Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Peace Garden State Warriors

The North Dakota State Bison were able to capture their second consecutive Summit League men’s basketball title on Wednesday. This marks their third conference title since becoming fully eligible for Division I competition in 2008-2009. If you also consider that the Bison athletic program are the reigning champions in FCS football (winning their fourth consecutive title back in January) and Summit League baseball and softball (having won five of the last six titles), one has to take notice of the dynasty brewing in North Dakota’s largest city.

It’s also amazing what the Bison have been able to accomplish even when leadership changes hands. When football coach Craig Bohl, who saw the Bison through their D-I transition and their first three titles, left to take the job at Wyoming at the beginning of last season, defensive coordinator Chris Klieman stepped into the position and NDSU didn’t miss a beat en route to their fourth championship. The same thing happened in men’s basketball. Saul Phillips, who led the team during their 2009 and 2014 tourney runs, left for Ohio at the beginning of this season. In steps former associate head coach David Richman, and the Bison fight their way to another conference title.

The Bison’s success can be contributed to a strong coaching lineage (Bohl passes down to Klieman; Tim Miles passes down to Phillips who passes down to Richman) and a loyal fanbase in a region that is largely forgotten but is economically booming thanks to the oil industry.

Whenever a school gets to be this successful at the mid-major level, sometimes even less so, there is always talk about moving up with the big boys. The speculation goes in so many directions. Are their facilities big enough? What conference would invite them? The Mountain West? The MAC? It’s not like they can’t handle the competition. The football team took down Kansas State in 2013, while the men’s basketball team beat Oklahoma in the tourney and the softball team took down nationally ranked Auburn just last season.

Appalachian State, Old Dominion, and UMass are all examples of schools that took the leap from FCS to FBS with varying degrees of success. However, the talk of NDSU leaving for seemingly greener pastures has been minimal. And why would they?

In football, they are the king of the mountain and have been for almost half-a-decade. Their other sports play in a conference that actual puts the spotlight on North Central America for once. The Summit League was an amorphous, unstable mess as the Mid-Continent Conference. Now, it’s all eyes on Fargo, Brookings, Vermillion, and Sioux Falls (where the conference basketball tournament annually draws strong numbers from the region).

No, chances are the Bison aren't leaving the Summit League anytime soon. As they celebrate another title and wait for Selection Sunday to see where the men's team will play next, I'm sure the athletic department as a whole is happy with being the school at the top of the map and the top of the standings.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Whiteside Going Sideways?

Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside burst back onto the NBA scene in January after spending two years away in China, Lebanon, and the D-League. In the face of mounting injuries, specifically to the Heat frontline, Whiteside has been a godsend and he’s delivered starter-level production for a team just on the outside of the playoff picture.

Lately, however, it seems like something’s been up with Hassan. While you always want your big men to be aggressive, lately it’s been a bit much.

First there was his incident last week in a chippy game against the Suns when he tackled Phoenix’s Alex Len after dunking on him. That was followed yesterday by Whiteside straight trucking Boston’s Kelly Olynyk. Naturally, he was ejected in both instances.

So, like, what’s his deal?

As I said above, I don’t mind a little chippiness, but these displays have been blatant and excessive. For a guy that seemed more humble when he came back into the league, I can’t help but wonder what the catalyst has been recently that has made him so aggro.

Whatever the answer is, Whiteside needs to get it together before he finds himself back out of the league. He has been an extraordinary blocker and rebounder, but I’m sure general managers would much rather have a guy that puts up slightly less outrageous numbers if it means they won’t be out on the court using moves better suited for football or wrestling.

One person that’s already annoyed with the antics is Heat star Dwyane Wade. He aired his grievances during the post-game interview of their eventual loss to the Celtics.

I don’t believe Heat GM Pat Riley is going to drop Hassan this season solely based off of these two incidents. But keep in mind that while Whiteside is signed through next year, that year is not guaranteed. If he continues to be a problem now, it’s going to be harder to justify keeping him when McRoberts and Bosh come back next season.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

UConn Still at the Top of Women's College Basketball

On a snowy night in Storrs, the South Carolina Gamecocks entered Gampel Pavilion ranked as the #1 team in the nation. By the end of the game, the homestanding Connecticut Huskies made sure the country knew who was truly at the top of the women’s college basketball mountain.

Despite a valiant effort, South Carolina was throttled by UConn 87-62 in front of a crowd of 10,167. Connecticut’s Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis led all scorers with 23 points, including 5 of 6 from three-point range. Breanna Stewart was right behind her with 22, 8 rebounds, and 5 blocks. Morgan Tuck (17) and Moriah Jefferson (16) also finished in double figures.
Aleighsa Welch (17 points, 11 rebounds), Tiffany Mitchell (17 points), and A’ja Wilson (10 points off the bench) were the major contributors for South Carolina.

Monday’s win reasserted that, despite the hiccup at Stanford, Connecticut is still the best in college basketball. UConn leads the nation in scoring margin by a large margin (41.5 per game) and was able to put up 87 and win by 25 over the presumed #1 team in the country, a team that had also been soundly beating their opponents (The Gamecocks are second in the nation in scoring margin with 28.1). South Carolina gave their all to keep up with them, so to take care of them as easily as they did really says something about the type of team the 2015 Huskies are.

Moving forward it will be exciting to see if these two meet again at the Final Four in Tampa. UConn will most likely have the easier path. The American Athletic Conference really has no match for the Husky Machine. Their only ranked opponent is at #25 South Florida in the final game of the season. Connecticut beat USF 92-50 on January 18th.

For South Carolina, the road may be a bit tougher. The SEC is one of the top conferences in women’s basketball. So far South Carolina has fared well in league play. They are 10-0 and winning by an average margin of 23 points. In the three ranked SEC games they played (#10 Kentucky, #12 Texas A&M, and at #22 Georgia) they won by an average of 16.3 points. The Gamecocks end the regular season against three currently-ranked opponents: #6 Tennessee, #13 Mississippi State, and at #10 Kentucky. Then who knows what the SEC Tournament holds.

Despite the loss, Dawn Staley’s South Carolina Gamecocks are still one of the top teams in Women’s college basketball. It’s just that the decision on Monday shows UConn is still the best.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Random NBA Player of the Week: Litterial Green

Litterial Green is a point guard from Pascagoula, Mississippi. He went to high school in nearby Moss Point. Green lead the nation in scoring in his senior year and was named to the McDonald's and Parade Magazine All-American teams. He would move on to play college ball at Georgia. He helped the Bulldogs win the 1990 SEC title, and was named to the All-SEC Team in 1990, 1991, and 1992.

Litterial was taken in the 2nd Round, 39th overall, of the 1992 NBA Draft by the Chicago Bulls. Two weeks late he was traded to the Magic for a 1993 2nd Round pick. Green would spend 2 seasons as a backup to Scott Skiles and Penny Hardaway. In 81 games with Orlando he averaged 3.8 points and 1.5 assists per game. After the 93-94 season he was released by the Magic. He went on to sign with the old CBA's Quad City Thunder and played two full seasons with them. Green returned to the NBA when he signed with the Detroit Pistons for the 1996-97 season. He appeared in 45 games and average 2 points per game.

For the next two seasons Litterial bounced between the Quad City Thunder and the NBA. He made quick stops in Milwaukee in 97-98 (two 10-day contracts, 21 games) and Cleveland in 98-99 (1 game). In 1999, Green was named one of Mississippi's Top 50 Greatest Sports Figures by Sports Illustrated.

From 1999 to 2002 Litterial played overseas. He made stops in Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Turkey, Poland, and Solvenia before retiring in 2002.

Green would go on to coach in the minor leagues. In 2003, he earned Coach of the Year honors while guiding the World Basketball Association's Southern Crescent Lightning to a championship. He also coached the Chattanooga Steamers in the modern ABA. In 2011, Litterial became Associate Head Coach of the Clark Atlanta University men's basketball team under friend and former Kentucky Wildcat Dale Brown. He served in that capacity until 2013.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Is the Home Run Derby Becoming the Slam Dunk Contest?

These two will NOT be at this year's Home Run Derby
The MLB All-Star Game and All-Star festivities are fast-approaching. With the All-Star rosters being announced and the fans now encouraged to determine who gets the final spot in each league, we’re getting a very good picture of who will be playing in Minneapolis next Tuesday. However, for Monday’s Home Run Derby, its still a little fuzzy as to which sluggers will be representing their respective league in this year’s new bracketed format.

According to CBS Sports’s Mike Axisa, both Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera have turned down invitations to participate in the Derby. This will leave the event without two of baseball’s most potent sluggers.

The article also indicates that Baltimore’s Nelson Cruz will also consider declining. The White Sox’s Jose Abreu, who shares the league lead in home runs with Cruz, hasn’t shown much enthusiasm in participating and is still on the fence as of this writing.

With the number of big-time hitters turning down the chance of letting the Twin Cities crowd watch them sock a few dingers, I see some similarities to another All-Star side-contest in another sport: The NBA’s Slam Dunk Contest.

Over the years, the amount of star power in the NBA’s Slam Dunk Contest has waned. Fans have been begging to see stars like LeBron James and Kevin Durant throw it down on All-Star Saturday Night. The reasons why these stars declined tend to be the same as why some of the Home Run Derby participants have bowed down: not wanting to risk injury, preferring to just watch, or just not caring that much about the contest.

While its debatable if the lack of star power has an effect on quality, but it does have an effect on interest. When the Slam Dunk Contest rolls around, people tend to scoff at the idea of Jeremy Evans and Harrison Barnes dunking in the contest with higher-profile names sitting on the sidelines. In the case of the Derby, viewership has already been dropping. Will several missing swingers have a bigger affect on ratings?

I think it will. The league will come up with ways to make the All-Star Game and Home Run Derby entertaining, but as the players continue to make decisions based on their needs and their desire to focus on the actual season, more stars will chose to sit out the Derby. This in turn will affect the event’s already stagnant ratings.

This could mean huge trouble for the Derby moving forward. While the Slam Dunk Contest is based on creativity, the Home Run Derby is based on power. Coming up with a cool dunk is not quanitified by statistics, so a bench warmer could dunk as well as a superstar. However, if 6 of the top-10 home run hitters in baseball are sitting out the Derby, the difference in talent is much more noticeable.

Luckily, Jose Bautista, Troy Tulowitzki, and Giancarlo Stanton have been confirmed for the contest. These players should be big enough to pull in some fans for the 2014 contest. But the question will be how stars sitting out the contest will affect the 2015 contest and beyond.