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Westsider Rider

Friday, March 30, 2007

The Final Four

As the madness draws to a close we have the Final Four tomorrow. I got half my Final Four right this year which isn't very good so let's hope I can pick these games better.

Georgetown - Ohio State - I had both of these teams to the Elite Eight so I didn't completely miss on them. I like the Hoyas in this matchup and that's not just because I'm a Michigan fan. Oden has yet to go up against another big man his size in Roy Hibbert, and Jeff Green makes plays. This Georgetown team is definitely more experienced than Ohio State and I believe that will be the difference in the end. I said all along the Buckeyes are too young to win it all this year and I'm going to stand by that statement.

Florida - UCLA - This is the half of the Final Four I had correctly and I'm going to stick with my bracket and take the Bruins over the Gators. Last year UCLA was pretty much dominated by Florida but as numerous articles have mentioned there are two big differences for the Bruins this year, they have Josh Shipp, who didn't play at all during last year's run, and Darren Collison manning the point. DC has shown that he is one of, if not the best PG in the country this year and I believe he makes enough plays to put the Bruins over the top. The Gators return in tact from the team last season and have played great basketball to get back to the Final Four, but in the end I believe the revenge factor from last year motivates the Bruins enough to get the job done.


The coaching search narrows

according to the Ann Arbor News, to John Beilein, Kevin Stallings and Chris Lowery. MGoBlog is all for Beilein, while Maize N Brew isn't necessarily opposed to Beilein but doesn't believe he's the best man for the job. Initially I had my top three realistic candidates in Tony Bennett, Chris Lowery and Lon Kruger. But after reading about Beilein I was sold on him. My only concern, as many other had, was the fact that Michigan was not actively going after a lot of other top names but apparently they did behind the scenes. According to the Spokesman Review, Michigan contacted Tony Bennett's agent and "was especially vigorous in its pursuit of Bennett."

In addition there was a rumor on the radio that there is a big name mystery candidate that is in the mix. Who that is we can only guess. I wouldn't be upset with Beilein or Lowery but one guy I do not want is Kevin Stallings. One of my best friends is a Vanderbilt alum and he was shocked that we would even consider him for the job. That's good enough for me, but there are also numerous reports online that he has problems with his players and that there was almost a player revolt against him this season. Take that FWIW but if a large group of Vandy's fans wouldn't mind him gone then I don't want him at Michigan. With the Final Four this weekend the coach should be in place after this weekend. Then the coach can work on making sure that this year's recruiting class stay in tact.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Fab Five

After I watched the recent piece done by ESPN on the Fab Five it got me to thinking about how much those guys meant to Michigan, and also to me. It’s crazy to think that it took place over 15 years ago. To tell you the truth, I don’t remember as much as I thought I did about watching them play. I definitely remember watching the title game and seeing Chris Webber call a timeout he didn’t have and locking myself in my room afterwards because I was so distraught over it. Aside from that it’s all a blur, moment spliced together like a collage that kids put together of their favorite athlete or celebrity. The pictures pasted onto a piece of paper with no beginning or end, no sense of the time of which games I watched, but one great memory.

I was only 10 at the time so it’s understandable how my memory isn’t all there regarding them but I know I they were my team and that brings a great nostalgic feeling. It’s that feeling that made me apply to Michigan and eventually attend school there. I’ve mentioned before and I’ll say it again, sports plays a large role in getting students to schools. There are always reports from schools that win National Championships that there are an increase in applications the following year, which is why the new basketball coach hire is so important. To get back on track, after my memories of the Fab Five and Desmond Howard I told my parents around the time I was a teenager that I would be attending Michigan. Sure it seems natural to someone growing up in Michigan, but definitely not for someone who grew up in Orange County, California not even an hour away from UCLA and USC.

There was something about Michigan that drew me to them. A combination of a lot of factors, the Fab Five, Desmond Howard, the Winged Helmet, Charles Woodson and the 97 National Championship team. Combine that with top notch academics and I don’t think there is another school in the country that can compete with the total package that Michigan has to offer. Kids now are too young to remember the Fab Five and do not realize the tradition of Michigan basketball. There are Michigan fans out there that are ashamed of the Fab Five and want nothing to do with them but I am not among them. Wherever I go, I wear my Michigan gear proudly and the Fab Five is definitely a part of that. Without the Fab Five I may never have gotten to know Michigan and I may not have applied and attended school there. The group of five Freshman in the early 90’s represented Michigan to the fullest and I am proud to know that they are part of the Michigan legacy because without them, I may not be a Michigan alum today.

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Monday, March 26, 2007

Football Update

March Madness and Kobe's streak have taken over the past two weeks but there's a lot of news on the football front that needs to be addressed. First was the official announcement that Carson Butler, Eugene Germany and Chris Richards have been kicked off the team. It's not a surprise considering Butler and Germany were already skating on thin ice and then went out and beat up a random student, and got caught with weed, respectively. Richards got put into this trio as he was the one that started the fight that Butler got involved in. You would think that these guys would know better considering they have probably been told numerous times as football players at Michigan they are under the spotlight and need to watch what they do.

For Richards and Germany, their losses aren't that big of a deal. Sure it would have been nice for depth and Germany did even play a bit last year but there is enough depth at their positions that it won't make a difference. Butler on the other hand could be a huge loss. He was supposed to break out last year but he couldn't keep track of the snap count. There is not much depth at TE and it just got smaller. Andre Criswell's move to TE makes more sense now. Also it means that Martell Webb and Steve Watson have a chance to come in and earn some immediate PT.

The losses don't end there as Jason Forcier will be transferring to Stanford. First reported on MGoBlog last night. Forcier was expected to compete for the backup job with Ryan Mallett but now it most likely means Mallett will be the backup and get some run this season. Sure I would've liked to see Mallett redshirt but getting some game experience will be valuable and make him ready to take over in 08. Also maybe this could make the depth chart look more attractive for this upcoming recruiting class. Football can't come soon enough.

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Friday, March 23, 2007

Don't Hate Kobe Hate The Game

That's the back of a shirt I bought in front of Staples Center a year or two ago, and of the knockoff shirts they sell in front of Staples it is by far my favorite one because the phrase sums it up. Kobe had his 3rd straight game scoring 50 or more, to bring his total to 175 in those three games. More importantly the Lakers are 3-0 during this run.

Going to school in Michigan I came across a lot of Kobe haters during my time there. As I wrote last year, no matter what he does people will hate on Kobe. He goes on a scoring tear like the one he's on now, he's a ballhog. He tries to gets his team involved by passing up shots and setting up his teammates he should shoot more. Now I understand that people's opinions won't change based upon my arguments, I know as there are certain athletes/teams I feel the same way about, but it doesn't mean I'm not gonna try. It's a battle I'll fight until the day Kobe wins a championship or retires without another one. I feel his talent is too much to not win a championship as the leading character and I hope I'm right.

The Lakers hope to continue their streak tonight at New Orleans/Oklahoma City and we'll see if Kobe can keep the streak going. As of right now I don't know how people can fault Kobe for going on this scoring tear. There's no one else on this team that can consistently put up points. Lamar and Luke are back but are coming off injury so they can't be depended on a consistent basis and as John Ireland said this morning on the radio "Would you rather have Kobe shoot a 20 footer contested by two guys or Kwame Brown shooting an open 15 footer?" I think we all know the answer to that question. So when all the haters keep talking junk just remember to tell them:

Don't Hate Kobe, Hate The Game


Sweet Sixteen Part 2

Well my picks were 3 out of 4 last night and I was way off on Texas A&M. I've been getting plenty of shit from my friends about my claims that Acie Law IV is the most clutch player in the NCAA looks like I'll have to take my lumps on that one. Although I was dead on about Ron Lewis, although I really wish I wasn't, as he had 25 to help lead the comeback/choke job in San Antonio last night.

Onto tonight's Sweet 16 games:

North Carolina-USC: The Trojans did a great job in containing DJ Augustin, allowing Kevin Durant to get his but allowing nothing to the rest of the team. That strategy will not work against North Carolina, a well balanced team with a decided advantage upfront in Hansborough and Wright. The run will end for USC here as North Carolina will be too much for them to handle.

Georgetown - Vanderbilt: I've always liked Georgetown since back in the day from when Allen Iverson played for the Hoyas but Vanderbilt is one of my adopted schools because of one of my best friends and the fact that they're usually not good at major sports so it's easy to root for them. That said, I really want Vanderbilt to win, but I don't think it will happen. I don't think that Derrick Byars and co. have enough firepower to keep up with Hibbert and Green.

Florida - Butler: I don't like Florida, I don't think they are as good as they are made out to be but there's no way they're losing to Butler.

Oregon - UNLV: I haven't picked any upsets to occur yet so I think this is where I will. UNLV has played very well getting to the Sweet 16 and they got W's with Kevin Kruger missing everything in sight. I think he gets back on track and the Runnin Rebels advance to the Elite Eight. Oregon does have the type of offense that can explode on you but I think that Lon Kruger will have the answers for it.


Thursday, March 22, 2007

Lakers and March Madness

This was supposed to go up on Monday morning after the Michigan coaching search post but work got in the way so here it is. Now onto the other two big stories of the weekend, starting with the slumping Lakers who have now been brought back to life by Kobe Bryant. He dropped 115 points in two games, which is just ridiculous. I wasn't able to watch the Friday game in Vegas but damn, watching those highlights it was ridiculous. So with the Kobe explosion the Lakers have now won 2 in a row and need to get back all the games we lost during the losing streak. Two road games now against Memphis and New Orleans/Oklahoma City which will cause problems knowing how the Lakers usually treat these games. Let's just see Kobe drop 50+ again and get the W's.

March Madness in Vegas was awesome, as it was last year. Sure I didn't win money again but being in a place with that many people and that many TV's is a lot of fun. This year we stayed at the Aladdin and just watched the games at their setup which had 5 projection screens to take in all the action. The only negative is because it gets so packed you have to sit in your seats all day long. Even though I was with 3 other friends and we rotated through in pairs to hold our seats I got sick of sitting there. I've never gotten sick of just sitting in one place and watching sports. Next year I'll probably try a different venue but I will be there.

Sweet Sixteen tips off later today and let's see how my picks turned out after the first weekend:

Makes me look smart: Winthrop over ND, VCU over Duke and Vanderbilt to the Sweet 16.
Makes me look like a moron: Davidson over Maryland, Creighton over Nevada, Gonzaga over Indiana, LB State over Tennessee and the biggest one of all Texas to the Championship game.

In today's games:

Kansas-Southern Illinois: The Jayhawks have too much talent for the Salukis. I don't think Kansas is as great as a lot of the country thinks but they should have no problems with Southern Illinois.

Pittsburgh - UCLA: UCLA is the pick here, they are my National Champion pick and I'm sticking with them. They struggled at times with the offense against Indiana but when they needed the buckets they came through with them. The Bruins have yet to play their best and I think it starts tonight; the teacher will defeat the student and UCLA advances to the Elite Eight.

Ohio State - Tennessee: These two teams played earlier in the year with Ohio State getting by in a close one at Columbus. I don't think Ohio State is as good as their hype, they are too young, but they will take care of business against the Volunteers. After watching the Buckeyes a number of times this year I will say it again Ron Lewis is the guy you must watch for. Everyone focuses on Oden, Conley and the rest of the freshmen, but Lewis the veteran is the guy that makes plays.

Memphis - Texas A&M - The Aggies have homecourt advantage in San Antonio and are a team to be reckoned with in the tournament. Acie Law IV aka Ice in my book is one of the most clutch players I've ever seen and if it comes down to it he will make the plays to keep A&M in the tournament. But I don't see that happening I expect A&M to take control and win comfortably. I believe, once again, that Memphis is overrated and they will get knocked out in this round. The Tigers never play any legitimate teams in conference play and always walk into the tournament with an inflated record. The way the Mean Green of North Texas gave them a scare just adds to my opinion.

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Monday, March 19, 2007

Who's got next?

Plenty to recap in the world of sports over the weekend but the most important story on my list is the firing of Coach Tommy Amaker. Although I have nothing but great things to say about Coach off the court, he wasn't getting the job done on the court and that's the bottom line. Through all my interactions with him he was a great man and I will always have great respect for him. Even moreso after reading all the various quotes from the media and how he has handled this whole situation. MGoBlog has a great summary of all the news regarding the firing. After reading all that as well as the letter he wrote to the Maize Rage I have nothing but great things to say about him as a person and wish him success in whatever he does down the road. The following is the letter that Coach sent out to the Maize Rage on Saturday after he was let go:

Maize Rage,

I just want to thank all of you for all of the support that you've
given our basketball program and me during my time at Michigan. You've
been phenomenal, and I will always be grateful for your support and
enthusiasm for our team.

I truly loved coaching and teaching at Michigan, and I will always be
grateful to have had this opportunity. I loved representing you, and I
wish you all well.

Please continue to support the team and the new coach--they need you
and deserve your support!!

Thank you again for everything you've done for me and Michigan
Basketball, and GO BLUE!

Coach Amaker

Now it's onto the million dollar question, who will be the next coach at Michigan. There's a long list of candidates out there as Michigan will probably be the premier job out there this offseason. It's tough to say premier considering we haven't been to the tournament in almost 10 years but it definitely is considering the tradition and name brand recognition that Michigan has. Many like to refer to Michigan as a "sleeping giant" which it definitely is. As long as the administration is willing to pay, we will be in a great situation to land a very good coach.

As of now my top list of candidates would be Tony Bennett from Washington State, Chris Lowery from Southern Illinois and Lon Kruger from UNLV. Bennett and Lowery are both young coaches who have strong midwest ties. I would lean towards Bennett due to his experience in the Big Ten at Wisconsin, although Lowery does have one year at Illinois with Bruce Weber. But what puts Bennett over Lowery IMO is the job he did this season at Washington State, a team that was projected to finish near, if not at the very bottom of the Pac-10 this season. He was able to guide the Cougars to a 2nd place finish in the Pac-10 and a 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament before losing the double OT thriller to Vanderbilt on Saturday. Lon Kruger is also a name high up on my list because he already has proven he can win in the Big Ten at Illinois and has turned the UNLV program around and led them to the Sweet 16. I'm sure there are other names that will emerge but that's the top of my list now, which can always change. Whoever is hired, I just want to be part of the Madness next year, and I hope the new coach can keep all the recruits we have lined up as well.

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

It's here, my March Madness picks

March Madness begins today and here's my chance once again to look like a genius or an idiot. I'll break down key picks by region.

Midwest: Davidson over Maryland and Winthrop over Notre Dame, Oregon over Wisconsin in the Sweet Sixteen and Florida over Oregon to win this region.

West: VCU over Duke, Gonzaga over Indiana, UCLA over Kansas to win the region.

East: Vanderbilt to the Sweet 16, Texas over North Carolina and also over Georgetown to win the region.

South: Long Beach State over Tennessee, Creighton over Nevada, Texas A&M over Memphis and Ohio State to win the region.

So my final four will be Florida-UCLA and Texas-Texas A&M, I like UCLA and Texas in the Final with UCLA coming out on top. No updates this weekend as I'm heading to Vegas to partake in all the fun that is the NCAA Tournament in the Sin City. For those that haven't been to Vegas during the tournament, I highly recommend it, it's definitely the most fun I have when I go to Vegas.


Sunday, March 11, 2007

Now only a couple days away

Another Selection Sunday has come and gone and Michigan is nowhere to be seen. Of course it's not like it was a surprise. So now we'll see Michigan make another run in the NIT where nowhere cares, even if they win it again. The Wolverines will start the NIT with a home game against Utah State on Tuesday. I wish I could not care about it but it's still Michigan so I'll still want to know what happened.

The real madness will begin on Thursday. In what is becoming a yearly tradition I'll be making my way to Vegas for the weekend. The East Region is ridiculous. Carolina, Georgetown and Texas could win it all and they're in the same region. I don't see depth like that in any other regions. With Brian Butch out for Wisconsin I can't see anyone in the Midwest region beating Florida, they probably have the easiest route to Atlanta. Now I don't want to divulge all my picks while some of my friends in the same pools can take my picks so I'll have those up on Thursday morning after the games start.

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Thursday, March 08, 2007

How many second chances will we get?

Thankfully March Madness is close because I can't stand watching the terrible play of the Lakers lately. Michigan got the W, albeit in an extremely ugly, sloppy game and now sets up another showdown with Ohio State which could give us the boost we need to make it to the NCAA Tournament. Thanks to ESPN360 I was able to watch the game at work. I still can't believe that the team shot 27%, had less than 49 points and proceeded to win the game. I'm not sure if they would have beat any other team in the conference aside from Minnesota with that type of performance.

On the positive side, granted it may not be all due to the Michigan defense, but Minnesota's 40 points is the new low in a Big Ten Tournament game. This team showed that it can hang with Ohio State on Saturday, but it was not able to make the plays down the stretch to seal the deal. I can only hope that we are in a similar position tomorrow but somehow find ways to get it done. Once again, tomorrow is the season, a win and we would be looking very good for an NCAA bid, although some Michigan fans don't want to see it so Coach Amaker is fired. But regardless of what happens he will be with us for another season so you might as well root for your team. The positive sign of the day? Minnesota has lost to the eventual Big Ten Tournament Champion the last 3 seasons, let's hope we can make it 4.

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Monday, March 05, 2007

We'll miss you Air Georgia

Lost in the disappointment of the loss on Saturday was Brent Petway's haircut which was dope as hell. When I first saw it I couldn't believe it, I had seen the Block M he put into the back of his head but to do the winged helmet as hell was awesome. I really hope for the players sake they can make a run in the Big Ten tourney, I will always hold out hope. MGoBlog has a great post about the season and about Petway which is what reminded me of the cut.

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Saturday, March 03, 2007

Once again I was strung along only to get my heart stomped on

I had been told to give up on this season and this team but I didn't listen. I will never give up on a Michigan team and I wasn't ready to do it now, even with the deck stacked against us. For me, it had been the game I was waiting for since I got to Michigan back in 1999. Throughout my four years at Michigan there were big games but nothing like this. With everything on the line, at home against the #1 team in the country, with a potential NCAA berth on the line it was time to get the job done as it is closing in on a full decade since Michigan made it to the Big Dance.

For 36 minutes this team did everything it needed to pull off the upset. Guys hustling for rebounds, Brent Petway diving on the floor to get a loose ball to Jerret Smith, things I had yet to see this season from our team. As the game was played I started to believe more and more as we took the 3 point lead into halftime. Our guys would make some big plays and take a small lead, Ohio State would chip away at it, but this time, unlike previous big games Michigan did not fall apart. They made the buckets they needed and would give us some extra cushion. Then, after 36 great minutes of basketball it fell apart, as it always does for this team and this program. When Courtney Sims got the and 1 which gave us a 6 point lead with less than 4 minutes to play I could taste it, although I still had the doubt in the back of my mind. Unfortunately, that doubt was right. In typical Michigan fashion, Ohio State closed with a 10-0 run and took the game and stomped all over me in the process.

I don't know what it is, maybe it is a curse. But for Courtney to blow the game tying dunk, then Dion Harris going for a 1 and 1 and missing the first one which would've tied the game is just, I can't even come up with the word for it. I don't think I have ever been as overcome with emotion over a Michigan basketball game. When football season is around I'm like this every game but for basketball after all the years of losing I've gotten used to blowing games like this. Throughout my years of watching Michigan basketball I am always worried about what's going to go wrong at the end of games and they proved it right again today.

I'm always one that wears my emotions on my sleeve, especially for sports. I know I've got some sort of problem as each win and loss is so big for me and I've tried to tone it down which I have the past few years. But this was just too much to stomach. I don't know when I'll get over this loss, probably when Michigan makes the tourney again, hopefully that happens sometime in my lifetime because the way we're going I don't see it happening in the upcoming future. The administration has to make a commitment to the basketball program. We cannot say that we are just a football school. There is no reason why Michigan cannot take its place among the nations best in Football and Basketball like we did in the early 90's. But there must be the support from the school but I just don't see it there for basketball and it's just something that will not be fixed. Without the team winning the school will not put more money into the program but without putting more money into the program it will be impossible to the players necessary to win games. When I went down to Austin I couldn't believe their facilities, it's no wonder they can attract top flight talent in every sport. So now I sit here once again, another season in the books, another season I have to say wait til next year. I don't know how much longer I can wait.

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Thursday, March 01, 2007

The Madness is drawing near

Only a couple weeks until March Madness starts and the games are getting intense. I only watched one game last night but it was definitely the best of the night, the Texas-Texas A&M matchup in Austin. A great game back and forth headlined by the performances of Kevin Durant and Acie Law IV. In probably what was his last game in Austin, Durant finished with 30 points and 16 rebounds, including the huge 3 with 20 seconds left in the game. I've run out of words to describe him because he is unbelievable to watch. The other great performance was turned in by Acie Law IV, I don't think many people give him enough credit but whenever I watch him he constantly hits the big shots for the Aggies. He had the 3 pointer with 1.4 seconds left to tie it up in regulation over the outstretched arms of Durant. He makes so many big plays I'm just calling him "Ice" from now on, because he's got ice water running through his veins at all times. Both teams treated fans to an unbelievable game and I wouldnt' be surprised if they both make deep runs in the tourney. Only two weeks left til the Madness begins.