Falcons - The Abraham deal got done, with the Falcons moving down in the first round and picking up a third- and fourth-rounder to boot. (Naturally, the AJC managed to confuse me today by stating or at least implying that the Falcons don't pick before the second round. Would it be too much to ask that AJC reporters understand the deals on which they're reporting? Remember Sekou Smith's belief last year that the Hawks were going to lose the first-rounder they got in compensation for Antoine Walker? I digress.) The team signed him to a six-year, $45M contract, which naturally means nothing and I'm still looking for a breakdown on the deal. The Falcons need to get four good years out of him to make up for the fact that they traded away the chance to draft a young, cheap, productive player with the #15 pick. The defense does look a lot better now with the safety and defensive end weaknesses addressed. Now, they can focus on getting a corner who can relegate Jason Webster to the nickel and keep Allen Rossum from having to cover anyone, along with a left tackle who can at least impede opposing rushers from getting to the franchise. I'd also like to see them get a space-eater to put next to Rod Coleman to give the team a dream defensive line, but that might be too much to ask.
Thrashers - They followed up their big comeback in Boston with an even bigger comeback against New Jersey on Thursday night and then left a real stinker on the ice in Uniondale. This, combined with Montreal sweeping the Maple Leafs (thanks for the help, Toronto), leaves the Thrashers three points out with 11 games to go. Thursday night's game with Tampa is an absolute must-win. If the team doesn't make it, then chalk their failure up to an average defensive corps that have left Kari out to dry on too many occasions. Braydon Coburn, this is your life calling.
Braves - I'm going to go on record now as saying that trading John Thomson would be an enormous mistake. He's a legitimate #3 starter and giving him away for left-handed relief help, which is completely fungible, would be stupid. I know that the Braves want to get Kyle Davies into the rotation, but it's far more likely that they'll do so when one of their starters gets hurt (it's like clockwork with Tim Hudson and need I remind our fearless GM that the ace of the staff is 38 with a history of arm problems) or when Horacio Ramirez or Jorge Sosa blow up. Ramirez and Sosa both had suspect peripherals last year and have not set the world on fire this spring. Spring ball is never a good barometer of success once the pitches start flying for real, but for players about whom we already have doubts, weak spring performances are a concern. Ramirez and Sosa aren't Greg Maddux, intentionally f***ing with hitters by throwing them cheese that will confuse them when Greg sees them again in June. They both allowed a ton of runners last year, with Horacio adding the special treat of letting those runners score at a canter on the heels of another home run. I'd much prefer Davies and possibly Chuck James replacing them in the rotation if one or both suck.
Hawks - The team is firmly back in the crapper after a solid February. They aren't competitive with the good teams and they're losing to most of the bad teams. The players seem as if they've hit a wall, which is probably to be expected with a young team, but still discouraging. The only good news is that they're earning themselves a few more lottery balls.
The Atlanta Regional - I had a good time at the game on Thursday night, although I might never forgive my friend Billy for convincing me that Texas had things wrapped up at halftime and thus depriving me of seeing dueling clutch threes from Pittsnogle and Paulino in person. Still, I got to see Redick weep off the court after crapping the bed in his final game, so the trip was certainly worthwhile. Some assorted thoughts:
1. If Coach K didn't have his carefully crafted image of "more than a coach," then he might get some criticism from inside the periphery that his post-Grant Hill/Laettner teams have mostly underachieved in the tournament. He brings in the best high school talent every year, but almost every time Duke plays a similarly talented team in the tournament, they lose. No one can look at the talent that Coach K has brought in over the past decade and claim that his teams haven't underachieved, but since he has a healthy platoon of Caucasians (who are "gritty" and "heady" instead of "talented," despite the fact that they were huge recruits with similar physical skills to those "naturally-gifted" Black guys playing for other programs) and the aura of Duke University and Duke basketball behind him, he doesn't get criticized. And why do his teams underachieve? Possibly because he doesn't use his depth? Possibly because his coaching style, especially on defense, can be exploited by teams with quality size and those are the teams that Duke inevitably confronts in the later rounds of the tournament? Possibly because he doesn't spend as much time on the tactics that he excelled at earlier in his career and has instead entered a Bobby Bowden stage where he's more CEO than hands-on coach?
1a. One major caveat: Coach K is still the same guy who made seven Final Fours in nine years, at times with relatively untalented teams. (The 1990 team comes to mind, for instance.) Billy Donovan was being written off as a one-hit wonder before this season, but now, he has reminded us all that he's the same guy who did a fine job in riding Florida to the title game in 2000. If we just used the past several years as predictors, then we never would have guessed that the Pac Ten and SEC, two conferences that have struggled mightily to place teams in the Final Four, would have three-quarters of the representatives, while the fourth representative would come from the mid-major Cinderella class that hasn't produced a Final Four team in decades.
2. The hanging scoreboard and buzzer didn't work at the Georgia Dome on Thursday night. Given the efficacy of our city and state government, I can't say that I'm overly surprised.
3. The NCAA does everything they can to make the experience of going to a tournament game as antiseptic as possible. Maybe I've been spoiled by Hawks games (and when did you ever think you'd hear that?), but the interminable commercial breaks after every four minutes of game time were made much worse by the absence of any entertainment. No videos on the Jumbotron, no t-shirts being shot into the upper deck with bazookas, nothing but me and my thoughts. Don't they know that Gen X needs constant stimulation? Entertain me, dammit! And because the NCAA piously refuses to allow the sale of beer at the Tournament (they want to get rich of the unpaid labor that are their athletes, but they apparently don't want to get THAT rich), I couldn't even maintain a buzz.
4. Naturally, it took mere hours following GMU's win over UConn before I heard the first "why can't college football have a tournament so they could have their George Mason story?" remark (courtesy of Steak Shapiro on Mayhem in the AM). First, college basketball was not discussed at all until the NFL season ended (including on Mayhem) and even afterwards, there was more of a search for a storyline ("Hey look, there are two white guys scoring a lot of points for top ten teams! And one was home schooled while the other is a Marxist! Let's hype this story to death!") than there was interest in the games themselves. College basketball has reduced itself to a three-week impact on the sports consciousness of the country. College football has a season-long playoff.
And if you don't believe me, contrast the impact that Ohio State-Texas had on your memory with Duke-Memphis or Memphis-UCLA. If you were like me, you were probably surprised to find out that the Oakland Regional final was a rematch, mainly because no one cares about college basketball until late in the season. This is the wrong year to be bitching about college football's structure, since it worked perfectly, building up all season to the two best teams meeting in the Rose Bowl and then producing an absolute classic. Isn't that better than the second-place team in the CAA playing the second-best team in the SEC for all the marbles? I'm not saying that college football's system is perfect. 2004 surely illustrated that. However, the solution is a four-team playoff, not some sort of soulless 32-team monstrosity designed to allow casual fans to ignore the entire regular season and then pick up in December.
Second, there's no way for a George Mason to compete in football. College basketball requires a limited number of good players and a limited financial investment. That's how a team like George Mason can do better than the richer, bigger flagship schools of the Commonwealth. College football requires a large number of very good players and a larger financial investment. There's no such thing as a Danny Manning in football because one great player can't single-handedly win a game. (A great player with good teammates, like say, Vince Young? Sure. Vince Young with Middle Tennessee State talent around him? Eh, not so likely.)
Third, does anyone else find it a little cheap that a team that couldn't win the Colonial Athletic Conference has a good chance to win the national title?