|03.16.09 at 2:02 pm ET|
It is a scientific fact.
The middle of March has become the least productive time of year in corporate America. Even in these times of economic volatility and stress where’s there’s more pressure to produce, you can almost bet that every office has a pool of predictions as to who is going to advance in the NCAA Men’s Division I basketball championship.
And you can bet people are emailing, facebooking, texting and generally trash-talking each other’s teams, star players and of course, picks.
I might as well get in on the act. So here goes.
Five teams I love in this tournament:
1. Louisville. Rick Pitino knows what this time of year is about. His team was a machine at the Big East Tournament. They won 19 of 21 games this year in the best basketball conference in the country. Any questions?
2. Memphis. Yes they play in the Memphis Athletic Conference, also known as Conference USA, where they have won an amazing 61 straight games. Only Kentucky’s string of 64 versus SEC teams between 1945-50 is better. And they are on a 25-game winning streak. They ARE athletic enough to knock of No. 1 UConn in the West, if of course, they hit those pesky free throws.
3. North Carolina. Assuming Ty Lawson’s toe isn’t an issue, there’s ZERO reason to think he and Tyler Hansbrough won’t lead the Heels back to the Final Four in Detroit.
4. Villanova. These Wildcats are eight deep and it’s a quality eight. That is vital at tournament time because if one or two stars are off, someone needs to pick up the slack. As long as Scottie Reynolds doesn’t go 1-on-5 too often, they should advance to Boston.
5. Xavier. This team lost Josh Duncan, Drew Lavender and Stanley Burrell and everyone figured a step back was in order. All they did was reload with C.J. Anderson, B.J. Raymond and Derrick Brown. One of the most athletic teams in the tournament.
Five teams I wouldn’t bank on heading to the Motor City:
1. Syracuse. Great story. Seven overtimes. Two Big East Tourney wins, including a victory in arguably the most epic (certainly not greatest) college basketball game of all time. What does that get you? A No. 3 seed in the same South bracket as Oklahoma, North Carolina and Gonzaga and 15 sets of tired legs. Don’t be shocked if No. 14 Stephen F. Austin pulls the upset.
2. Wake Forest. Way too up-and-down from January on. Team looked like they were going to compete for a No. 1 seed and challenge UNC for ACC supremacy when they were ranked No. 1 early on. They lost at home to Virginia Tech when they were top-ranked and haven’t been the same since.
3. Boston College. They have been truly one of the fascinating stories of the college season. Al Skinner may not receive the national coach of the year but NO ONE did more to deserve it. He took a group that was picked to finish in the lower third of the ACC and rallied them to beat unbeaten and No. 1 North Carolina. Yes, we know who they lost to just days later but they also beat Duke and should have beaten them in the ACC tourney. But the fact is, they are bracketed with Michigan State, and Louisville in the Midwest, that is if they get by red-hot USC.
4. Duke. Why the hate for the ACC, Trags? Well, if you watched Duke lose at B.C. and you watched the game on Friday night at the Georgia Dome, you realize how flawed the Blue Devils are. If you don’t let Jon Scheyer kill you, you stand a really good chance of doing what VCU did in 2007.
5. Marquette. Sorry Doc Rivers. Another great early-season story. Then Dominic James broke the fifth metatarsal in his left foot. Season over. Jerel McNeal is a fabulously talented player, who can score from anywhere on the court and led a ferocious comeback against Villanova in the Big East Tournament. But there aren’t enough big bodies who score to sustain him in this highly intense environment.
Trags Final Four Take:
Louisville over Memphis in one national semifinal.
Villanova over North Carolina in the other.
Trags Final Take:
Louisville over Villanova.
Also of note:
The US Basketball Writers of America announced their All-Americans on Monday:
DeJuan Blair, Pittsburgh, F, 6-7, 265, So., Pittsburgh, Pa.
Stephen Curry, Davidson, G, 6-3, 185, Jr., Charlotte, N.C.
Blake Griffin, Oklahoma, F, 6-10, 251, So., Oklahoma City, Okla.
Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina, F, 6-9, 250, Sr., Poplar Bluff, Mo.
James Harden, Arizona State, G, 6-5, 218, So., Los Angeles, Calif.
Sherron Collins, Kansas, G, 5-11, 200, Jr., Chicago, Ill.
Luke Harangody, Notre Dame, F, 6-8, 255, Jr., Schererville, Ind.
Jodie Meeks, Kentucky, G, 6-4, 208, Jr., Norcross, Ga.
Jeff Teague, Wake Forest, G, 6-2, 180, So., Indianapolis, Ind.
Hasheem Thabeet, Connecticut, C, 7-3, 263, Jr., Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania
|03.15.09 at 3:28 pm ET|
The Boston Celtics knew securing homecourt would not be the only challenge in the second half of the season. They also have to fend off playoff-hungry teams that are staying alive one win at a time.
‘Being the defending champ,’ Ray Allen said prior to the All-Star Break, ‘Teams are in our building thinking this in an opportunity for us to beat this team. And if we can prove that we can beat this team, we can beat anybody and we’ll make it into the playoffs, and who knows from there. So we always have to be aware of what we possess.’
On Sunday afternoon, the Bucks affirmed that concern with an 86-77 win over the Celtics in Milwaukee. (RECAP HERE) With that victory, the Bucks reclaimed hold of the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference. This is not the last time the Celtics will be caught in the middle of a tug-of-war for a playoff berth.
March 17: @ Chicago Bulls (30-37)
Season: Celtics 2-0
The Celtics have not faced the Bulls since they added veterans Brad Miller and John Salmons, a move that recently helped them beat the New Orleans Hornets by 18 points. The Bulls lost hold of the eighth spot with the Bucks win over the Celtics, and there is there is no better place for them to get to take it back than on their home court. They have earned 20 of their 30 victories in Chicago, tied for sixth in home wins in the Eastern Conference.
April 1: vs. Charlotte Bobcats (28-38)
Season: Tied 1-1
In spite of their record, the Bobcats have been a thorn in the Celtics side. Last year they beat the Celtics in Boston and this season snagged an overtime win in Charlotte. Even though the Bobcats have struggled with consistency, alternating winning and losing streaks, they step up their game against the Celtics. They’ll come to Boston with less than 10 games left in the regular season, an opportunity to bolster their playoff hopes.
April 8: vs. New Jersey Nets (28-37)
Season: Celtics 3-0
The Celtics blew out the Nets twice without Kendrick Perkins and beat them again in March without Kevin Garnett. While Devin Harris and Vince Carter are backcourt threats, the Celtics already know how to win without their bigs. The Nets seemed to lack any motivation on their first trip to Boston in January. With a postseason berth on the line, they will stand no chance of making a push if they show up with the same level of energy in April.
|03.13.09 at 11:10 pm ET|
They also knew there was plenty of time to catch their breath and, thanks to Leon Powe’s career night as well as solid contributions from the bench, the Celtics outscored the Grizz, 81-65, the rest of the way and cruised to their 50th win of the season.
Some quick takes on Friday’s game.
Leon Powe played 41 minutes and committed ZERO turnovers two days after playing 43 in a loss at Miami. He is showing fresh legs and that’s going to be key to protecting Kevin Garnett when he comes back.
Ray Allen had 22 points in 31 minutes.
The Celtics were tougher than the Grizzlies, outscoring them, 48-30, in the paint.
The Celtics clinched a tie for the Atlantic Division title, missing a clinching when Philly beat Chicago in the final game ever at the Spectrum.
Here’s what the Celtics had to say in their final home game before St. Patrick’s Day.
|03.13.09 at 10:37 pm ET|
The name Gasol is like a four-letter word, plus exclamation, among Celtics fans.
On Friday night, the legend grew. As Leon Powe was destroying the Memphis Grizzlies with a monstrous 30-point, 11-rebound performance, Pau’s brother Marc was trash-talking with teammate Rudy Gay at the free throw line.
Ray Allen was a witness to it and heard every word loud and clear.
“Gasol and Rudy Gay were talking on the free throw line,” Allen said. “So (Gay) says, ‘You’ve got to guard Leon.’ (Gasol) says, ‘I don’t care about Leon, let him get 40.’ I looked at him and said, ‘You want him to get 40, he’ll get 40 on you, don’t sleep on him.’ And he goes, ‘As long as it’s not Pierce.’ I said, ‘If it’s 40, we’re still going to win.’ ”
And win the Celtics did, 102-92, over the Grizzlies at TD Banknorth Garden on Friday night. Powe was the biggest reason, with his career-high 30, 11 board, five blocks and three assists.
“So, the free throw line banter was pretty funny tonight,” Allen continued.
And no one was laughing harder than Powe, who reminded everyone at his locker afterward that he scored 41 in college with California.
He also was giving grief to the man who he’s replacing in the lineup, Kevin Garnett, who is still out another week with a strained right knee.
“Me and KG had a little friendly talk,” said Powe, who played a team-high 41 minutes. “I want KG to come back. My body is getting used to these 40 minutes (a game). But that’s our leader, man, and we miss him so we want to be at full strength. And once we’re at full strength, we’re going to be hard to stop.”
On Friday night, it was Powe who was unstoppable.
|03.13.09 at 12:21 pm ET|
This has to feel like Twilight Zone week for Bill Walker.
On Wednesday night in Miami, he played against his college teammate at Kansas State, one Michael Beasley.
Tonight he goes against his high school chum, and NBA Rookie of the Year favorite, O.J. Mayo.
But after Wednesday night, coach Doc Rivers isn’t going to Walker for any scouting reports. Beasley was 4-for-9 with four rebounds and two assists in 22 minutes as he was a force off the bench for the Heat.
“We talked to him about Beasley, too, and he gave us a bad scouting report so we’re no longer listening to Billy Walker and his scouting reports,” Rivers said Friday morning.
Meanwhile, Mayo, to be fair to Walker, can’t be compared to many others in this year’s rookie class. He has started all 63 games this season, averaging 18.8 points a game. This doesn’t come as a surprise to Walker, who knows of Mayo from their days back in Cincinnati at North College Hill High.
“He’s a very good player,” Walker said of Mayo Friday morning at Celtics shootaround. “He’s been playing at a pro style since he was young. He knows all the tricks. It’s going to be tough to guard him.”
Mayo went on to star at Southern California for one year before turning pro while Walker joined Michael Beasley at Kansas State.
Rivers, like every other basketball fan, was enthralled by the six-overtime thriller between Syracuse and Connecticut in the Big East Tournament that ended at 1:22 Friday morning.
“I was up because I watching the Phoenix-Cleveland game,” Rivers said. “So, I was just going back and forth, it was pretty cool.
“I like UConn and coach Calhoun, I was hoping they lost at the end of it, I really was,” Rivers said. “I was thinking, ‘Forget this Big East Tournament, they’ve got a chance to win the NCAA Tournament.’ I think, in a strange way, it was beneficial. Now they can regroup. They have a chance to get their legs back and get ready for their first game.”
|03.13.09 at 11:57 am ET|
When Rajon Rondo went down near mid-court last Friday night against Cleveland with a sprained right ankle, some bad thoughts were racing through his head.
“I thought it was bad, that’s why I stayed down so long,” Rondo said Friday morning at the team’s shootaround in Waltham, after confirming that he will be healthy enough to return to action tonight against Memphis.
“I hate being hurt,” he said. “I try to get through it as quick as possible. I’ve been getting treatment Even though I’m going to play tonight, I’m still going to treat it the same way the rest of the season.”
“He just wants to get back when he was healthy,” head coach Doc Rivers added. “One of the things I wanted to make sure of was that he was alright to go and he is.”
The Celtics were 0-2 without the services of Rondo. It appears the Celtics will be able to throw that stat out tonight as the starting point guard had a pleasant surprise in store at the team’s shootaround on Friday morning when he declared himself ready to return.
“I feel better,” Rondo said. “I’m going to try and give it a go tonight, definitely. Nobody plays 100 or 90 percent in this league. I’ll be alright. I’ll try to give it a go tonight and see how I feel.
“It’s definitely tough to sit and watch your teammates play, whether they win or lose,” he added. “You always want to be out there supporting them. These past two games have been tough for me but I’m anxious to get back out there tonight.”
Of course, it may have been tough on him to watch but maybe not as tough as it has been on Stephon Marbury, who was scoreless in 24 minutes on Wednesday night, missing all six of his shots from the floor.
Rondo said he won’t be afraid of re-injuring the ankle and wouldn’t be returning if that was still in his mind.
“I think I’ll be able to help the team a lot more than I did then,” Rondo said. “I won’t be as tentative to my ankle as I was then. Hopefully, I’ll be able to cut.”
|03.09.09 at 5:47 pm ET|
Doc Rivers quipped after practice on Monday that he just worked up his best sweat since his playing days.
The former NBA point guard wasn’t joking. He just finished running Stephon Marbury through a five-man ghost drill in which Rivers called out various plays, leaving Marbury to run an offense that included the likes of Mikki Moore, Leon Powe, J.R. Giddens, Bill Walker and Gabe Pruitt.
With five players unavailable due to injury and with Paul Pierce and Ray Allen playing 45 minutes apiece the day before, the Celtics were running on a skelton practice with barely enough bodies to make it worthwhile.
Now, while he’ll have the benefit of Pierce and Allen on Wednesday when the team plays next in Miami, Marbury will have to pick up his mastery of the offense if the Celtics are to find their way on offense and not fall behind by 20 like they did on Sunday in the first half against Orlando.
“Steph ran the set, but he didn’t know what to look for or who to look for and then he’s playing at half-speed, because you could feel him thinking out there on the floor,” Rivers said. “That killed him and it killed the team as well. So, it’s just going to take time. What I’m trying to get him to do is not to press or worry about it. The first thing I told him (Sunday) night was don’t worry about, it’s going to come together.”
Even though he was clearly not playing up to the potential that Danny Ainge saw when he signed him two weeks ago, Marbury was hardly crestfallen about his chances to improve. Instead, he exhibited the kind of confidence required from a point guard of a NBA title contender.
“Yeah, I’m definitely, getting it,” Marbury said. “Today was definitely helpful. As coach said today, learning what we want out of the offense as opposed to just running the sets. As a point guard, you normally know all of the plays, you know where to go and you know what everyone is going to do.”
With Rivers saying on Monday that he foresees Rajon Rondo out for at least the next couple of games with his sprained right ankle, this will be Marbury’s team. Marbury will have a golden opportunity to show that he can pick up the offense in time to be a force for the playoffs.
“For me, asserting myself in the lineups, I need to make sure the guys get the shots who are supposed to get the shots,” Marbury said.
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