Finding Fandom Part 2: A Strong Bond(s)

I miss Barry Bonds. I need to find a new favorite player and I need your help. 

So I went to class today at 9:35 a.m. at the wonderful Southern Illinois University expecting to discuss ethical issues in journalism. And while I did discuss ethical issues, the class also brought up the case of Barry Bonds. 

Sure, it was about grand jury testimonials and all that legal matter, but the only thing I could think about was how much I miss watching my favorite baseball player of all-time on the field. Say what you will about Bonds, but I go to the university recreation center at least three times a week and I see plenty of people who take steroids who could not hit more than 500 home runs, steal more than 500 bases and have one of the best fielding percentages of all-time. 

Out of all the players I have seen in my lifetime, no one has been as great as Bonds. When the game all but forced him to retire, I retired with him. Just talking about him for the brief time I was in class was enough to make me miss baseball.

I don't think anyone will ever replace Bonds for me, but just as the Chicago Cubs are my team, I need a player to get behind. There is plenty of great young talent in the MLB such as Evan Longoria, Joe Mauer, David Wright, Howie Kendrick and many others, but so far, none of them have captured my heart. 

A couple weeks ago I participated in a fantasy draft and I am hoping that being able to follow the progress of individual players over the course of a season will land me Mr. Right. But there is a lot of work to be done. 

I need a player with a sweet swing like Ken Griffey Jr. or a sweet glove like Khalil Green. I want to root for a player who shows up to play everyday but also isn't afraid to have some fun and be entertaining because after all, it's still a game.

Opening Night is only four days away and for many people it is a national holiday. Even I am excited for it, but I know the feeling will wear off quickly and I could end up just not caring a whole lot about baseball. After all, the Milwaukee Bucks are making one last desperate push for a playoff spot. 

Baseball will never come close to the NBA in my book so while I am soaking in the glory that is the NBA playoffs, I will be making sure to keep one eye on some MLB action to see if a player can catch my attention. When June rolls around after the NBA champions have been crowned, hopefully I will have a player to keep me involved in the MLB season. 

It would be a great way to keep me occupied through the June-August months, but last year it couldn't even do that as I kept up more with the NBA summer league and awaited the draft. I am a little more hopeful baseball can make a comeback this year since I will be living with someone who works for my town's minor league baseball team. 

I don't really have a list of potential prospects yet. I think Jacoby Ellsbury could win my heart, and I hate the Red Sox so that would be an accomplishment. I also like what Hunter Pence brings to the table, but he plays for a divisional rival. 

This is where you come in dear reader. Leave some comments about who you think could be my next Barry Bonds. I will be sure to pay extra attention to that player and if he ends up panning out, I will be sure to let the loyal readers of TBDS know. 

Until then, I will continue to think of a way to make Kobe miss the Lakers game against the Bucks tomorrow night in Milwaukee. 

Remembering the days where the "Lowery to (BCS School)?" threads struck fear in Saluki Nation

As I attempt to hunt down the kind of JUCO players Southern Illinois head coach Chris Lowery wants to fill out his roster with, I found this instead from the New York Times:

[H]ere comes Southern Illinois. If this team finds a way to beat Kansas in the Round of 16 get ready for ad nauseum talk about the Salukis rough-and-tumble practices.

The S.I.U. players compare cuts after their workouts and stitches often follow. There is no out of bounds and no fouls are called. There is clutching and hacking and pushing. The defense in practice, insist the Salukis, is tougher than what they see in games.

Nowadays, fans think his practices are too rough and are one of the main reasons a number of players have taken their ball and played elsewhere. Personally, I like the practices because they're fun to watch. That's easy for a guy on the sideline to say, I guess.

Southern Illinois Coach Chris Lowery is already one of the next hot mid-major coaches.

Now, no one wants him ... not even certain segments of Saluki Nation.

Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither was "Floorburn U."

Take my Lance, Please

So SIU assistant men's basketball coach Lance Irvin is rumored for the same job at DePaul, eh?

Go ahead and take him, see if I care.

Irvin was super-hyped after taking the spot left by Jack Owens who left to join the devil himself.

I'm just kidding, I'm sure Matty Painter is a nice guy but I just couldn't help but feel salty toward him after he left us dry with one season of work.

Or maybe I just like Bruce Weber more because he sounds like Shaggy from Scooby-Doo.

Regardless, Irvin's been a bust in the short time he's been here. Actually he reminded me of Chicago Bulls long-time assistant Pete Myers in that he never really seemed to bring anything to the table in terms of coaching other than making the players feel better after getting yelled at by the top dog.

Really, it wasn't Irvin's basketball IQ or coaching ability that brought him to the Salukis. Rather, it was his ties to Mac Irvin's AAU team for obvious reasons.

But what has this pipeline delivered us? No "oil", that's for sure.

A quick read on this Chicago Sun-Times blogpost says that Irvin's "Fire" is loaded with talent but none of the names listed as seriously tied to SIU.

So...what are you bringing to the table then Lance?

Answer: not much, which is probably why he was at Southern Methodist a year ago. Not exactly a basketball powerhouse.

If the Salukis are trying to use the inside track on recruits via the AAU cherry picking they might as well hire Mike Mullins, father of former great Bryan Mullins. The elder coaches the Illinois Wolves and he has provided more of a pipeline than Irvin ever has.

It's 11:00 a.m. in the central, is John Calipari up yet?

Last we heard, Memphis head coach John Calipari was "sleeping" on the University of Kentucky's lucrative offer to coach its men's basketball team. Think Coach Cal is a cuddler? Maybe someone unplugged his alarm clock. He could be a heavy sleeper.

But if I was Calipari, I'd be taking Ashley Judd on a test drive before making my final decision.

And by test drive, of course I mean an in-depth interview to analyze her knowledge of college hoops.

Where God saving the Salukis conflicts with God saving the Blue Demons happens

I knew this day would come, it was just a matter of how soon.

Before DePaul became a Big East bottom feeder and SIU slumped its way out of postseason play, my mother (a DePaul alum) and myself (a current Saluki) dreamed about the day where our school's battled each other on the basketball court. Mother reminisced of the days of Ray Meyer while I gloated about "Floorburn U" and the coaching prowess of Chris Lowery.

Again, that all happened before this season. But now, with the Blue Demons having an assistant coaching spot open, the family rivalry might be renewed. Cue the bold blockquote (part one):

"[T]his job as an assistant coach at DePaul all comes down to one thing: the Class of 2011. If the head coach at DePaul isn't connected, then the assistant coach has to be ultra-connected to both the Chicago Public League and the AAU scene in the city and suburbs ... With that in mind, it's obvious the new assistant coach absolutely has to have some tie to the Mac Irvin Fire AAU program."

I've said it forever, the best team in the state of Illinois will dominate the recruiting of Chicagoland prospects. With that said, last offseason, SIU brought along Lance Irvin to help build that bridge down I-57. But wait, cue part two of the bold blockquote:

The first name is obvious. Southern Illinois assistant coach Lance Irvin is already rumored to be a target. There is no assistant coach more tied into the Mac Irvin Fire AAU team than Lance Irvin, who comes straight from the family tree.

I've had the pleasure of interviewing Coach Irvin on many occasions this season, so here is some insight.

Yeah, he's been around the college coaching world having stopped at Loyola, Iowa State, Illinois State, Texas A&M, Missouri, Southern Methodist and, of course, DePaul. But in my eyes, that makes him experienced with knowledge of different recruiting areas.

As for Irvin's best recruiting grab, he told me in an interview conducted in December it was David Bailey. Yes, the pint size point guard out of Loyola-Chicago. Bailey was the offensive force that nearly led the Ramblers to a few NCAA autobids out of the Horizon League.

In my one year of covering college hoops, I've come to the conclusion a good chunk of what is considered "good recruiting" is finding diamonds in the rough. Irvin's link to one of the state's premier AAU teams is undeniable, but it's the odd men out that sometimes take you the furthest.

Anyone looking for a Sheff?

With Dontrelle Willis on the disabled list due to an anxiety disorder, the Detroit Tigers apparently did not want to deal with another head case.

Los Tigres have released nine-time All-Star Gary Sheffield, who still believes he can be an outfielder. And while the Cubs already have enough head case outfielders, I feel as if adding Sheffield's right-handed stick as an insurance policy might be a good idea.

You know, for when Alfonso Soriano pulls a toe nail and is out 3-6 weeks. Or when Milton Bradley gets suspended for strangling the ivy in the right field corner. Ooh, or when Kosuke Fukudome is deported by Cubs fans who decide they're sick of him twisting himself into the left-handed batter's box on a swing and a miss.

Because last time I checked the Cubs' active roster, its void of a right-handed masher off the bench.

Source: Calipari's dumb if he goes to Kentucky

John Calipari's ego reminds me of one of those giant, oversized Hershey's Chocolate bars that you find in your local grocery store.

They look good and taste good, but because it's so big, you get sick of it.

(That's what she said)

But it is because of Calipari's gigantic ... um ... ego ... yeah, that's it ... his ego is driving him to a job that could turn him into a coaching legend or drive him into the depths of college hell.

The Kentucky job is a bad job for all the wrong reasons. I will list a few:
  • UK plays in the SEC, not Conference USA. The road to the NCAA Tourney won't go through Rice, East Carolina or Southern Methodist once Calipari steps foot in Lexington, Ky.
  • There isn't a good football team to play the role of distraction if basketball seasons falls short of expectations (30 wins and a national title).
  • Speaking of expectations, "Big Blue Nation" has the highest, most unreachable set of standards in college hoops. They're like the cute girl in class next to you. No matter how good you look, how smart you are or how excellent you are in bed ... if you're not the team's starting quarterback, you're not good enough. This isn't the 1980s -- dynasties are a thing of the past. UK fans don't realize it, in fact, they still think Michael Jackson is a colored.
  • And finally, let's talk about facilities. I'm only about 24 hours removed from my Memphis experience, and I must say, the FedEx Forum is a mighty fine place to play basketball. Sure, not all parking lots are created equally, but Beale St. is a rockin' good time. And to be honest, the Tigers are a better proudct than the NBAs Grizzlies.
On the other hand, the Kentucky job does have its perks. And by perks, Ashley Judd comes to mind immediately.

But after that ... um ... crap ... yeah, Judd will have to do.

Source: John Calipari contemplating taking Kentucky Wildcats job [ESPN]

The Paul Bako Era Is OVA! (again)

Paul Bako is so bad, he couldn't beat out a guy with nubs for fingers ... as a back-up catcher. Back to your hobbit hole Bako ... and don't come back.


Hardball: Hill beats out Bako for Cubs back-up catcher [Chicago Tribune]

Walkin' In Memphis?

Reports and rumors have swirled on the topic of current Memphis Tigers basketball coach John Calipari potentially taking the vacant Kentucky job.

Just like Billy Donovan, my guess is that Cal tells the Lexington faithful, NO!

I would anyway.

The potential to win a national title at Memphis is just as good if not better than Kentucky right now anyway. Sure, there is a delightful history with the Wildcats that dates all the way back to Adolph Rupp back in the days when only white people played basketball.

Times have changed but things haven't been the same since Rick Pitino departed for the greener pastures (or so it seemed) of the NBA. Not a short while after, Pitino was back in Kentucky but this time at rival school, Louisville.

Sure the money could potentially make him the highest paid coach in college basketball but Calipari is already making well over a million dollars a season at the helm of the Tigers,

And don't forget that the SEC doesn't usually resemble the Missouri Valley Conference every year.

Calipari may long for the days of running through Conference USA unscathed en route to annual single digit seeds year after year.

One sleep at UK an you are gone.

Why risk it with the best recruiting class in the nation coming in?

As one commenter on deadspin put it....

4:55 PM

They're offering him a specially engineered mixture of Kentucky Bluegrass and Northern California Sensemilia. The amazing stuff about that is, that you can play 36 holes on it in the afternoon, take it home and just get stoned to the bejeezus on it.

How can you say no?

We'll see....

Memphis Madness: A return to fandom

Since November 2008, I have been doing something very special with my life: covering the Southern Illinois men's basketball beat. Prior to this season's 13-18 disappointment of a season, Saluki basketball was the prime beat to cover for a sports writer.

You're talking about a team that made the NCAA Tournament from 2002 to 2007 and had a pair of Sweet Sixteen appearances, to boot. Southern was among the prestigious mid-major programs in the nation, garnering accolades from local and national college basketball braniacs. However, that all seemingly disappeared when "Floorburn U" went the way of 8-track players, bell bottoms and affordable gasoline prices. Still, I enjoyed myself on the beat.

But to be honest, at times, I felt empty. There were times in which I missed chanting, cheering and heckling opponents. Basically, I missed being a fan. So when I got the opportunity to be a fan again, I jumped at it. However, I didn't wear that familiar maroon Dawg Pound shirt. Instead, I went back to my roots, packed up "Ball Force One" and headed to Memphis, Tenn., to see my favorite college team growing up, the University of North Carolina.

And of course, the Tar Heels didn't disappoint.

UNC punched itself a ticket to the Final Four in Deeeeeetrooooiiiiit, Miiiiiiiiiiichigan thanks in part to a stellar performance by the South Regional's Most Outstanding Player, Ty Lawson, and all-region nominee Danny Green. Defending National Player of the Year Tyler Hansbrough was a non-factor on the offensive end, but he did a good enough defensively on this year's projected POY Blake Griffin.

Sure, the probable No. 1 pick secured a double-double, but did most of his damage when Hansbrough wasn't guarding him. In the end, Griffin's offensive output wasn't enough to overcome the better team.

As a fan, it was fun. I got to chant "Let's Go Tar Heels" and partake in the volleyball toss chant when one side of the arena yells "TAR!" and the other side yells "HEELS!" Needless to say, there was plenty to be happy about for fans repping that familiar Carolina blue hue.

In the end, it was worth missing a day of work. If that game taught me anything, it is to take advantage of every opportunity you want to take.

You want to see your favorite team? Do it. You want to go for that promotion at work? Do it. You want to kiss that pretty girl you've got eyes for. By all means, do it!

Life: Just Do It.

Deal Closed: Kevin Gregg gets the gig

MLB: MAR 05 Spring Training - White Sox v Cubs
Opening Day is a week away and already I see a problem with the Chicago Cubs' bullpen.

Manager Lou Piniella recently named Kevin Gregg as the team's closer, allowing Piniella to use the talented Carlos Marmol in the super swingman reliever role he has become accustomed to in the last two seasons. And while I agree Marmol (right now) is best suited for being set-up man extraordinaire, I am not convinced Gregg is the best man to close out games.

Unfortunately for the Cubs, the guy most suited for that role signed with the Cleveland Indians in the offseason.

Gregg was acquired in the offseason via a trade with the Florida Marlins, who probably fleeced the Cubs again by nabbing hard-throwing reliever Jose Ceda who was once deemed untouchable by GM Jim Hendry and his staff. And even though Gregg notched 61 saves in two seasons as the Marlins' closer, no one is sure how he will respond to the pressure-cooker that is Wrigley Field, the Cubs, day baseball, a fandom growing impatient and a constant reminder from the media of 101 years of suck.

After a first half in which he saved 20 games and posted a 2.60 earned run average, Gregg seemed to faulter down the stretch. In his final 26 outings, he recorded a 4.94 ERA in 23.2 innings. Outings like that in July and August might call for mob rule in the North Siders' bullpen.

And yes, Marmol struggled at times last year, but it was mostly due to being overworked ... which of course is going to be Cubdom's biggest fear from day one.

He worked the World Baseball Classic, fine and dandy, but did he get his arm up to speed for the team that needs him the most? My guess is no, especially when noting he hit five batters and posted a 4.50 ERA in WBC games. And one must wonder where his head must be, after coming into Spring Training as the No. 1 candidate to replace Kerry Wood.

Jeff Spellcheck hasn't been impressive this spring, while the team's best lefty out of the pen from last season has secured a spot in the starting rotation. So, the fate of the Cubs' bullpen rests squarely on the shoulders of a closer who is unproven in this element and a reliever who might be one nasty breaking ball away from getting shelved.

Yep, sounds like a banner year for the Cubbies already.

Coming soon to The Big Dead Sidebar

Memphis madness ... The Cubs' closer conundrum ... A new installment of God, Save The Salukis ... A story about where God saving the Salukis and Blue Demons may come together ... MLB predictions ... and much, much more.

Until then, proof of my celebration on Beale Street!

Go Heels!

This just in: Seth Curry to Duke

NCAA BASKETBALL: FEB 28 Liberty at Radford
Seth Curry, who led all freshman in the NCAA in scoring this season with 20.2 ppg, has decided to spend the next three years getting torched by ACC guards.

Curry announced last week that he would transfer from Liberty to attend an ACC school in his home state of North Carolina.

Curry reached his goal by accepting a scholarship offer to play for the Duke Blue Devils.

Because of transfer rules, Curry will sit out next season and come back for the 2010-11 season as a third-year sophomore.

Yes, Curry averaged 20.2 ppg, but that was playing at Liberty. He stands at 6-3 and weighs 180 pounds, and by looking at his brother Stephen, it doesn't look like he's going to get much bigger.

He will have a very difficult time going up against bigger, stronger, more athletic guards in the ACC.

Curry probably could have thrived at a top mid-major school, such as Gonzaga or Xavier, but playing at a top program like Duke doesn't seem conducive to Curry's skill set.

But, if there is any ACC team that Curry could put up decent numbers for, it is the Duke Blue Devils. Coach K will have Curry running around plenty of screens, looking for the open three ala J.J. Redick.

Who knows, maybe Curry will be successful as a Blue Devil.

I just wouldn't put my money on it.

Roy Williams doesn't give a flip about my road trip to Memphis

Alright, folks. I've made an executive decision to do something I've never done before, so brace yourselves. Sunday will be a day of firsts.

I'm taking "Ball Force One" to Memphis, Tenn., to see the North Carolina Tar Heels battle the Oklahoma Sooners for the right to go to the Final Four. It's moments like this in which I wish I bought that Carolina Blue blazer. Oh well, I bought two new UNC shirts, so I guess that was more cost effective.

So, I'll be away from the computer tomorrow. In fact, I'll probably stay away from all of those interactive devices until after the final buzzer has sounded. I kinda wanna know what it's like to be a fan again.

Oh wait, Roy Williams doesn't care.

P.S. Go Heels!

A frown that can be seen from Lexington to Louisville and beyond

Because someone had to do it:

Rick Pitino's Current Team 103 Rick Pitino's Former Team 0

As in no head coach and no NCAA Tournament appearance.

Somewhere in Minnesota, Tubby Smith is smiling.

Meanwhile, six feet under Adolph Rupp still hates Tubby Smith.

Russ Punnell, I hope you're smiling, because that interim tag is going away ... and not because you're going to get re-upped, either.

Louisville 103 Arizona 64

Let the coaching circle of life begin!

Billy Gillipsie (correct spelling) is out at Kentucky. I guess that thing between he and Ashley Judd didn't work out well.

So, now what? Well, let's take a trip in the college hoops time machine to the year 2003 when this set of chain reactions set off college basketball as we know it.

Roy Williams, who didn't give a sh*t about North Carolina after his Kansas Jayhawks fell to Syracuse in the 2003 title game, ended up giving enough of a sh*t to return to his alma mater and coach the Tar Heels.

North Carolina won a national title in the 2004-05 season.

With the Kansas job now open, Bill Self, who rebuilt a dying Illinois program by landing Dee Brown and Deron Williams, got on the first plane out of Chambana and took his dream job with the Jayhawks.

Kansas is the defending national champion.

The powers that be at the University of Illinois, which had its first recipe for success since the Lou Henson days under Self, took a trip down I-57 and snatched Southern Illinois head coach Bruce Weber and put an orange blazer on him.

Weber led a Fighting Illini squad that lost only one game during its regular season to the national championship game in St. Louis -- only to lose to North Carolina.

Matt Painter, Weber's top assistant at SIU, moved up the ranks and became the top dawg in Carbondale. Painter left after his one season to coach his alma mater, Purdue, leaving Saluki Nation with none other than alumnus Chris Lowery to make his return to Carbondale to be head coach.

Since then, Lowery has been pegged to take every high-major job that has opened up since the 2004-05 season. Michigan, LSU, Stanford and Oklahoma State are a few schools that were rumored to be interested in the Saluki head coach at one time or another.

I guess it's time to wave the green flag and let the games begin ... again. Kentucky, Virginia and Alabama are open right now. Florida might be open if Billy Donovan takes the job at his alma mater (UK). Mizzou's Mike Anderson is rumored to be a top candidate at Alabama. After Dave Leitao failed at UVA, who really wants to risk getting slammed by North Carolina, Duke and Wake Forest by 20 points twice a year?

So, who knows what might happen this time around.

But for my sake, I hope none of it invoves one Christopher M. Lowery.

Marcus, Save The Salukis?

While this isn't an official post for the "God, Save The Salukis" series, it should be noted that there is a Class of 2009 prospect that isn't on any SIU radar that I know of.

His name: Marcus Jordan.

Yes, the son of Michael Jordan (a.k.a The Greatest Basketball Player in the History of the World) is unsigned and only has one scholarship offer ... from Toledo.

So my pitch to you, Chris Lowery (who may or may not read this blog ... hell, I don't even know this place exists) is to bring in Marcus Jordan. Sure, it might sound like a ploy to grab a piece of the Jordan legacy ... but it's worth a shot.

He's proven to be a pretty good high school player, as he recently helped lead Whitney Young to a state championship. And who knows the kind of benefits that could come with it. I'm sure Director of Athletics Mario Moccia wouldn't mind receiving a check or two from Michael Jordan that goes toward Saluki Way.

And I'm sure C-Lo wouldn't mind having another backcourt presence to go along with returnees Dillard, Hare and Bocot, signees Kendal Brown and Drew Barnham and not to forget about the difference-maker-to-be Tony Freeman.

I know the Saluki braintrust in working the JUCO circuit in search of a big man, a wing player with size and/or a defensive presence with a way around the rim ... but why not take a chance on a name that could change the face of SIU basketball.

Marcus Jordan Recruiting Update [Chicago Tribune]

How a potentially good NIT Final Four absolutely went down the tube

For the first time ever, I was excited about this year's National Invitational Tournament which featured several NCAA Tournament bubble teams that I thought could have made noise in the Big Dance.

However, of all the significant storylines in this year's NIT bracket, only San Diego State remains as that "look at me, I told you so" team as it will make the trek to Madison Square Garden in New York City. As for the rest of the trio of remaining NIT title contenders, well, um, to channel my inner Charles Barkley: they suck.

NOTRE DAME: Cracking jokes at the expense of the Fighting Irish football team is as easy as finding a Charlie Weis fat joke. But that doesn't mean it should be limited to the gridiron, for Mike Brey's group of basketballers is a laughing stock of its own.

Notre Dame's big man went from Luke HaranGODy to Luke HaranKINDASUCKy in just one year. Kyle McAlarney suffered from JJ Redick disease which occurs when lanky athletic black men decide to guard a team's best perimeter scorer.

So in one year, Brey went from basketball big shot on the verge of something special in South Bend, Ind., to the most boring NIT semifinalist in this year's bunch.

PENN STATE: Um, check that, Notre Dame is the second most boring NIT semifinalist. The Fighting Irish faces Penn State, and this is what I can tell you about this matchup.

It will not take place at either historic football stadium, which means Joe Paterno has absolutely nothing to do with this matchup. And to be honest, I cannot name a single player or coach to ever step foot on the court for the men's Nittany Lions basketball team.

I can name Dana Eikenberg, who played for the Penn State women's basketball team and is now the coach of the SIU Salukis' women's team.

And as far as Nittany Nation goes: If JoePa isn't involved, I'm not interested.

BAYLOR: Scott Drew has done such a magnificent job with the Bears with bringing that program from the dead (literally and figureatively) that he will be spared from my smarmy remarks.

In fact, the return of the Baylor Bears to national prominence in college basketball has got to be the feel-good story of the year -- if not decade. Here's a hat tip to you, Scott Drew, for creating a story basketball fans should actually care about.

I'm tired of recruiting violations. I'm sick of reading about coaches fleeing campus at the drop of the hat while players have to go through an agonizing waiting period. I'm sick of cheaters, slimeballs, dirty players, defections and all the negativity that surrounds college athletics.

With that said, I'm cheering for you Baylor ... I got your back.

If only because my sleepers Illinois State, Davidson, Creighton, UNLV and Saint Mary's are all out of the picture.

More posting from me will start again next week but untilllll thennnnn

I can't help but think this is what SIU should do with its basketball program...

My imagination > Rick Morrissey's idea of my imagination

Someone wake me up when Rick Morrissey's column makes sense:

Imagine the uproar in town if Kyle Orton demanded to be traded at the first whisper the Bears were considering sending him to another team.

Your imagination is spot on: Orton would be the subject of a million different violent fantasies, all of them ending in his bloody demise. Being dragged through the streets of Chicago by the team bus would probably lead the voting.

Look, Chicago fans already ran out of town a quarterback who has thrown 33 touchdowns and 35 interceptions. What's the big deal if they wanted to toss a signal caller who is only marginally better?

In fact, if Orton demanded a trade, I'd be willing to do the following ... courtesy of my imagination:
It all begins with yours truly consoling Orton at a local drinking establishment, because no quarterback should be forced to perform in Ron Turner's allergic-to-scoring offense. After a few shots of Orton's favorite beverage, a man named "Dirty" says he's got some sort of juice that helps you bat 1.000 ... whatever that means. Orton has sooo much to drink, he passes out on the street corner awaiting a cab. Strategically, I placed a piece of cardboard and a sharpie in my back pocket and wrote on the cardboard "Detroit or bust!" as a desperate Jim Schwartz picks Orton off the curb and yells "Next stop, Ford Field."

Saluki basketball back in time

Two years ago tonight, I was an excited Southern Illinois fan/student with "junior" status as the No. 4 seed SIU Salukis faced off against the No. 1 seed Kansas Jayhawks.

That's right, Saluki fans. It has been a whole two years since the mid-major darling came oh-so-motherf***ing-close to knocking off Bill Self's group of all-American future NBA lottery picks. That was such a great team, it's almost depressing to think that this year SIU finished with a 13-18 record and more questions than answers.

Damn, that team was so good. Mullins, Tatum and Young ... a backcourt trio that was good offensively and defensively. Then Randal Falker in the middle. A healthy Matt Shaw could have been the difference. Those were the good ol' days when people were willing to cut Chris Lowery a blank check just to keep him within Carbondale city limits. Now, the message board mafia is looking to off him like a snitch.

Southern was expected to be where Gonzaga and Memphis are right now. SIU was supposed to have major-talents in a mid-major conference, reaching Sweet Sixteens and knocking off the big boys. Instead, the Salukis are closer to rebuilding from scratch than building a consistent title contender.

It makes me think that I should be somewhere covering a Sweet Sixteen game instead of blogging/bitching about not being among the nation's elite. Knowing my luck, SIU will come back with a vengance, turn the Valley on its ear and become the little upstart directional state university that could all over again.

Until then, someone take me back to a better day.

God, Save The Salukis: Starring Tony Freeman

Welcome to the first installment of God, Save The Salukis. This is a set of features in which yours truly (fresh off covering a full season of SIU men's basketball) tries to find a clear path for the Salukis' return to NCAA Tournament play. Today's feature: Tony Freeman. The Iowa transfer will spend his senior season donning Saluki Maroon and could be a difference-maker.

I've said it once and I'll say it again: when next March rolls around, Saluki Nation will be talking about Tony Freeman in the same way Illinois State fans talked about Chamberlain "Champ" Oguchi.

Freeman is a power-conference transfer stud. Everything about him screams "man among boy." He's built like a Big Ten player and practiced like one. I'll never forget the early season practice that yielded my favorite story.

As players and coaches filed onto the SIU Arena floor, Freeman jokingly asked why none of the assmebled media members wanted to talk to him. Saluki head coach Chris Lowery responded in kind: "No one wants to talk to scrubs, Free." Chuckles ensued, and so did a show. Freeman dominated everyone that practice. On offense he scored at will and on the defense, he was a stopper.

That's when I knew he was for real.

WHY SIU WILL BE BETTER: Freeman, who averaged 13.8 points in his junior year at Iowa, should slide into the starting line-up once the ball gets bouncing next year, providing a dynamic backcourt with Freshman of the Year Kevin Dillard. However, Freeman's insertion into the starting five will bump either Justin Bocot or Ryan Hare to the bench. Unless, of course, Lowery goes all Villanova on us and drops the four-guard offense on the Valley.

It's a line-up that worked for Illinois State ... and while Freeman might be SIU's version of Oguchi, being a 6-6 combo guard-forward with inside and outside skills is totally different from being a 6-1 guard.

With Free in the fold, the Saluki backcourt gets an extra scoring punch as I expect the 13.8 PPG to hold or even increase if he can boost his 38 percent shooting from the 3-point line and 69 percent from the charity stripe.

No matter what he brings to the court in numbers, it will be matched by the maturity that was sorely missed when Bryan Mullins went down with that stress fracture injury.

Oh yeah, a scary sideote, Freeman has a stress fracture injury history. Just saying.

I believe if Tony Freeman can average 13 to 15 points per game, easing the scoring load off Kevin Dillard's shoulders, it could mean SIU improves its win total from 13 to 16 ... and I haven't even gotten to any of the other factors, yet.

Related: Saluki guard Freeman taking advantage of year off [Daily Egyptian]

Five teams I strongly dislike

Facebook is all the rage these days with its friend requests, picture tagging and poking (also known as revealing your inner-most sexual desires with a click of the mouse). So when the social networking giant unleashed an application of top five most hated teams and I couldn't choose Duke, I had to go on The Big Dead Sidebar and tell the world.

So, here ... five teams I really don't like.
  1. Duke Men's Basketball. This is the most self-explanatory of the team's that I really, really dislike. I don't like Coach K because he looks like the devil with his pointy ears and evil snarl. I dislike the Cameron Crazies and their egotistical "we're better than you" chants. I hate how J.J. Redick turned from the greatest player in college basketball history to bum once North Carolina decided to put an athletic lanky black man on him. Don't even get me started on the concept of K-ville. Like Mike said: Good college basketball players go to Duke, NBA players go play at Carolina.
  2. Green Bay Packers. Once you get past Milwaukee, I'm not sure what good the state of Wisconsin is to me. Packer fans are weird. They wear cheese on their heads and worship players that clearly didn't even want to play for their beloved franchise. And, their gameday attire isn't team jerseys in jackets ... it's hunting gear. Really? That's not cool. That's lame!
  3. Bradley Men's Basketball. Of all the teams in the Missouri Valley Conference, Bradley irks me the most. Their fans are insufferable and annoying. Hint: One lucky Sweet 16 appearance doesn't make you basketball's Midwest Mecca. And don't even get me on Jim Les, his Blago-like hair or how he stamps his feet. I doubt this will reach the Peoria area ... and if it did ... Dodie Dunson can't read this blog.
  4. St. Louis Cardinals. I tried keeping them off the list because I think it's baseball's best rivalry because of the respect of the game (and the rivalry) that each team's have for one another. Then I remembered how Ballpark Village is a landfill. And how much of a light-weight drinker Tony LaRussa is. And that Chris Duncan is a daddy's boy. Lots to not like here.
  5. Oklahoma City Thunder. I liked the Seattle SuperSonics. Shawn Kemp was cool because he spawned a team of his own with all the women he slept with. I thought highly of Gary Payton, one of the game's greatest trash talkers. But they should have never should have allowed the team to tank so badly to the point where they moved the team. I don't wish this upon my most hated team, but I wish the Thunder would break every record for futility.

Pat Summitt is can't wait 'til next year

I'm sure if Bobby Knight ran his kids through practice days after they were eliminated from the NCAA Tournament, there would be some sort of violation. Probably because it would stem from him piledriving a freshman point guard throw a table. Nevertheless, University of Tennessee coach Pat Summitt is running her team through practice after losing in the first round of the tournament.

There's a part of me that wants to say "good for you, go get 'em coach" because those kids are there on scholarship and you might as well get what you can out of them. Then there's the other side that thinks there has to be some sort of biology test these kids could be studying for.

Because remember, there are 27 billion student athletes, and most of them go pro in something other than sports.

Talk about feelin' big timed

Luis already broke down the vitals of Stephen Curry's younger brother Seth so we all know just how good he is, and how good he could be for that matter.

But here's a fun thought: Why not reunite the brothers at Davidson for a Curry brother last dance?

Sure, Seth would be stuck in the same position his brother is right now, the NIT, but imagine that dynamic duo.

While that final destination seems unlikely, it at least seems fair to his now former team Liberty and its coach Ritchie McKay.

I am totally shocked McKay is even going along with it. Curry seems like his only ticket back to the big time after losing at bigger programs where everyone loses (New Mexico and Oregon State).

The fact that McKay was supportive of the transfer decision shows a lot about the guy that he understands that Curry wants to take his game to the next level.

Either that, or Curry has pictures of McKay doing something he shouldn't be.

Just kidding...kind of.

I've been reading plenty of stories about the whole situation and it won't be totally clear until we figure out exactly where Curry will wind up but I would like to know exactly why McKay is being supportive.

Poor coach must feel like spotting the most underrated girl in high school early on, becoming her boyfriend and then getting dumped when everyone realizes how cute she is.


Seth, Save The Salukis?

I might not have been able to find Cinderella, but I just might have found the Salukis a savior.

Seth Curry, the Big South Conference's Freshman of the Year and younger brother of Davidson star Stephen Curry, is looking to make the leap ... to a bigger conference.

"This is a difficult decision that I have reached after close consultation with my family and others close to me, and it is based on my desire to develop as an athlete to the fullest of my potential and take advantage of new opportunities that may be available to me in a higher-rated conference," Curry said in a statement released by the school."

According to my RPI source, the Missouri Valley Conference (10th) ranks higher than the Big South (28th), so a leap to the Valley could be in store ... right?

And I know a certain Directional State University that could use a 6-foot-3-inch scoring guard to team with Kevin Dillard, Ryan Hare and Justin Bocot in 2010. I also know a coach that's looking for an NBA-type player to really jump-start the program and get it back on the map.

Unfortunately, I also know that if Seth Curry is thinking he can average 20 points and 4 rebounds per game in the ACC, he's foolish. He'd get waxed nightly by guys like Wayne Ellington, Gerald Henderson and probably Jon Scheyer, too.

Coming Soon: A B-Jay Punchline

You really can't hate Creighton fans if they are willing to show that much love for their team. Especially when it's that kind of love.

I, myself, is a fan of anyone who is a fan of B-Jays.

Creighton Bluejays Girls Love B-Jays [Total Pro Sports]

Coming Soon: God, Save The Salukis

West Virginia Mountaineers v Southern Illinois Salukis
March Madness has consumed my soul. That's what I'm about when the breezy weather comes out to play and messes with my long distance shooting on the concrete courts.

But with the SIU men's basketball team having its bubble busted sometime in November, probably when Duke's Kyle Singler turned Carlton Fay into a SportsCenter Top Play (and eventually) a poster on the wall of some Blue Devil fan's dorm room, I've got a lot more free time on my hands.

I've dipped my sports writing pen into the ink and have penned softball stories, baseball features, the occasional column and now, football.

However, despite its aging basketball facility and underachieving ball club, the Saluki men's basketball team is still the apple of my eye. And that's where this new series of featurettes begins.

There are three things the SIU Carbondale campus has become known for over the years:
  1. Party school
  2. Poshard's Plagiarism
  3. Basketball
Like it or lump it (hat tip: Sidney Crosby), that's how it is. When I have been in Las Vegas wearing my Saluki gear, I've been stopped and asked to participate in conversations about college hoops. "How are the Salukis?" people ask. "They're always a scrappy bunch" one college b-ball fan commented. "Go Dawgs!" a certain inhebriated older gentleman yelled.

While celebrating my 21st birthday in the City of Sin, a friend of mine and I rearranged our course back to the MGM Grand and stopped in the Planet Hollywood hotel and celebrated another SIU student's 21st birthday. I had never seen this person on campus in my life, they probably had never seen me either. But it was that Saluki maroon tie that brought us together.

Again, that brings us to "God, Save The Salukis."

It kind of worked with the DePaul Blue Demons ... hey, they eventually won a game in the Big East Conference when they knocked off Cincinnati at Madison Square Garden. So I'll take solace in that.

So that's what I want to do for SIU. I don't want to see the Salukis in the CBI, CIT or any three-letter buy-in tournament reserved for the Bradleys, Evansvilles, Troys and Boise States of the world.

The Salukis only do four-letter tournaments, not three. Unless, of course, we're talking NIT. And even then, ask any SIU fan and they'll tell you Randal Falker and Matt Shaw's senior year should have ended with one last dance.

So, how will God save the Dawgs? I'm not sure yet. But you'll find out as soon as I do.

WBC: Thank God It's Finally Over!

With a 5-3 victory Monday night over Korea, Japan closed out its second straight World Baseball Classic championship in as many years.

And much like soccer in the USA, nobody cares.

Sure the other countries involved are going crazy for it but quite frankly they don't get to see the high-quality, all-star caliber baseball we see everyday during the MLB regular season.

This isn't to say there isn't some pride involved as well but I can't think of any other reason the Americans would get into it other than pride.

I have pride in my country and I got behind Team USA during the basketball portion of the Olympics so why don't I care about the WBC?

First of all I think it's a dangerous idea to begin with due to the possibility of injuries, specifically to pitchers.

It isn't like basketball where a guy like LeBron James could wake up an hour before a game and play 30-40 minutes without getting hurt. Pitchers only have so many "bullets" in their arms so why waste them on a meaningless tournament?

Most players, the stars anyway, are steering clear of the thing all together. At least the American stars are anyway.

Derrek Lee sounded agitated by the MLB office's request to have him fill in for the injured Kevin Youkilis.

I don't blame him, either.

And then you got that bozo Phil Rogers talking with Bud Selig about it.

Sorry guys, I'm the biggest baseball fan you'll meet, but in March, it's all about college basketball.

Paul Bako saves his best game for a meaningless spring training bout

The Chicago Sun-Times decided for me that Cubs catcher Paul Bako actually putting bat to ball was worthy of a news alert headline.

PHOENIX---- Paul Bako had four hits and three RBIs even though he had his first at-bat in the sixth inning, and the Chicago Cubs roughed up Dana Eveland in a 20-5 win over the Oakland Athletics on Monday.

Congrats to Gabor, who collected a grand total of four hits from Sept. 13 through Sept. 27, 2008. And that's the guy who is going to back up Geovany Soto.

Um, allow me to channel my inner MTV reality dating show and exclaim:


I got your CBI right here

As if it weren't depressing enough to be involved in the NIT last season, it was even more of a disgrace to not be invited to either the CBI or the collegebasketballinsider... oh nevermind.

But even if SIU did meet whatever requirements exist for the CBI or otherwise I hope to God it would decline an invitation.

Have a little dignity please.

This was a team that essentially went through a moderate-dynasty after the turn of the century that was capped with a Sweet 16 berth and a close loss to Kansas in 2007.

I can't believe entering into a tournament would do anything but hurt the program.

Oh sure, I'll bet all the blue chip prospects are clamoring for their one shining moment in the CBI.

There is a time and a place for tournaments like these because teams like Oakland rarely do anything after the regular season outside of providing a punching bag for a No. 1 seed such as a team like North Carolina.

But for a team like the Salukis to participate in something like that? My have the mighty fallen.

Perhaps I'm just not ready to admit the dynasty is over but I couldn't get excited about an NIT berth last season, certainly not after the hype the team received beforehand.

It's too early to tell when SIU will become what we thought it was again but I'd say that if there's not a slew of helpful JUCO players coming in, we may have another year of growing pains on our hands.

The key is going to be the junior and senior years of the current remaining cogs of the "fab five" freshmen: Justin Bocot, Kevin Dillard, Anthony Booker and Ryan Hare.

With Torres Roundtree off in the abyss it comes down to those four players to get the program back on track in 2010. Nick Evans will be a junior and Carlton Fay will be a senior and it will be judgement time for not only those players but coach Chris Lowery in general.

But success in the coming seasons will be judged by four-letter tournament invites, not three-letter ones.

If you're making a postseason appearance in a tourney no one has heard of, does it really happen?

I wanna be like John Mullin when I grow up. Covering college basketball, even if it is the Bradley Braves, is so much darn fun!

The last team from Illinois still alive in the 2009 postseason will have a chance to reach 20 wins for the fourth straight year when Bradley hosts Oakland in the quarterfinals of the Tournament at 7:05 p.m. Monday in Peoria.

Oakland? The A's? Still waiting for Michael Lewis to find the Billy Beane of basketball ... especially if he finds him on the collegiate level. Especially if he happened to run SIU, that'd be super. As for the CIT ... um ... it's one letter away from being the [Expletive Deleted] Tournament. I'm still awaiting the response from the NCAA regarding The Big Dead Sidebar's Tournament of Basketball Teams That Really Don't Deserve A Championship Tournament But Get One Because I Still Want To Cover College Hoops Tournament.

Maybe I need a shorter, more catchy name. How about the College Underachievers National Tournament?

The Braves (19-14) have won five straight postseason games at Carver Arena but have not won 20 games in four consecutive seasons since a run of six that ended in 1962.

Seriously, the Braves are about to have a fourth-straight 20-win season. Eeeek.

Coming Soon: God Save The Salukis.

Curt Schilling doesn't have one more curse breaking pitch left in his right arm

Now, who says blogs can't break news?

Pitcher Curt Schilling, who was rumored to be interested in pitching for the Chicago Cubs or Tampa Bay Rays after some rehab this year, has decided to call it quits ... via his blog.

Of course, his blog is down ... probably because he's getting so much traffic. But believe me. If not ... a "real" media outlet (ESPN) is reporting it.

Personally, I was hoping The Big Schill had one more bloody sock left in him, especially in Chicago. He became a folk heroin Boston, winning two World Series titles in his time with the Red Sox. If he could have helped the Cubs break the longest title drought in the history of man kind, he would have been a deity.

Instead, I'll wait for the Jake Peavy rumors to start again so I can be mad at Cubs GM Jim Hendry for not getting that deal done in November.

Signs the Chicago Bears aren't going to be good in 2009

HEADLINE: Backup battle brewing for Chicago Bears quarterback.

Remember, kids. If you have three capable quarterbacks, it really means that you have none. And that's where the Bears are right now. No quarterbacks.

Kyle Orton isn't terrible, but he's average at best. In fact, on average days, he's below average. I doubt that makes sense, but believing Orton is the quarterback of the present or future doesn't make sense either.

As for Orton's back-ups, well, they make Orton look like Peyton Manning.

Bears fans thought Caleb Hanie, who is entering his second year out of Colorado State, was the second coming. When Orton was hurt and Rex Grossman was bad, fans yearned for Hanie to get the nod. I won't even waste my breath on the kid. I feel as if he will go the way of Steve Stenstrom, Moses Moreno, Henry Burris, Ken Mastrole and the rest of suck known as ex-Bears quarterbacks.

As for Brett Basanez, well, he's a Northwestern guy. Quick: last really good QB the Wildcats developed. Otto Graham? Northwestern develops really smart people, not superstar athletes. Next.

Any word on Jay Cutler? No. But why would there be? He's too talented for the Bears' simple-minded offense.

Sorry, folks: SIU isn't Gonzaga. Might not ever be.

Chris Lowery's biggest mistake might not have come on the basketball court. In fact, it appears to have come in the court of public opinion.

Back in the day, the biggest fear on the Carbondale campus wasn't plagiarism, deer or the revolving door of chancellors. It was whether or not the SIU men's basketball team was going to keep its head coach or not.

And after Bruce Weber and Matt Painter left for the greener pastures of Big Ten Country (Illinois and Purdue, respectively), the University and athletic department put its collective foot down in an effort to leave college basketball's newest rising coaching star from leaving.

Now, Lowery is among the highest paid coaches in the Missouri Valley Conference. But his comment referencing "Gonzaga money" seems to be haunting him.

It wasn't that long ago when Southern Illinois was considered to be the next Gonzaga. The Salukis, Bulldogs and Memphis Tigers were among "mid-majors" threatening "major" status. Now, it looks as if schools such as Saint Mary's and Butler have surpassed the Egyptian Hunting Dawgs in that category.

Gonzaga makes the Sweet 16, it's almost expected. It's a disappointment if the 'Zags don't make it. The former tournament darlings are now the big boys. Southern earned a No. 4 seed and a Sweet 16 appearance in 2007 ... and it's considered the greatest year in modern Saluki history. There's a difference between the expectations from fans and what the team can deliver.

Belive me, Lowery wants to be in the Sweet 16 every year ... but it's not going to happen.

There's a common thread between Butler, Saint Mary's and Gonzaga. Actually, there's two.
  1. No football.
  2. Private schools.
It's a fact like the sky is blue and water is wet: private schools have more money to play with. And if they don't have football ... which is one of the most expensive sports in college football ... they're saving money. And with the success Jerry Kill (and now, Dale Lennon) and the SIU football program has built, the pigskin isn't going away.

That's the No. 1 and No. 2 reasons SIU can't be Gonzaga.

And you know what, until SIU gets an NBA player to go through it's program (i.e. John Stockton, Adam Morrison), it won't be.

Explaining My North Carolina Homerism

Duke v North Carolina
Do you want to know why I love the University of North Carolina's men's basketball team?

Blame Ray Clay.

The former Chicago Bulls public address announcer (who currently works for the UIC Flames) had one of the most distinctive PA voices growing up in Chicago. And it was his pregame introductions that drove chills down my spine.

And that's where it all began. My favorite player on my favorite childhood team.

But then, it goes back, even further.

As an avid ESPN Classic fan, I loved those old school Dean Smith Tar Heel teams. Smith is arguably the best college coach in the history of the game. His offense forced the NCAA to institute the shot clock. That's game changing.

Then, look at the talent ... beyond Jordan.
  • James Worthy, Sam Perkins, Charlie Scott (the Jackie Robinson of the ACC), Larry Brown, Vince Carter, Antawn Jamison, Vince Carter, Rasheed Wallace, Jerry Stackhouse, George Karl, Julius Peppers (yes, that Julius Pepper)...
And the beat goes on.

MJ is right: Duke might be a great college basketball team, but if you want to go pro, you wear Carolina Blue.

Then there's the fact that they were on TV every weekend. They were the college hoops game of the week every week. At least, that's what it seemed like. And they won, a lot.

Oh, yeah, the most important part: the marketing.

Because Jordan King of the Tar Heels was the face of Chicago, there was lots of product movement in the city when it came to UNC gear. Starter jackets, jerseys, shorts, hats, shoes ... I had it all. So much, that for Christmas, my mom always gets me some sort of Carolina gear.

The first pair of gym shoes I bought on my own ... white-on-white Mike's with the Carolina blue trim. I'll never forget 'em.

And it continues 'til today.

And while my bracket might not be the best, a part of me doesn't care. As long as North Carolina wins the title, I say to hell with my bracket.

Bracket busts and bummers

NCAA BASKETBALL: MAR 13 ACC Mens Basketball Tournament - Maryland v Wake Forest
News, notes, quotes and more from the first two days of the NCAA Tournament:

I'm convinced that I have lost my touch with picking college basketball winners. When I was a child, I used to dominate NCAA pools. I'd fill them out at school, at work, for my friends, parents ... anyone who asked. And they'd be good. I'd pick upstart stars and Cinderellas and I'd be proud. And people came to expect it from me.

But now, I can't. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's because I see all these college basketball games and I think rationally. I go out of my way to break down all these numbers, look up these teams, coaches and pedigree, etc. And even though I'm a college basketball beat writer (though my college hoops season is over), I've totally lost my touch.

I'd like to give a major shout out to my main man, Jeff Teague. Thanks for making me look like a genius. Not! For the first time all year, Teague, who averaged nearly 20 points per game for Wake Forest, picked a great time to lay an absolute egg by scoring under double figures. Six points and six turnoversin a blowout loss against No. 13 seed Cleveland State.

This comes days after I crown him the tournament's next Stephen Curry.

FACT: The Wisconsin Badgers are the biggest pain-in-the-ass team to play against. Wisconsin is so painfully boring, especially offensively. On the other hand, it's difficult to find a more hardened 'D' in the nation.

Did you know the term 'March Madness' was originally coined in Illinois.

Henry V. Porter, assistant executive secretary of the Illinois High School Association, was so impressed by the phenomenon that he wrote an essay to commemorate it. Entitled "March Madness," it first appeared in the Illinois Interscholastic, the IHSA's magazine, in 1939. The term struck a chord with newspapermen, who used it throughout their pages. During the tournament's "Golden Era" of the 1940's and 1950's, "March Madness" became the popular name of the event.

Speaking of high school hoops, I can't believe North Lawndale lost ... thanks in part to a technical foul assessed at the beginning of the game. I'm just saying, if a team wears the same jerseys all year and then it becomes an issue in the state championship tournament, something is up.

And finally ... congrats to David Holston who was awarded the Independent Player of the Year award. Holston averaged 25.9 points and 6.4 assists per game this year for Chicago State ... a school I kind of ignored my "State of Illinois Hoops" post.

No upsets = No fun

Don't get me wrong the NCAA Tournament is great and it's not messed up like its ugly stepbrother, the BCS, but there are some issues here.

Where are the potential bracket busters?

Looking through the first day there weren't any major upsets unless you count a very average and overseeded team like Illinois getting waxed by Western Kentucky an upset.

This is the problem with allowing a glutton of high major teams into the picture: it takes the fun out of it.

Even the potential "upsets" for today are boring. As we speak Utah State is getting waxed by Marquette at halftime and that, along with VCU falling to UCLA were our best hopes.

I thought there was a chance North Dakota State may shock the Rock Chalk nation but it's getting pounded as well.

The key here? Even if these teams were to pull off upsets they really wouldn't be upsets at all.

Bill Self's Kansas blowing a first round game happens all the time. I wouldn't have been shocked if the team doing it this year had a player like Ben Woolside.

But even the potential upset teams that haven't fallen yet don't feel like magic.

A look around the lower seeded teams today shows Utah State, Portland State, Cleveland State, Temple, Arizona and Wisconsin.

Only Cleveland State would "shock the world" if it actually won.

Portland State is playing a Xavier team that has struggled to close on its early season momentum.

Arizona is a underachieving PAC-10 team filled with stars playing Utah, a mid-major. Temple is playing Arizona State in a year when the PAC-10 is just about as bad as the SEC.

Wisconsin is another team looking blehhhh as a choice out of the Big Ten to play up and coming Florida State.

But if either Arizona or Wisconsin pull off upsets would we really be shocked? I doubt it.

Where are you Cinderella?

The State of Illinois Hoops

In the 2009 NCAA Tournament, the 'I' stood alone.

As in the U of I. And yet, the state's biggest school and lone representative in The Big Dance, fell short to upstart and upset-minded Western Kentucky. And it got me thinking: what's up with this state's college hoops teams?

Let's run 'em down.

Illinois: Bruce Weber is the best X's and O's coach in this state and has some great recruiting classes coming to Chambana in coming years, so that should help. Not to mention that run to the title game in 2005 should ease any concerns of his coaching ability.

The Fighting Illini's success hinges on the success of guard Demetri McCamey, the team's most talented player. He goes through amazing peaks and painful valleys, but if Weber can straighten him out, the Illini will be making deep tourney runs starting next year.

Southern Illinois: All good things came to an end this year as the Salukis went through their first losing season since the end of the Rich Herrin Era. So what does my university need to do to get back to the dance? Well, it might be more complicated than once thought.

The young core of a 13-18 team returns, that's the good and bad news. SIU should be better based on a year of experience and an offseason in the weightroom. Expect big things out of Kevin Dillard and Anthony Booker, but Southern needs to improve its depth and athleticism if it wants to make any tournament next season.

Remember when the Blue Demons dominated the Chicago Public School recruiting scene? Well, the only thing they're dominating now is the bottom of the Big East standings. So where can DePaul improve?

Other than somehow leaving the Big East ... I'm not sure.

The Wildcats were the state's biggest surprise this year, making noises as if they wanted to be an NCAA Tourney team before succumbing to the NIT.

But unlike prior years of Northwestern's tourney trips, this team is still building. And while people were trying to run out the Princeton Offense last year, I think the 'Cats could be dancing if they can build on what they did this season.

Illinois State: The Redbirds have been on the outside looking in the last two March Madness events. So, what does Illinois State need to do to bust through the bubble.

First, hope that head coach Tim Jankovich doesn't get a sweet deal from a power conference school and hope superstar guard Osiris Eldridge doesn't go pro. If those two key cogs return, play a semi-challenging non-conference schedule and don't lose to Indiana State twice and you'll be fine.

Bradley: Pop quiz: Who uses more hair products? Rod Blagojevich or Jim Les? Maybe if the Braves' head coach spent less time looking in a mirror and doing his hair, he could get some talent to compete on the War on 74. Unfortunately for him, Patrick O'Bryant is nowhere to be found at this point.

Northern Illinois: Enjoy Jerry Kill and football season as much as you can. The Convocation Center is a nice basketball arena ... good luck, Ricardo Patton.

Illinois Chicago/Loyola:
The Horizon League has Butler and now Cleveland State on point and they're not going away any time soon. Especially Butler, which has become the state of Indiana's best basketball school.

The Flames and Ramblers' best chance is to schoop up some little known Chicagoland talent and hope for the best come conference tourney time.

Eastern Illinois/Western Illinois:
Combine and be called East-West Illinois and maybe come out and get lucky in some conference tournament. At least they have pretty decent FCS football teams.

Chicago State:
Contrary to the belief of some southern Illinoisans, Chicago is not a state. Nor should it be ... I don't wanna pay out of state tuition, it's why I came to SIU anyway. I'm not sure what CSU does good, so I'll leave them alone.

C'mon, bust my bracket

Can you bust the Sports Editor's bracket? []

The Final Four That Could Have Been

Boston Celtics vs. Chicago Bulls
I've got Louisville, UConn, UCLA and North Carolina in my Final Four. But my, oh my, things could be different.

UCLA: If Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute were still in school, I wouldn't be going on a limb in putting the Bruins in their fourth consecutive Final Four.

Kansas: Julian Wright, Brandon Rush and Mario Chalmers could be seniors. Darrell Arthur should be a junir. Imagine how dominant the reigning champs could have been.

Ohio State: Greg Oden would be a 20-10 guy. Mike Conley, Jr., should be an All-American point guard. Daequan Cook should be lining up threes on the wing. Team them with Kosta Koufos and tOSU should be a national title contender.

Memphis: Last year's runner-up lost only three games. After losing to Kansas last year, they lost the No. 1 overall pick and probable NBA Rookie of the Year Derrick Rose and Chris Douglas-Roberts. Imagine the three-guard line-up of D-Rose, CDR and Tyreke Evans. They'd probably be my favorites.

Other Impact Players:
  • Kevin Durant and DJ Augustin should be juniors at Texas.
  • Jerryd Bayless should be a sophomore and Marcus Williams should be a senior at Arizona. Think Lute Olson would have stuck around to coach that? They sure would have made Russ Purnell's job a lot easier.
  • Michael Beasley and Bill Walker should be sophomores at Kansas State ... they still want to beat Kansas anywhere and everywhere.
  • DeAndre Jordan could be a 6-11 sophomore center for Texas A&M.

Is this the year 16 > 1?

North Carolina v Duke
If the Baby Blue Blur is out, does Radford have a chance?


Remember, anything is possible.

But everything isn't probable.

If North Carolina lost in the first round, it would be the biggest collapse ever.


Don't let me down, Roy.

Let Gus Johnson bring you into the Madness

But seriously, if you're not psyched for March Madness, Gus Johnson will do it for you.

Not psyched yet? I got one more for ya!

Maybe I'm the only person outside of the Cincinnati, Ohio, area that thinks Greg Oden probably should have been called for an intentional foul there at the end.

Oh well, when you're THE Ohio State, you get calls like that.

Analyzing the near misses of the NCAA Tournament

There are plenty of teams with a beef about not getting into the NCAA Tournament this year as there are every year.

I can tell you the teams from my alma mater have no reason to complain that they weren't invited to the four letter tournament.

I'm talking about Creighton and Illinois State of course.

Neither of these teams had any wins to speak of outside of conference play and the Missouri Valley as a whole wasn't looked upon as a top-tier conference anyway.

First we'll start with the Blue Jays case.

I definitely think they should have got in over Arizona because the Pac-10 was down this year and Arizona shouldn't have been in last year, either.

But Creighton really had nobody to blame but itself and had a winnable game to get into the conference tournament final and blew it.

On top of that, the 73-49 loss to the Redbirds in the semi-finals was a blowout.

For the most part, the Blue Jays handled business through their mild schedule taking out Dayton at-home, George Mason at-home and New Mexico at-home.

At-home is the key phrase here. Even worse? Only Dayton turned into an NCAA Tournament team.

Those solid wins were almost negated with road losses to Arkansas-Little Rock and Nebraska. Not that either of those teams were as bad as usual this year but there simply aren't any road wins to speak of and those two games should have been locks.

Other than that, seven other non-conference games were basically worthless wins. Two of the wins, Fresno State and DePaul, didn't mean anything then and mean less now. The other five teams were "cupcake" games.

Honestly, the Blue Jays were hampered by their BracketBuster pairing of George Mason, as it didn't really help send them over the top but ultimately, had they kept it close with the Redbirds they would have been in the NCAA Tournament.

Now onto the case of the very team that knocked Creighton out of the dance, Illinois State.

Remember when everyone was slobbering over the Redbirds' 14-game win streak to start the season? Lunatics thought this team would run the table and go undefeated to the NCAA Tournament.


Illinois State went on to lose seven regular season MVC games, a crucial BracketBuster game and the MVC Tournament final against Northern Iowa.

There isn't anything wrong with those losses except for the BracketBuster game when Niagara laid a 14-point beatdown on the Redbirds.

That pretty much sealed their fate because third place in the MVC without even a moderately respectable non-conference win makes you the poster child for getting "screwed" due to poor scheduling.

On the other hand, the team everyone is mad at for making the tournament has five, count em', five wins against NCAA Tournament teams including Southern California, UCLA, Washington, Kansas and Gonzaga.

Go ahead and be mad at Arizona but it had the quality wins it needed and the fan support to secure a bid.

Bracket Racket: West Side (Cinderella?) Stories

Riddle me this: How does UConn get a No. 1 seed in the West Region? Just wondering.

UConn is a good choice to make it out of this bracket, but injuries and a little bit of a stumble down the stretch makes me think they could be vulnerable in the tournament. But Jim Calhoun's a great coach ... and a great quote. Double points for him.

Keep your eye on: In this region, I'm not focusing on a player, instead the coaches take the cake out west. There's a lot of college basketball knowledge with Calhoun, John Callipari (Memphis), Gary Williams (Maryland), Paul Hewitt (Washington) and former SIU boss Matt Painter (Purdue).

Then there are the up-and-comers such as Mike Anderson (Mizzou), Buzzz Williams (Marquette) and Ben Jacobson (Northern Iowa). One wonders if someone like Anderson or Jacobson could be in line for a bigger job down the line.

Must see TV: No. 5 Purdue vs. No. 12 Northern Iowa. Purdue features the former Saluki coach who went 17-1 in Valley play with the only loss coming at ... you guessed it ... Northern Iowa. So, if you're affiliated with SIU, who do you cheer for? Your friends at Purdue or the team that could make the conference (and with the trickle-down effect, the school) some much needed money and some noteriety.

Upset Alert: Marquette. With Dominic James, the Golden Eagles could have been Final Four bound. Without him, they're primed for an upset at the hands of No. 11 Utah State.

'Chalk' it up to: UConn. They were No. 1 ... twice. And since Pitt is not in this bracket, it might be safe to say the Huskies are Final Four bound.

Sleeping giant: Memphis. Callipari's kids have unfinished business. Too bad they don't have Derrick Rose, huh?

Tim Jankovich is standing up for the little guy

NCAA BASKETBALL: FEB 24 Northern Iowa at Illinois State
While Bracketologists went back-and-forth on whether or not Creighton should have earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, I (among many others) wondered where was the love for Illinois State.

The Redbirds beat the blue out of the Bluejays by 24 points in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament semifinals. Yet, the Redbirds, who lost by three in overtime in the finals to Northern Iowa, settled for an NIT bid. And head coach Tim Jankovich, the Valley's most quotable coach, wasn't necessarily happy with it.
"The trend right now is that we're moving toward eliminating as many non-BCS [conference schools] as we can from this tournament. That's the discouraging thing to me."
But wait ... there's more:

"It's a national sport to beat up the non-BCS schools," he said. "It's a joke that [analysts] say those things because obviously they've never coached nor scheduled. ... You can never satisfy that. We can never get the Lakers on our schedule three times a year. It's not going to happen. So if that's the criteria, we cannot win that game."
Coach Jank makes a great point. Damn Phil Jackson isn't willing to take time out of his busy schedule to play a 2-for-1 with Illinois State. Maybe Kobe fears The 'O'-Hawk.

And I think the Redbirds boss' best point is this whole RPI mess. It's clearly a double-standard. It's like having googly eyes for the drunk chick at the bar, but being too nervous to talk to her. But Jankovich puts it in more relavant terms.
"They all talk about Top 50 wins like those are not subjective. You don't have a Top 50 win unless there's RPI. That's how you get a number. They use those like crazy for someone like Syracuse, for example: 'Syracuse has six Top 50 wins.' But Creighton's 39 RPI you should ignore because RPI's irrelevant? Well, if it's irrelevant, then you have zero Top 50 wins because there is no Top 50 without RPI."
Jankovich once coached at Kansas and Illinois under Bill Self before going to Bloomington-Normal. So he should have a foot in the door to get a KU-ISU game, right?
"First he'd start laughing, which is what we get a lot," Jankovich said, chuckling. "It's comic relief for a lot of [BCS coaches]."
Don't feel too bad, coach, SIU is still waiting for Ron Guenther to call back. Maybe someone should remind him of the difference between SIUC and SIUE.

I feel that down the line, Jankovich will be a BCS-caliber coach. Wonder if he'll be singing a different tune down the road.

Illinois State coach Tim Jankovich says non-BCS schools get burned in NCAA tournament selection process [Chicago Tribune]

Um, don't you have something better to do?

I'm not sure what to be bothered by more.

The fact that President Barack Obama found time out of his busy schedule to fill out a NCAA Tournament bracket or that ESPN's Andy Katz got into the White House to cover it.

I can't get Mario Moccia to fill out a bracket because of NCAA rules, but the leader of the free world can. I'm thinking the President has more inside info than the Director of Athletics at SIU. Whatever.

For the record, Obama selected North Carolina as his national champions. What can I say: great minds think alike.

Barack-etology [ESPN]

Sorry, Chief

Chief Kickingstallionsims, the longest name in tournament history, had a very short stay.

Don't feel too bad, Alabama State. Losing to Morehead State by 15 points isn't as bad as losing to Louisville by 57 points in the first round.