A lot happened while I was away from the computer last week. Not everything demands comment. But four events in particular do require a few words.
The Final Four
I didn’t watch much of any game. I was astounded by Villanova’s destruction of Oklahoma in the semifinals. I’m not good at math, but that was like a 172 point turn-around from when the teams played last December. I got to see bits during the run when the Wildcats blew the game open. I said in my mini-prediction for the Final Four that ‘Nova had the feel of a team that might be destined to win it. That 23–0 run, or whatever it was, was further proof of that. OU had shots that looked pure spin out and fall right into Villanova rebounders’ hands. Then ‘Nova would throw up a shot that would clank off the rim, kiss the backboard, and crawl in. I was not surprised that ‘Nova won. But, man, to destroy a really good team like Oklahoma in that manner? That was a performance for the ages.
They followed up with one of the greatest winning shots in tournament history. I watched zero minutes of the final, and was in bed well before the final shot went in. With how it turned out, I’m bummed I couldn’t keep my eyes open long enough to watch the entire thing.
So much credit to Villanova. They were the best team of the tournament. Their style wasn’t always pretty, but style points don’t matter. They imposed their will on each of their opponents, taking them out of what their strengths were and forcing them into what ‘Nova wanted them to do. In a year that was a bit of a throwback, with all the excellent seniors that anchored the best teams and Ben Simmons being the only Can’t Miss One-and-Doner, Villanova was the perfect cap. They don’t have a superstar. They may not have a first round draft pick. But they were an excellent team – better than the sum of its individual talents – that played so well together. I hate that they beat KU, but I loved the way they played.
Josh Jackson Commits To KU
OK, this was last night, not over break, but since we’re speaking of Can’t Miss One-and-Doners, I should slot him in here.
For the third time in the last seven years, KU has nabbed the top high school senior. For the second time in that span, it comes in a year where there’s not a super-duper-star in the class, so there is some argument about whether Jackson is/will continue to be the best player in this class. But, still, he’s ranked #1, it was a fairly intense battle to get him, and he’ll be wearing Crimson and Blue for his one year of college basketball. Which is better than him picking Arizona or Michigan State.
I’m excited Jackson is going to be a Jayhawk. I’m also a little worried. First, there’s his name. One of the other two #1 players KU got was also a Josh, and his one year at KU was a profound disappointment. Jackson has holes in his game and is ranked #1 largely on the dreaded P word (potential) and his ferocious competitiveness. I worry about his ability to shoot and whether he’s strong enough to slash/drive at this level to balance that out. I also worry that since he is so similar to Wiggins in size, people will expect him to be Wiggins version 2.
But that fiery side is promising. KU fans have long complained about how the Jayhawks’ highly-touted freshmen are often laid-back Betas instead of ass-kicking Alphas. Jackson is all Alpha. Between Jackson and Devonte’ Graham, this may be the loudest KU team since Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson left. And as a number of observers have pointed out, many of Wiggins’ struggles were because his year at KU coincided with the Jayhawks not having a great point guard. Seriously, he would have been 25% better if he had played with even a flawed point like Elijah Johnson, who could throw a lob 800 times better than Naadir Tharpe. Jackson is going to play with Frank Mason and Graham. They’re going to find him behind (and above) the defense.
Jackson also fills a big hole with Wayne Selden and Brannen Greene leaving. He and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk should divide up those minutes nicely, and even play together often. Jackson is a great defender and relishes shutting people down. He seems like a kid who can contribute to the final result even on nights when he can’t get it going on offense.
KU was going to be very good again next year. Jackson keeps them in the conversation for national title contenders. Hopefully he wins more tournament games than Josh Selby and Andrew Wiggins did.
NBA Draft Declarations
A couple years back I wrote that college players should have the right to declare for the NBA draft as often as they like. So I’m down with the new system that allows exactly that. I think it benefits everyone. Players can get honest critiques of their games at the official combines and make decisions on their futures based on input from basketball experts instead of what their mom or cousin or summer league coach wants them to do. It’s good for the college game because some guys who want to explore their options will take their names out of the draft and return for another year of college seasoning. With so many transfers in the modern college game, just about every school will be able to plug holes left when kids wait until late in May to announce they’ve signed with an agent and are staying in the draft.
As for the KU guys, it’s been obvious since the Kentucky game that Wayne Selden was declaring. I’ve worried all year that Cheick Diallo would declare, despite barely seeing the court for most of his brief time at KU. Sometimes kids come in with a plan, not always of their creation, and have to follow it regardless of how their freshman years went. And, who knows if he would have been eligible next year after the disaster that was his initial eligibility fight. Finally, I’m shocked Brannen Greene declared. It was no secret that he would not be back at KU for his senior year. And while the kid has a beautiful shooting stroke, he is so limited otherwise that I don’t see him as an NBA guy right now. I figured he’d transfer to a D2 school where he could play immediately and light it up every night, then try to build on that for next year’s draft.
I think both Selden and Greene are D-league/Europe guys. Selden especially seems like a guy who could follow former KU great Keith Langford’s path and spend a decade being one of the best, and most highly-paid, players in Europe. Some team will take a flyer on Diallo, but he seems destined to spend a year or two in the D-League before he gets a shot. Maybe it pays off and he turns into a rotation guy at some point. But he has a long, long way to go both in how to play and getting his body strong enough before he can entertain being an NBA regular.
Oh, and John Calipari is a douche for turning this new system into yet another path for self-promotion.
I hardly watch golf anymore, but I do still enjoy watching The Masters. It’s a sign that spring has arrived, even if roughly every third year we’re watching with the furnace on here in Indy.
I turned the tournament on for the first time just as Jordan Spieth was making the turn Sunday. I figured I was about to watch some history as he ran away with his second-straight green jacket.
Clearly I am a jinx.
That got ugly quick. It was shocking to see Spieth fall apart, especially on 12. I was never a good golfer – or even a mediocre one – and haven’t swung a club in years. But I think I could have played that hole better than he did.
Which is both the beauty and terror of golf. It’s so damn hard to play, even for the absolute elite.
Credit to Danny Willett for seizing the moment. It would have been easy to work so hard to fight back into the tournament and, upon seeing you were shockingly in the lead, either get flustered or let up. He closed out his round wonderfully and forced Spieth to have to play almost perfect golf to attempt to tie.
But perhaps my favorite thing about watching Sunday was the flashbacks to 1996, when Greg Norman melted down in his final round and Nick Faldo roared back to win his third Masters. I loved it because of the contrast in fashion. In those mid–90s shots, the guys all wore pleated, almost blouse-y, pants. Their shirts featured wacky, geometric designs. Clothes were generally black and white with splashes of earth tones. In the post-Tiger era, though, most golfers are super fit and wear tight pants and shirts with tailored sleeves that show off their cut arms. And many of them wear colors that harken back to the garish golf fashions of the 1970s.
Force Awakens Arrives
I never could quite find the time to get L to the movie theater to see The Force Awakens. She breezed through the original trilogy without any issues so I figured she could handle the slightly more intense latest installment. The timing just never worked out. So I pre-ordered the BluRay/DVD back when it was first announced. Of course it was set to deliver while we were in Alabama. It came with our held mail yesterday but this week is incredibly busy, so we may not get to pop it in until Friday night. Which is kind of killing L. And me.
By the way, the Rogue One trailer looks incredible. I’m fully onboard with this new, all-encompassing, Disney-led Star Wars push.
- Well, 67 points. But that’s no joke. ↩
- Josh Selby in 2010, Andrew Wiggins in 2013. ↩
- Notably Ben McLemore and Wiggins. ↩
- Assuming Svi comes back for his junior year. ↩
- In Selby’s defense, he was on an Elite 8 team. But he didn’t contribute much to those three wins. ↩
- New furnace being installed as I type this! ↩