Friday Night - The Nadir
It takes a real confluence of events for the Hawks, a team that hasn't come close to a playoff berth since 1999, to say that they've truly reached the bottom of the barrel, but Friday night was unquestionably it. The Hawks met the Raptors in a battle of the teams with the worst combined records (minimum of 30 games) in NBA history. Philips Arena was, predictably, empty at tipoff (I estimated about 4,000) fans and the crowd only grew to about 8,000 at its peak. The Hawks started the game by digging an 8-2 deficit, at which point my "STOP THE BLEEDING" plea was heard by the entire arena. It wasn't just that the Hawks were being whipped by a 1-14 team; it was that they were sloppy with the ball on offense and then weren't getting back on defense. Anyway, despite some valiant fighting, the Hawks managed to lose the "G-d, We Suck!!!" Bowl, at home, no less. And you want more reasons to be pessimistic? That's what I'm here for:
1. The contrast between Chris Bosh (#4 pick in 2003) and Charlie Villaneuva (#7 pick in 2005), who are Toronto's best players, and Josh Childress (#6 pick in 2004) and Marvin Williams (#2 pick in 2005) was night and day. Childress got plenty of minutes down the stretch because he's played fairly good defense recently, but he's still a waste on offense. Williams played like he'd never touched a basketball and got rejected twice by Villaneuva (who has only one year of experience on him) on one possession.
2. Toronto scored easily on nicely designed plays down the stretch when they needed baskets. The Hawks, on the other hand, were reduced to Joe Johnson, who otherwise played superbly and exploited the fact that the Raptors are weak at shooting guard, throwing up crazy shots on one-on-one moves. What does that say about our coaching. And another thing: Woodson went with Tyronne Lue, who couldn't score in a women's prison with a fistful of pardons, down the stretch instead of Salim and paid for it when Lue nervously passed on an open three on a critical possession. As if to remind Woodson of his mistake, Salim then nailed a three at the buzzer to make the final margin one.
The highlight of the night was the fact that our section won free burritos from Chipotle Grill. So I have that going for me, which is nice.
Saturday Night - LSWho?
I let that stat on the team with the better record always winning the SEC Championship Game color my intuition that this LSU team isn't really that good. It's telling that I don't know a single LSU grad who was happy with Les Miles, even though he had guided the Tigers to a 10-1 season. Sometimes, the eyes don't lie and LSU was not an overly impressive team. The signs were all there for us: they couldn't defend Arizona State, they lost at home to a bad Tennessee team, they were extremely fortunate to beat Auburn, they beat an overrated Alabama team, they had a narrow escape against Arkansas, and they were poor in the sloppiness categories (turnovers and penalties.)
Georgia took advantage in a major way. LSU showed weakness from the start of the season in that their defenders clearly did not know what they were doing in zone coverage (the Tennessee game comes to mind immediately) and Georgia exploited an easily-flummoxed secondary ruthlessly. The deep passes on first down play action for which I pleaded against Tech led to the first two touchdowns. (Was Richt setting LSU up with his playcalling in the Tech game? Did he realize his mistake prior to the LSU game? Was LSU's secondary more susceptible to those sorts of tricks?) A beautiful special teams gambit led to the third touchdown and then LSU was in a position from which they could not extricate themselves: a deficit against a very good defense with a shaky quarterback. The second half was a somewhat uneventful buzzkill, not unlike the second half against Arkansas in the 2002 SEC Championship Game blowout, other than Tim Jennings welcoming Matt Flynn to the big time with a pick six.
The game also illustrated that, as much as I want to grab Lloyd Carr by the lapels some times and scream at him to stop getting all dreamy-eyed when talking about field position, it does matter where you start a drive. Georgia took a death grip on the game with three first half touchdown drives that totaled 111 yards. They illustrated that the playbook is a lot wider when you have the ball in the opponent's end of the field. Credit goes to the Georgia special teams, both for setting the offense up and for pinning LSU back with great punts, and the Georgia defense for refusing to allow the Tigers an inch when they backed them up.
Anyway, these numbers are pretty impressive for Mark Richt:
Georgia under Richt - 51-12 (.810), two SEC Titles, three divisional titles.
Georgia in the decade before Richt - 76-40-1 (.654), no SEC titles, no divisional titles.
I know that I'm catching Richt at a high point right now and he's benefited from the rest of the division slipping and comparing him to Goff and Donnan isn't the steepest comparison, but the guy may well turn out to be Georgia's Mack Brown.
Sunday Night in the McBoob
The wife and I went to see UVA, our grad school alma mater and a school that used to be able to field competent hoops teams back in the day, take on Georgia Tech. I expected the worst, since everything I've read on the Hoos said that Pete Gillen left the program bereft of talent, other than a pretty good point guard Sean Singletary and a semi-competent shooting guard in J.R. Reynolds, and that Dave Leitao will have to be John Wooden and David Copperfield rolled into one to get this team to six ACC wins. Sure enough, the team got off to a 29-13 deficit and ended the first half shooting 21% with 12 turnovers. Then, oddly enough, they rallied in the second half, mainly because they were crashing the glass with a motley crew of forwards like a good fourth line chasing the puck and generally acting like pests and because they got into the bonus early and starting marching to the stripe. UVA lost by only nine and at one point got to within four, despite the fact that Singletary was eaten up defensively by Zam Frederick and DeAndre Bell, Reynolds was similarly useless, and the team got all retro by not making a three-pointer all night.
1. Tech fans bitch about every call that goes against them. (I need to get tickets to a home game against Duke some time to see what happens when they do actually get railroaded by the refs.) And yet, to illustrate the loudest boos of the night, I offer a juxtaposition: if you're going to San Francisco...
Scott McKenzie: "be sure to wear some flowers in your hair"
Tech fans: "BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
All that said, I had forgotten how much fun a game at the Thrillerdome can be. Hawks games had disabused me of the notion that basketball crowds should pay attention and be loud, so it was nice to have a reminder.
2. I'm probably insane, but RaSean Dickey reminds me a little of Chris Bosh. Maybe it's simply that he's a tall, lanky inside player with touch. He needs the ball more.
3. Is it fair to say that you've seen a poorly-played game when the teams combine for 15 assists and 34 turnovers? Or at least a game in which both point guards played like poo?
4. Maybe I just caught Tech on a cold shooting night, but I'll be interested to see what happens when a team plays zone on them. As a team they're very athletic, but they lack shooters, especially if Anthony Morrow isn't hitting or the opposing defense plays a lot of attention to him.
5. Please tell me that one of you watched the game on TV and heard someone yell "PLEASE MISS!!!" when the arena was dead silent during a Tech free throw in the second half. Yup, that was me and yup, the wife was embarrassed. I might have to watch another Lifetime movie with her to make up for it. (If you ever get the chance to take in Every Mother's Worst Fear, which is naturally that their daughters will meet a man over the internet and that man will be working for Jefferson Darcy from Married with Children, who will auction them off on the internet and then try to kill them when they mouth off to him, please do so.)