot too. They know what they are doing."
Cooper's probably a three star given his offers and preliminary rankings. I think I mentioned CB/S Adrian Bushell last week, but he has Texas Tech -- a school '07 LB signee Brandon Herron described as "a box surrounded by dirt" -- offering-everyone Florida, and Michigan as a seemingly solid top three:
Although Bushell is still trying to determine his summer workout schedule, he is planning on visiting Michigan, Florida, and Texas Tech. "I want to be patient and take some official visits to some of the schools for their big games. I want to tour the campus and see the game day environment for the Notre Dame or Ohio State games."
Missouri TE Spencer Ladner has a top three of Cal, Wisconsin, and Michigan. No idea if he's leaning anywhere, but his offer is obvious proof Michigan's looking for a second tight end in the class.
Tailbacks? Michigan now has offers out to two more runningbacks, Arizonan Ray Polk and Ohioan Michael Shaw. It's possible Michigan's recruiting one or both as athletes with a possible role in the secondary; if not it's more indication that Gray is way down the list.
Back from the dead. Big time Washington prospect Kavorio Middleton was downgraded to red after a Scout article in which he said he really wanted to stay close to home. He is now back to yellow with this GBW article in which Middleton's coach addresses the earlier piece:
"As far as location goes, Kavario is going to realize that he needs to go to the best school that can develop him as a player and get him to where he needs to be."
There are more positive quotes. They're trying to set up an early October visit and M is "definitely" in their top five.
New Jersey linebacker Marcus Witherspoon has committed to Michigan. This is good for both Tick enthusiasts and people who prefer Michigan's linebackers to not suck. Approximate star qualifications: mid-four star, Rivals 250 type who had offers from Notre Dame, Clemson, Florida, Boston College, and Georgia and, as of like a month ago, like 25 others. Last year he set a school record with 17 sacks (though many articles and sites will claim 18 for him -- and, hey, this one is all like "20"; do I hear 25?) as a junior. Hey, here's an article claiming 18 with some quotes and such:
Absecon Holy Spirit linebacker Marcus Witherspoon, who has narrowed his choices to Florida or Michigan, is supposed to be at the Elite. Witherspoon, a 6-foot-2, 215-pound recruit who is a member of the Rivals 250 to watch, finished with 90 tackles, 18 sacks and five interceptions last season. He played the whole time with a separated shoulder.
"We still consider him raw, so this (season) is going to be interesting," Holy Spirit coach Bill Walsh said. "At the high school level, he has the ability to take things into his own hands. We're looking forward to see what's going to happen this season. He's one of the special ones that make everyone else better.
"His first three steps are explosive and for a kid that big to run a legit 4.5 (seconds in the 40-yard dash), there are not too many kids who have his weight and size that run that legit speed. When you watch him on tape, he gets after it. But he still has a lot of growth."
Separated shoulder: tough mofo. Five interceptions: borrowing James Laurinatis' paranormal football magnets. Explosive! Big! Runs fast! Yeah, what's up now? I do kind of wish that Florida was being selective in their offers instead of tossing one out to every kid on varsity taller than 5'10", as then ripping him away from Urban Meyers filthy blood-and-nut-strewn fingers would be even sweeter, but any way you slice it Witherspoon is an excellent prospect with the proverbial upside. ESPN has him on their Rivals 150 watch list($) and makes him seem Crable-esque:
Witherspoon possesses good size with the frame to add more bulk. He actually plays with the range of a taller athlete. ... Excellent blitzer, with his ability to bend and burst to the quarterback. Flashes the mobility and range to cover a lot of area in zone coverage and close on underneath routes. This athletic mobility is also seen in his ability to quickly redirect and chase ball carriers in open space. Natural pass rusher, who possesses the quick first step and lean to effectively get by offensive lineman. This excellent, vertical attacking ability is also evident in the run game. Very difficult to block him when trying to get the edge.
Questions are raised as to whether 'Spoon (Spoon!) is "a product of an attack-style defense," permitted to freelance without responsibility and wreak havoc but in desperate need of some intensive technique work. Again: Crable.
There is this article here from a local newspaper; not particularly enlightening. Does imply a Miami offer, though.
In sum: good pickup that should be the first of three linebacker recruits this year. Given the edge-rushing thing, may be a defensive end if he can put on the appropriate weight. Likely four years of Tick references. Yeah.
It occurs to me that I'm watching this and few others have the ability to, so... Michigan leads Memphis 5-2 in the bottom of the fifth with runners at the corners and two outs. Pickens just blooped in a run after Recknagel blasted an RBI triple of his own; inning now over. Four innings to go.
Side note: I don't watch a lot of baseball, but when I do it's invariably a Tigers game. So Memphis' nickname is giving me all sorts of cognitive dissonance.
Top 6th. Putnam strikes out his sixth to open the inning; weak grounder is an easy out; high chopper fielded at the edge of the outfield turns into an infield single. Fortunate for Memphis. Next batter... dammit, blasts one off the foul pole for another home run. 5-4 Michigan. Grounded back to the pitcher to end the inning. "Tigers" back in the game.
Bottom 6th. New pitcher in for Memphis. Good control, gives up lots of homers. Cislo strikes out after a long at bat. Routine grounder for a second out. Christian walks. WTF is a guy who hits .300 doing showing bunt here? College baseball is weird sometimes. Rose strikes out. Still 5-4 M.
Top 7th. Grounder to second for one out. "If anyone has a homefield advantage, it's definitely Vanderbilt"... what a weird sentence. Putnam probably doesn't have much longer, now at 95 pitches. Second at bat taking forever, now into double-digit pitches. Lost him; walk. "When he's got that splitter working he's darn near hard to hit." Let's hear it for faint praise. Long fly for a second out. Interesting note: Putnam is both the pitcher and the DH so that he can still bat if and when he's removed from the game. Putnam picks off Chalmers! Inning over, 5-4 M.
Bottom 7th. Recknagel reaches on an error from the third baseman. Putnam goes down swinging; one down. Abraham walks on four pitches. Pickens blasts one off the wall! Reck, Abraham both score, Pickens has a double. 7-4 M. Van Buskirk flies out; Pickens tags and is at third. Dang! Squeeze play ends up with a beauty bunt laid down; attempted barehand by the third baseman fails, M scores with a bunt base hit. 8-4 M. Cislo steals second. Base hit, Cislo scores! 9-4 M! Roblin steals second; Christian strikes out, Michigan up 9-4 after a huge inning. Five stolen bases for Michigan today; this catcher is getting waaaasted.
Top 8th. Putnam still in. Leadoff hitter blasts one to the wall but it's a short wall in left -- they've got a monster -- and M holds him to a single. Next batter hits a home run. Bleah. 9-6 M. Putnam chased? Nope. Ooookay. Putnam had given up two home runs all year; three today. Next batter pops out; one down.
East Carolina leads West Carolina 9-8! Feel the fictional-Carolina rivalry!
Putnam strikes out the next guy; two down. Weak grounder ends the inning, M 9-6.
Bottom 8th. New pitcher for Memphis w/ a 7.50 era(!). Rose hits a hard grounder to third for the first out. UC-Irvine wasted Wake Forest 13-0, which would have been a realistic football score until this year. Recknagel is killin' it, blasting a solo home run: 10-6 M. Putnam puts one in the gap; single. Abraham flies out, two down. Wild pitch moves Putnam to second. Groundout; inning over. 10-6 M, three outs to go.
Top 9th. Jebus: still Putnam, starting the inning with 122 pitches. Single into center field, and Putnam is gonzo. 8 IP 6 ER. Powers now in, strikes his the first batter. Now batting is KK Chalmers... isn't "KK" a bad thing to call yourself when you play baseball? If I'm a quarterback, please don't call me Intentional Grounding Jones. Powers strikes out another guy looking, one out left. Single from Murray just under Recknagel's glove; runners at the corners. Jeez... little slap single into the outfield scores a run. First and second, 10-7 M. And the guy at the plate has 2 HR today. Todd Jones lives.
This Memphis guy totally has a mustache that screams "SUNDAY SUNDAY SUNDAY AT THE SILVERDOME." He loops one into centerfield (ack!)... Rose flags it down. Final 10-7, Michigan. Michigan plays the Vandy-Austin Peay winner tomorrow.
5/31/2006 - Pistons 107-109 Cavaliers - Down 3-2, ECF
We've been here before. Last year, when Dwyane Wade was suffered to run free:
I only just resisted titling this post "Is Flip Saunders An Idiot?" because it seems clear that a man who is paid more money than most of us will ever see in our lifetimes can't be all 'tard, but... there's a strong chance Flip Saunders is an idiot in some sense. If you did a Family Feud-style survey with the question "Who Is Going To Defend Dwyane Wade in the conference finals?" survey would say:
- What are you talking about? You want a mango? I am from France. (37)
- Um... I don't know his name, but probably the guy who looks like a heavily abused Stretch Armstrong doll? (34)
- Tayshaun Prince, you idiot. (31)
The third opinion would be given to you by anyone with even a smattering of NBA knowledge all the way up to, say, Tracy McGrady and Kobe Bryant, players of Wade's bionic shooting guard ilk who have run up against Stretch and who -- if not exactly stopped -- have been decently contained. Tayshaun is popularly regarded as the Kobe-Lebron-McGrady-Wade stopper, one of the few players in the league with both the size and the quickness to stop the NBA's unstoppable. Only an idiot or an expert would do anything other than stick Tayshaun on Wade and forget about it.
As you can see, I did not escape titling this post with something raw, possibly unfair, but JESUS CHRIST SO VERY TRUE IN ALL WAYS EVERY WAY ALL WAYS FOREVER AAAAAARGH.
The world is Lebron agog this day and not without reason, but can we get some condemnation up in here? Flip Saunders displayed the same sort of miraculous ignorance football coaches do when they screw up game-ending clock situations during nearly the entirety of Lebronfest. He was complicit in Birth of a Superstar, inexplicably refusing to double for much of the fourth quarter and overtimes. When he did bring a double, Lebron would pass out of it and the Cavs, being the non-Bron Cavs, would turn the ball over. There are mice that can figure out that when there are two buttons, one of which dispenses a shock and the other a tasty treat, you press the treat button. If there was any justice, Saunders' incompetence would be just as legendary as Lebron's performance.
Consider this: on the last Cleveland possession, Ilgauskas, Gooden, and Daniel Gibson had fouled out. Larry Hughes' foot had held him out the entire second half. On the floor with Lebron were Donyell Marshall, Anderson Varejao, Sasha Pavlovic, and Eric Snow (or Damon Jones? I forget, does it matter?). Saunders' brilliant idea: put a point guard on the guy who had scored the last 23 points and give him no help whatsoever. This was also his brilliant idea -- except it was Tayshaun Prince left alone -- on the final two Cavs possessions of regulation, both of which ended in thunderous Lebron dunks.
I mean... what can you say? I decided to repress the sputtering rage by sleeping on it and then writing about the game, but here it is. Sputtering Rage says "hi, honey, I'm home," takes off its hat, talks about what a hard day he had -- lot of work in Detroit today, lot of work -- and settles in for a nice long rest that is 75-80% likely to start in the next few days and last for the summer. It's back, and I can only delete so many sentences that contain elaborate punishments for Saunders and his Charlie Weis-like ability to get far too clever for his own good. A sampler:
- Forced to eat own organs.
- Locked into party chit-chat with tools who came up with Heineken ad campaign that runs incessantly all hours of the night and day on TNT.
- Elaborate scenario staged wherein he is drugged, and carefully made up to look and sound like Bill Walton -- sort of "The Hot Chick" except "The Worst Person On The Planet" -- until on the verge of self-immolation, say, 10-15 minutes
- Forced to watch his favorite basketball team coached by Flip Saunders.
It is inexplicable how this guy and his lip-chewing inability to do anything right in the playoffs is a respected NBA coach. Don't even get me started on Rasheed's substitution pattern.
Dammit, too late: what the #&$! was with Rasheed's substitution pattern? During the first eight minutes of the game he had played great defense and was 3/4 from the floor. He was in rhythm, on a roll. Chris Webber picks up a second foul with eight minutes gone, Saunders yanks both starters and leaves Rasheed on the bench until there are four minutes left in the half. He rested his best post player, a guy who was in rhythm, for an entire quarter when his second best post player had been ejected at the end of the first. Then the Pistons start going well and Rasheed gets yanked six minutes into the second half. Inexplicable. After the first removal, Rasheed would hit one shot the rest of the night. There isn't a basketball fan on the planet who would do something that stupid.
So, yeah, Lebron was pretty freakin' impressive. Yes. He's kind of good at the basketball. But even Lebron has trouble dealing with traps and doubles and can be dealt with unless you are too busy chewing your lip to think.
Last year, when it finally clattered to a halt:
Riley watched the tape, devised a plan, and obliterated the Piston offense. There was not much of a riposte from Saunders other than to look on grimly.
The Heat were a soft team when they struggled through the opening portion of the season, but Pat Riley is a hard man. The Pistons were a hard team under Carlisle and Brown, but Flip Saunders is a soft man. And thus goes a series.
Since I can only burble aggravated nonsense this morning, I guess that has to stand.
FLABMOJAN! GRUNDLEFLOX THE AXERAOJ. ZING ZING ZING!
Oy. SMQ highlights a veritable barrage of Michigan-bashing coming out of the mouths of SEC coaches. Some of it is implied and has been addressed here. But cholesterol-addled Phil Fulmer throws a new, stupid log on the fire:
"The regular-season conference schedules we play in the SEC are very difficult. Maybe some of the other conferences have teams like Michigan that play just two or three tough conference games a year. Maybe a plus-one playoff concept would make sense."
If there's one thing I'm sick of in college football, it's conference this and conference that. I do not care and stick to the same script I have since forever: they're all basically the same save for the smallish Big East (and the suddenly powerless ACC, but let's withhold judgment on that for at least another year or two). But SMQ calls...
I'll let Brian vent and rebut that old news, but he'll have to come up with something new for Phil Fulmer's more direct shot
...and I respond.
For all the derision heaped upon the infamous Jim Delaney open letter, it did contain a salient piece of information: over the last decade, the Big Ten and SEC have played each other twenty-six times in bowl games and have split them exactly down the middle. Since regular season games between the two conferences are without exception either imbalanced beatdowns a la Michigan-Vanderbilt or irrelevant a la Indiana-Kentucky, -- which you may or may not know is an annual occurrence -- the bowl record is the only real data point we have on the relative strengths of the conferences. It says the two are equal; if you are inclined to view games in Florida or Nashville or wherever else as virtual road games for the Big Ten then you would have to give the Big Ten a slight advantage despite the outcome of one singularly embarrassing national championship game.
As for Fulmer's assertion, sorry, no sale. Both Mississippi teams, Vanderbilt, and Kentucky are perennial wrecks. South Carolina and Arkansas have never really done anything; over the past decade or so are they really more accomplished than Purdue or, hell, even Minnesota? Alabama is now Michigan State with a really buff history. (Hey... they've even got the same coach.) I don't mean this as disrespect to the SEC. It is obviously a fine football conference with many teams featuring sharp, pointy teeth. But to declare one conference or the other clearly superior is ridiculous. The bottom of the SEC is just as repugnant as the bottom of other conferences, and the nougaty middle is no less soft. When the two conferences meet the results on the field -- again, the only actual data point we have -- are dead even. This discussion should end.
(I deserve a cookie for getting through that without even one ill-considered stereotypical remark about the south. Peanut butter, please.)
More! Rebuttal! Sort! Of! Not sure what prompted Cornhusker blog Corn Nation to dredge up the old '97 M-NU controversy, but dredge they did:
As season's end approached Nebraska beat Texas A&M 54-15 in the Big 12 Title game and in the last game of Osborne's career destroyed number three-ranked Tennessee, 42-17, in the Orange Bowl.
Michigan ended their season hanging on to beat a Washington State squad in the Rose Bowl, 21-16. Washington State got the ball back at their own seven yard line with 29 seconds left. They drove to the nine yard line with two seconds left when officials ruled that time had run off the clock, thus ending the game. Had Michigan beaten the Cougars more soundly things might have been different. ...
Perhaps the writers had revenge in mind Nebraska - payback for the '94 season title when they were voted number one in both polls while Penn State had also gone undefeated - something that Penn State fans haven't forgotten after all these years.
The '97 National Title to Osborne as a gift from his fellow coaches? No. He got it the old-fashioned way. He earned it.
Any Michigan fan immediately perked up at the erroneous Rose Bowl ending described -- WSU was on the 28 or something and was only there because of history's most egregious uncalled offensive pass interference penalty -- but... yeah, sorry, I'm with them. Nebraska deserved a share of the '97 title even considering the infamous kicked ball against Missouri. Given the system in place at that point, that was the only just outcome. Did the coaches know the outcome they were enacting when they voted for Osborne? No. Did the writers when they voted for Michigan? No. Voting is still stupid and dangerous. But by a happy accident of history, both teams can claim national titles in '97 that they deserve. Corn Nation is also with me on this:
The two teams were very close in terms of their schedules and their records. Homerism aside - both deserved the title and since they couldn't settle it on the field a split was the right thing to do.
What I would like to see from Nebraska fans is an admission that Penn State deserved a share of the '94 title, which they did.
Note that there will be no budging on the Heisman issue -- it as Woodson's, by God, and if you think otherwise you're moonshine addled and possibly (feh!) confederate! -- in this space as long as its proprietor breathes free, abolitionist Yankee air.
Mallett. I saw Mallett video on Youtube and panted in expectation. It's not much, but here's 40 uninteresting seconds:
Rules and such. I think I already blew the cookie, so I may as well go for it... two proposals are getting kicked around by coaches. One, an early signing period, is a good idea that will allow kids who want to sign early to get their recruitment done and will prevent vultures from swooping in and playing pied decommit piper. The other, a fifth year of eligibility for football, is a silly idea that will only increase the sketchy practices of coaches who wish for noncontributing members of the team to leave and free up scholarship slots for their 35-member freshman classes. Naturally, the SEC is against the former and bang on board with the latter.
Urban Meyer's burgeoning reputation as sort of a huge dickhead won't be helped by this quote:
"I'm a big fan of it," Meyer said. "We've increased the season by one game with limited scholarships. In the SEC, you get guys beat up. I'd love to see that proposal go through. Every year we do that it gets blown up.
"It just makes too much sense. Sometimes some things come across and I say, 'Yes, absolutely.' And it doesn't happen. I'd like to know who makes those decisions. It's
Note the de rigeur "in the SEC we have it tough" and the disingenuous assertion that one extra game against Western Carolina or Appalachian State that's over by the second quarter imposes an unbearable strain upon already stretched-to-the-max student athletes. He's kind of a tool, isn't he?
5/29/2007 - Pistons 87-91 Cavaliers - ECF Tied 2-2
Chauncey Billups is broken, though it's not clear exactly how. I remain steadfast in my belief that "clutch" is a fiction borne of the human mind's imperative to shoehorn events into some sort of narrative causality, to look for reasons where there are not necessarily any. See the sun moving across the sky? How does it do that? Probably chariots. There must be sun chariots. Reading anything into Billups' (debatably) ill-advised late three or turnover spectacular other than "Billups is broken" is an exercise in sun chariot detection...but something ain't right with him.
What? I wish it was self-inflicted. I wish some vital portion of Billups' industrial-strength reliability gyro had fatigued at a critical point and released a bit of shrapnel that ricocheted its way through his normally aerodynamic interior, gouging divots and scraping paint and leaving behind basically the same thing except a little... off. And that internal repair gnomes hired by anthropomorphized time would sing their little internal repair gnomes song and bring out their spackle and their belt sanders and whistle -- no, that's dwarves -- sing "The Final Countdown" a capella style as they restored Billups to pristine working order.
This does not appear to be the case. Freed of the presence of Larry Hughes' stifling defense, Billups dominated the first half against a gimpy Hughes, undersized Daniel Gibson, and, well, Damon Jones. But in the second half -- and this is something that went completely unremarked on by the announcers in an uncharacteristic oversight by a normally crack TNT crew (with the notable exception of horrible Doug Collins; see below) -- the Cavs switched Lebron James on Billups and Billups disappeared. What's worse, he didn't even probe a matchup against a six-eight small forward. The one time he did he got the defense to collapse and got a teammate an open look. The rest of the game, though, he avoided making even the slightest move towards the basket. The aggression of the first half drained.
The thing that makes Cleveland a dangerous team now and in the future is that ability. As James was confusing Billups into thinking "there is a 6'8" guy on me, there must be a mismatch somewhere on the floor," similarly 6'8" Sasha Pavlovic was on Prince, the posts were handling posts, and whoever the point guard was at the moment, probably Gibson, was running around with Rip Hamilton. When Hughes is healthy, the team Cleveland fields is freaking huge. They're a defensive nightmare, as both this series and last year's seven game adventure demonstrate ably. The ugly conclusion is this: Chauncey Billups is broken because of the Cavaliers and is unlikely to un-break unless Flip Saunders shows a mental dexterity his entire career implies he does not possess.
So this is different than it usually is. This is not boredom or laziness or switch-flipping. This is for real.
- A headband? Seriously? Rasheed Wallace's energetic headband removal after a Pistons timeout earned him a technical foul that was critical towards the end of the game, making the last four seconds an academic exercise instead of a shot at a game-tying three. And... why did that need to be called? Wallace wasn't even looking at a referee or talking to one. The headband was thrown into the Detroit bench. It had no impact on the game at all. And yet the referees still saw fit to call it. Inexplicable.
- Annual "Doug Collins is horrible and I don't understand why TNT even uses him" bit: Doug Collins is horrible and I don't understand why TNT even uses him. Kerr and Albert are perfect and cannot be improved upon, but during the conference finals TNT shoves a third man in the booth for reasons that cannot be explained. This is not a unique phenomenon, either. See Monday Night Football, the late unlamented Sunday Night Football, and the Nessler/Griese/Horrible Fat Maguire trio that is also late and unlamented after only a single season. Whenever I listen to a three-man booth I invariably think "this would be better with only two people."
Re: Collins. Guaranteed to say the same thing at least four times in a row when something happens. "That layup/free throw/made shot will get [DANGEROUS SHOOTER] going" is guaranteed at least six times a game. Also his hair looks ridiculous. You are not blonde. You are not fooling anyone.
- I love the TNT studio crew. I do. No one ever doubt that. But Kenny Smith has seriously got to cut out the "Cleveland can't win a close game" sort of analysis. It's very ESPN of him and, as the last two games show, it is not true.
- Man, Chris Webber seems done with a capital D. He cannot handle the Cavs' length and activity. It's painful to watch him do all these brilliant things that come with experience and then see his legs betray him and the shot go unfinished. At this moment he is a metaphor for aging, and it is sad.
- You would think the Pistons would be able to make something out of the Cav bigs showing really hard whenever the Pistons try a high screen for Billups but they've been doing it for four games and there is nothing forthcoming from Saunders. Anything so predictable should also be exploitable.
- The Lindsey Hunter insertion was effective this game. Gibson spent a few possessions attempting to deal with him, almost got his pocket picked, and then spent the rest of the time the two spent on the floor being freaked out and giving up the ball. If only they had done it earlier.
- For some reason I find the superstar fawning re: Lebron more irritating than superstar fawning provided Nash/Kobe/Wade/etc. I think it's because it all seems so obvious. Lebron is built like a tank and could probably run to and from Detroit in ten minutes. He is obviously a freak athlete in a league consisting entirely of freak athletes. He is a freak's freak, the freakiest freak who ever freaked. If he wasn't crushing people it would be odd. I mean, when he does those nasty throwdowns or one of those preposterous (preposterous!) step-back fadeaway jumpers, sure I'm mildly impressed, but the overwhelming feeling I get is "oh well, he's Lebron, next posseession."