Friday, March 30, 2007

Friday Round-Up

There's actually too much going on right now for one column. Add in that I couldn't post yesterday because I was dealing with some familial health woes (fear not, everyone is now fully operable again), and I'm almost overwhelmed. (By the way, has anyone ever been just "whelmed?" Everyone is always overwhelmed or underwhelmed. No one is ever whelmed.) So, I'll purge some random thoughts from my brain, and we'll call it a week.

The Sox open their season Monday, and only one of the three youngsters I was rooting for before camp opened has made the team. Yes, Ryan Sweeney's and Josh Fields's demotions to Charlotte are old news. I was happy to see that John Danks was named the fifth starter. Still, he's the least exciting of the three, in my opinion, so while it's nice that he's with the Sox, I'm still a little bummed that youth will not be served more generally. I'm down on the Sox right now, so I hope I'm proven wrong about this team.

Elsewhere, I'm feeling pretty good about the Bulls right now after their win over the Pistons. Obviously, one game doesn't tell you more than an entire season, especially when Detroit was missing two key starters, but still it's always fun to beat Detroit. And, last night aside, I do think the Bulls are the second best team in the conference, especially if Nocioni gives them something when he returns. Speaking of which, I do have two questions. One, how will the minutes be distributed once Nocioni returns? Most people are asking whether Tyrus Thomas will lose minutes to the Argentinian, but if Nocioni is healthy, the guy whose minutes should vanish is P.J. Brown. Brown has done some good things, but both Thomas and Nocioni contribute more. Second, why was the national crew from TNT obsessed with Kirk Hinrich last night. They acted as if he was the Bulls' lone superstar. Everyone here in Chicago has figured out that Luol Deng and Ben Gordon are this team's best players. The portrayal of Hinrich as the team's key player is out-dated and lazy on the part of the national press. (The same criticism goes to whichever "personality" it was on The Score last night who said it would be near impossible for the Bulls to be the number two seed in the East because they would have to win their division. The NBA changed the seeding system for the play-offs this season. This is basic stuff.)

Turning to a third, local, pro team: one "mainstream media" type who does deserve credit today is the Sun-Times Greg Couch. Couch has bucked local trends by analyzing the Lance Briggs-Chicago Bears showdown from a football perspective instead of a moral one. And, I agree with his conclusion: the Bears have the money to get Briggs signed long-term, and from a football perspective, that's the best thing they could do.

Finally today, outside of Chicago, all three of the big pro sports are dwarfed nationally be anticipation for the Final Four. I love this Final Four. Four of the top six teams in the country are here. Kansas and North Carolina are probably the two best teams, and I was looking forward to their showdown, but a Final Four without a single weak link will do nicely. Ohio State against Georgetown is a true toss-up game. Greg Oden versus Roy Hibbert, the outstanding point guard play of Mike Conley, the outstanding all-around play of Jeff Green: there is a lot to like about this game. Ohio State needs to do two things: force turnovers and avoid foul trouble. They struggle without Oden on the floor, so he needs to avoid fouls, which won't be easy against Hibbert. Plus, their defense thrives, in part, by never giving up freebies. When they aren't their usual stingy selves with opponent's free throw attempts, that's when they falter on defense. Georgetown's offense and defense struggle when they turn the ball over, and unfortunately that's something they do all-too-often. Georgetown shoots a preposterously high percentage and grabs a ton of offensive rebounds. When they turn it over before a shot goes up, both advantages are lost. Plus, it often denies their outstanding shot blockers to get involved at the defensive end. Ohio State doesn't force a ton of turnovers, though. As good as these teams are, the game will come down to weakness against weakness. Can Georgetown protect the ball better than they usually do; can Ohio State force and take advantage of turnovers better than they usually do?

In the other semi, Florida meets UCLA. Again, both teams are excellent, but unlike the other match-up, this game has an actual favorite. Florida is the most balanced of the Final Four teams. They're also the best offensive team remaining, relying on a combo of dunks and threes to dominate opponents. But UCLA is far from a significant underdog. When I say Florida is a favorite, I mean a one point favorite. It's that close, it's just not a pick 'em like the other game. UCLA can win this game. There's not much fancy too it either. UCLA plays great defense. They're not great on offense. If Arron Afflalo and Darren Collison are excellent, UCLA will win. If they're not, then UCLA will lose. The match-up between Florida's attack and UCLA's defense will be fun. I'll pick Florida because their defense is better than UCLA's offense.

The baseball season starts, the Bulls play the Cavs for the number two seed in the play-offs, the Bears-Lance Briggs showdown approaches resolution, and oh yeah, the Final Four. Have a fun weekend everybody.

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