Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Monday, June 2, 2014

Monday Grab Bag: Let the Finals begin

You can tell I'm bored when I click on an article like this one that offers ESPN's list of the top-50 college basketball coaches.  For a second, just a second, I'll even allow myself to become invest in the drivel of meaningless offseason arguments, and spend time and energy getting worked up over the fact that the Worldwide Leader's panel of 'experts' slotted the likes of Tim Miles and Mick Cronin ahead of Coach Tad Boyle (may his name be praised).  Then I catch myself, reminded of the fact that none of that crap matters, and turn back to the far-too-slow melting of this site's countdown clock towards November.  Soon. November will be here soon...

(Although, for fucks sake, I challenge anyone to actually watch Cincinnati play without wanting to rip their eyes out.  Cronin should not get rewarded for playing negative, bruising basketball!  ... *deep breaths*)


Today in the bag, I'm talking My Hawks going down in Game 7, a repeat Finals in the NBA, and Team USA's preparation for the World Cup.

Click below for the bag...

Kings shove past Blackhawks in Chicago - 

Having earned a Game 7 on home ice, My Chicago Blackhawks were favored to advance past the LA Kings to the Stanley Cup Final for the second-consecutive season.  Unfortunately, as life is quick to remind us all, nothing is guaranteed, and a stunning overtime goal from LA defenseman Alec Martinez turned the raucous Madhouse on Madison into a pin-drop quiet funeral parlor.

Woof... I'm going to need a minute...

The 5-4 win for LA was the just the latest in a line of fantastic efforts between the two teams.  As Chicago slowly clawed back into the series, momentum seemed to be turning on its head, but never did I feel that the Hawks had regained control.  Every time Chicago would surge forward, the Kings were quick to answer, and doom always seemed just around the corner.  Such it was in Game 7, as the Hawks took three separate leads throughout the proceedings, only to watch as each was quickly answered.  For LA, it was the third-straight series that they were forced to win a Game 7 on road ice, and that they managed to pull it off by constantly coming from behind says a ton about the makeup of that bunch.
A gut-punch for this Blackhawks fan.
I'll say now that this was one of the best series of hockey I've ever watched.  Both teams are fantastic, loaded with talent, and well coached.  In my mind, the better team won, if only because the Hawks played so poorly earlier in the series.  Given better efforts in Games 2 and 4, this would've been a completely different story, and credit goes to the Kings for putting the champs on their backs, and giving them no room for error.  It sucks that Chicago won't get to skate again this post-season, but, if they're going to lose, I'm at least comforted by the fact that they didn't stumble against some garbage squad like Minnesota.  There's no shame in losing to LA.

The Kings now move on to play the New York Rangers for the Cup.  If I was a Ranger fan, having watched the level of hockey on display in the West over the past few weeks, I'd be pretty nervous. Still, you never know...

A Finals rematch in the NBA - 

Over in the NBA, we're getting a repeat of the 2013 Finals, which saw the Miami Heat survive a challenge from the habitually underrated San Antonio Spurs.  It's probably the rematch the league deserves, if not the matchup the networks would've wanted.  SA rarely moves the ratings needle, and there's always the prospect of LeBron fatigue when the Heat are in the equation.  Still, after last year's finals, where the Spurs were a matter of seconds from an upsetting title, I'm eager to see San Antonio get another shot at the Fight'n LeBrons.
Back in the habit: the rematch is good for basketball
The Heat enter having barely broken a sweat against lackluster Eastern Conference competition.  To-date they're 12-3 in the post season, having dispatched the lowly Charlotte Bobcats, indifferent Brooklyn Nets, and imploding Indiana Pacers.  The Spurs, on the other hand, have actually had to try against the likes of the Dallas Mavericks (who somehow forced a Game 7), the Portland TrailBlazers, and the Oklahoma City Thunder.  If you are only a product of who you've beaten, then San Antonio is 'David' to Miami's 'Goliath.'

Of course, I doubt the Heat would have it any other way.  They enter the Finals relatively fresh and rested, have rarely had to expend the level of energy the Spurs have had to use.  Case-in-point, while Miami enters relatively injury-free (Don't even bring up Chris Andersen, no series will ever turn on the health of Birdman), San Antonio may be forced to play without point guard Tony Parker, who is, at best, 'hopeful' to shrug off a bum ankle to play in Game 1.  The Spurs desperately need their veteran distributor if they have any hope of earning the title they were so close to earning a year ago.
Parker needs to be active for us to get the series we want to see.
There's no doubt that Miami is the favorite, as well the two-time defending champions should be.  But there's something about the Spurs that I can't get past.  I love the way they play, I love what old-ass Tim Duncan can still do to opponents, and Greg Popvich is still the best damn coach in all of basketball.  Assuming Parker plays, and is somewhere near 100%, I'll take the Spurs in 7, if only because I like taking a walk on the wild-side.

US Soccer Team closes in on World Cup - 

With just over a week to go before the world's greatest sporting exhibition, the US Men's Soccer team is cruising through their final tuneup matches.  Yesterday afternoon featured a thrilling display of attacking mindset against a willing Turkey squad.  In front of a sold out Red Bull Arena in New Jersey, the US poured forward, openly courting the flashy goals that have come to be expected in the era of Jurgen Klinsmann. While not particularly efficient with their chances, they did find the back of the net twice, which was just enough to claim a 2-1 victory over the visiting Turks.

The performance wasn't perfect.  The 4-4-2 Diamond that the US featured opened the oftentimes faulty backline to dangerous probes from Turkey.  But, while it left the door open on the counter attack, it also lead to one of the prettier goals in recent efforts from the Yanks, when Fabian Johnson teammed up with Michael Bradley (moved forward in the Diamond) for a scintillating give-and-go.  The US looked dangerous and capable against a nominally good opponent, in part because the new-er formation gave themselves more options, and gave world-class midfielder Bradley more say on the attack.  In general I liked what I saw, tactically, from the team, and took the effort as a good sign headed into Brazil.
You have to like what you see in Fabian Johnson.
That said, despite the cruising victories, my mind can't get over a few personnel hurdles that I see as a major impediments to the US cause in the World Cup.  Over the last few games I've been continually baffled by the play, and the playing time, of US players like Jermaine Jones, Timmy Chandler, Julian Green.  Not inconsequentially, this trio of German-American talents saw their rise up the depth chart accelerated in the years after Coach Klinsmann took over the job.  To-date, however, they've been less than impressive on the pitch.

Of the trio, Jones and Chandler are older players who should be better than they've shown. I can at least see value in Jones, but prefer a player like Kyle Beckerman, who seems to make far fewer mistakes.  Chandler, on the other hand, is an allowed goal waiting to happen (just look at how quickly Turkey proceeded to take advantage of him throughout Sunday's match).  As for Green, he at least has the excuse of youth, having already played in more national team games (2) than club team games (0), but that only adds an additional layer on the questions surrounding his inclusion to the squad. Why are inconsistent (Jones and Chandler) and unready (Green) talents given the nod when proven performers like Landon Donovan are left at home? *sigh*

On a pragmatic level, I get the Green addition (quid pro quo to get him to join Team USA), and having at least Jones off the bench provides battle-tested European grit in the defensive midfield, but I'm really concerned that these three might actually play in Brazil.  I've heard musings that Klinsmann may just be posting a team that will help him build towards 2018, rather than try to survive a tough group in 2014.  If that is indeed the case, then it is a critical error.  World Cups are not for development, they're for glory.  Spiking one for experience towards the future is a good way to go for a repeat of the disastrous 1998 World Cup, which set the development of the sport in America back multiple years.  Play to win, and always put your best foot forward... or at least wait for the damn Gold Cup to develop.

Happy Monday!

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