Monday, February 15, 2010

Two Messes: Daytona And The NBA All-Star Game

Observations on an off-kilter sports weekend:

1. Is It Over Yet?

The Daytona 500 lasted longer than some marriages and don't you know somebody important was screaming about the pothole that kept tearing apart, treating the 200,000 in attendance and all the others watching on television to road crew work.

Was it a great Daytona 500? It would have been if Dale Jr. had won but the conspiracy theories would have been thicker than the chatter between Joe Biden and Dick Cheney.

It was definitely interesting and if you thought Jamie McMurray was going to win, your nose is growing.

2. Is It Over Yet, Part 2?

There's a word for the NBA All-Star Game: Unwatchable.

3. At Least We Know...

Duke is going to win the ACC regular-season race, unless something really weird happens like potholes at the foul line in Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Blue Devils' emphatic win over Maryland Saturday confirmed the suspicion that Duke is the league's best team.

4. Myrtle Beach Days

Dustin Johnson won the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am for the second straight year on Sunday, putting the Myrtle Beach resident into position to play his way onto the U.S. Ryder Cup team later this fall.

In the golf equivalent of "the big one" at Daytona, leader Paul Goydos made a nine on the par-5 14th hole to ruin his weekend. How'd he make the nine? He holed a three-footer.

5. There's Snow At Beech Mountain

Maybe the Olympics can move the men's and women's downhill events there. I know Mother Nature can be capricious but if you're going to host the Winter Olympics, don't you make certain there's going to be snow on the mountain for the skiing?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Valentine's Weekend -- The Sports Way

Five reasons to be excited about this weekend – besides the fact it’s Valentine’s Day. You remembered that didn’t you?

1. Boogity, Boogity, Boogity

It’s the Great American Race as the TV folks like to call the Daytona 500 and, for one week anyway, everybody is even with four-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson.

Even Dale Jr.

2. Danica, Part 2

She showed some driving chops in her ARCA debut last weekend. Now she puts herself on the track in the Nationwide Series, a big step in her heavy-footed learning curve.

One thing’s for certain –she’ll make it interesting.

3. “And From The Charlotte Bobcats…”

Those of us who’ve been watching Gerald Wallace play these last few years know how good he is. For those who haven’t noticed, Wallace becomes the first Bobcat to play in the NBA All-Star Game where the whole world can pay attention.

4. Everybody Loves Raymond And Andy Garcia and Tom Brady And…

It’s the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am where you get to watch famous people play not so famous looking golf at Pebble Beach and courses in one of Mother Nature’s nicest neighborhoods.

There will be lots of average-looking putts and cashmere sweaters and Bill Murray. It might get old if they did this all the time but for a cold February weekend, it’s not a bad way to spend some time with your television.

5. The Battle For Last Place

Strangely – or not – that’s what’s at stake in the N.C. State-North Carolina game Saturday in Chapel Hill.

Not exactly what Tobacco Road is known for.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Five Questions About The ACC Race

After a busy Wednesday night and in advance of another active weekend, here are five issues awaiting a resolution in the muddled ACC basketball race:

1. Could North Carolina finish last?

Absolutely. That doesn't mean it's going to happen 0r that it's likely to happen but if the Tar Heels lose at home Saturday to N.C. State, they'll be in the cellar with three weeks left in the regular season. And they still have to visit Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and Duke.

2. Will North Carolina Play In The NIT?

Unless they win out or run the table in the ACC tournament, it's going to be their only post-season option. Would the Tar Heels take it? Their fans will say no. The administration may say otherwise.

3. If Lance Thomas Is Out, What Happens To Duke?

It doesn't help, that's for sure. Thomas is one of those players whose value can't be measured by the stat sheet. He gives Duke a strong interior defensive presence and if Duke is without him for a while, it won't be as good. Freshman Mason Plumlee will have to play a more prominent role and he's getting better as the season goes on.

The Blue Devils are built around the trio of Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith and this will only increase the burden on them.

4. Which Teams Will Get First-Round ACC Tournament Byes?

Barring a total collapse, Duke will have Thursday off in Greensboro. Maryland will probably get one of those byes, as well. From there, it's still wide open. Right now, Wake Forest and Virginia Tech are the best bets.

5. How Many NCAA Teams Will The ACC Get?

It's getting to that point where the barometer reading changes with every game. With nine teams at 17-7 or better, the records look good enough but some of that is fool's gold. Miami hasn't beaten enough good teams to get in. Florida State is in its usual iffy position, probably outside looking in. Clemson needs to find some consistency and Georgia Tech runs hot and cold.

Right now, it looks like five.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Five Favorites From Duke and North Carolina

With Duke and North Carolina squaring off tonight in Chapel Hill, let's skip the negative and get to the positive. As someone who has been watching the Tar Heels and Blue Devils more longer than he'd care to admit, here are staff writer Ron Green Jr.'s five favorite players from both programs.


1. Bobby Hurley

I loved the way he played. He wasn't always the prettiest but he was the grittiest. And the 3-pointer he hit late in the NCAA tournament win over UNLV was among the biggest shots in school history.

2. Grant Hill

He was so good and so stylish that even North Carolina fans admired him.

3. J.J. Redick

I still haven't figured out why he was so disliked. Maybe because he was that good.

4. Gene Banks

We're going back a few years with this one but Tinkerbell had style. Upon being introduced for his final game in Cameron Indoor Stadium, he threw roses to the crowd -- then hit a late jumper to beat the Tar Heels.

5. Kenny Dennard

They don't make them like Dennard any more. He was tough, relentless and great fun.


1. Larry Miller

I know he played more than 40 years ago but he had style, charisma and game. If he played today, he'd be an enormous star and he's still the most important recruit in Dean Smith's career.

2. Michael Jordan

You know why he's on the list.

3. Phil Ford

There's a good argument to be made that there's never been a better point guard in the ACC than Ford. Next to Jordan, he may still be the most beloved Tar Heel.

4. Charlie Scott

I know the game has changed since he played but if he were 20 again, he'd be the best player in the ACC right now and maybe the best in the country.

5. Mike O'Koren

Okay, I've gone entirely old school with the Tar Heels. It's a generational thing, I suppose. It's no slap at the more recent Tar Heels, just one guy's list of his favorite players.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Five Reasons To Feel Hoop-ful

While finishing off the leftovers from the Super Bowl party, let's take a quick look at five college basketball games around the area this week that will have more than a few hearts thumping:

1. Charlotte at Dayton, Wednesday night: The 49ers are atop the Atlantic-10 standings but they're not awarding banners or NCAA tournament bids just yet. Bobby Lutz's team keeps finding ways to win -- that was a nice escape at Fordham last weekend to avoid a potentially nasty loss -- and a victory over the 16-6 Flyers in Dayton would be large.

2. Davidson at Appalachian State Thursday night: It's been a season of adjustment for both programs. The Wildcats are learning about life after Stephen Curry while the Mountaineers are in their first year under new/old coach Buzz Peterson. The Southern Conference tournament is getting closer and this is all about getting position for a good seed.

3. Duke at North Carolina, Wednesday night: This isn't the juiciest match-up of these old rivals but that won't matter once they get on the floor together. For the Tar Heels, it's desperation time.

4 Georgia Tech at Wake Forest, Saturday night: If the Deacons can beat Boston College at home tonight, a win over the Yellow Jackets would keep them near the ACC lead. Georgia Tech is dangerous at home but needs to show it can win on the road.

5. Maryland at Duke, Saturday afternoon: Greivis Vasquez plays his last game in Cameron Indoor Stadium. How can that not be fun?

(BONUS GAME): N.C. State at North Carolina, Saturday afternoon: Forget where they are in the ACC standings. It's the Wolfpack against the Tar Heels.

Monday, February 8, 2010

What About Manning's Brett Favre Moment?

Five observations from a sports weekend that was better for most of us than it was for Warren Sapp:

1. Playing To Win Even if you were pulling for the Indianapolis Colts (which put you among about 15 percent of fans, it seems), you had to admire the way the Saints went about winning the Super Bowl. They didn't play the odds. They played to win. Fans will take that every time. Almost.

2. Peyton's Brett Favre Moment

You know what the reaction would be had Brett Favre thrown the Super Bowl-losing pick-six that Peyton Manning threw Sunday night. There would be outrage and cries for his guaranteed spot in the Hall of Fame to be taken away.

But how will Manning be treated?

There was all that pre-game talk about how he would study the Saints' defense, figure it out and be at his best late in the game. It didn't happen that way.

The Saints' on-side kick to start the second half was stunning but not much more than the Peyton pick that essentially ended the game.

3. It's Duke-North Carolina Week One side is very excited about Wednesday night in Chapel Hill. You can probably figure out which one.

4. Maybe They'll Change The Name To DANICAR
Danica Patrick, who has never finished worse than sixth in her stock car racing career, will make her NASCAR debut Saturday in the Nationwide Series race at Daytona. You'll probably hear a little more about that this week.

5. The Best Golfer In The World Not Named Tiger Woods
That would be Steve Stricker.

In winning the Northern Trust Open in Los Angeles on Sunday, Stricker -- perhaps the nicest man in professional sports -- jumped Phil Mickelson to take over the second spot in the world golf rankings. That means Stricker is now the best active professional golfer in the world.

Friday, February 5, 2010

A Super Weekend -- And Football, Too

Since it looks like golf is out here this weekend, here are five things to fill up a sports weekend:

1. The Last Football Game

You may have heard about this -- the Colts versus the Saints Sunday night in South Florida. After the Super Bowl, football goes on hiatus until mid-summer when training camps start. There is the NFL draft to look forward to if you're really into it and your team has a first-round pick.

The Colts are five-point favorites but the Saints are the sentimental choice. It's a safe bet there will be plenty of points scored. Here's hoping you have the right squares in the Super Bowl pool.

2. Welcome Home

After nearly two weeks on the road, the Charlotte Bobcats are back home Saturday night to face the New Orleans Hornets, who used to call Charlotte home.

It would be nice if Chris Paul were playing, since the Hornets only visit once a season, but with him coming off ankle surgery, that's one serious problem the Bobcats won't have to deal with.

3. The ACC Schedule -- Maybe

With heavy snow forecast for Virginia and Washington, D.C., a handful of games could be in jeopardy. The Wake Forest-Virginia game in Charlottesville has been shifted to a 4 p.m. start (from noon) and will be shown on a tape-delayed basis at 6:30 p.m. so if you really care about that one, stay away from the computer tomorrow afternoon.

Clemson is scheduled to play at Virginia Tech Saturday and North Carolina will try to get to Maryland for a Sunday afternoon game that could put a final nail in its NCAA tournament chances.

4. Going North

The Charlotte 49ers are on the road this weekend to play at Fordham, taking their six-game winning streak with them. It may not be the most attractive game on their schedule but every win counts.

5. It's Daytona, Baby

They're racing Saturday night in Daytona, running the annual limited-field Shootout which is like a Cheez-Whiz appetizer before the big meal next week. Danica Patrick is not in the field for the Shootout but she will be still be the most talked-about driver down there.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Five Reasons Not To Expand The NCAA Tournament

With growing discussion about the possibility of the men's NCAA basketball championship tournament being expanded to perhaps more than 90 teams, here are five reasons why it's the worst idea since the abolition of jump balls:

1. There's Nothing Wrong With The Tournament Now

You've probably heard this before -- if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

2. Northwestern Might Get In

The Wildcats have never qualified for the tournament in the 70 years it has been played and, while it probably makes the Chicago winter feel even colder, there's something to be said for putting a value on playing your way in. Don't lower the bar.

3. What About Football?

They can't find a way to create a football playoff but can add another set of games to the men's basketball tournament? What about all the class time that will be missed (wink, wink)? What about the fans (as if that has ever mattered?).

Until there is a real football playoff, the men's basketball tournament should be off limits to tinkering.

4. Forget Cinderella

Proponents of the expanded tournament like to talk about the potential for smaller programs to steal the nation's heart with their run through March. It's not going to happen. Cinderellas in the tournament are two things -- rare and overrated.

5. Office Pools

It's already enough trouble filling out the bracket the way it is. Adding games just adds to the process. Do we really want to look up Fordham or Sam Houston State when we're making our picks? Spare us.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Five Things You Won't Hear On Signing Day

This being national signing day for college football programs, here are five things we're not likely to hear amid all the optimistic talk at programs across the country:

1. "We only signed him because his daddy's given us millions and coach likes to use his private jet for recruiting trips and weekend getaways to Cabo."

2. "I don't know where the experts have rated this class but it's too high. Heck, Prairie View has a better class than we do."

3. "Dartmouth is the new Boise State."

4. "That Nick Saban is a funny guy. If he ever quits coaching, he has a future in comedy."

5. "The ACC is poised to dominate college football."

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Five Questions For Super Bowl Media Day

With today being media day at the Super Bowl -- in truth every day is media day at the Super Bowl -- here are five questions that may be asked of either the New Orleans Saints, the Indianapolis Colts or someone in south Florida:

1. Hey, Are You Going To Sign Julius Peppers?

It's clear he's going to land someplace other than with the Carolina Panthers. The Saints are doing fine without him but what if Pep signs with another NFC South team and spends the rest of his career playing like he's worth $20 million a season?

2. Is That David Caruso?

Can't be. He's not wearing sunglasses.

3. Are All The Beautiful People At South Beach This Week?

No, not all. Just most of them.

4. How Many Times Will TV Show Us Kim Kardasian On Sunday?

According to Vegas odds (there will actually be some people who bet on this), the over-under on shots of Reggie Bush's photogenic girlfriend is set at 2.5. And you thought people just watched the game for the commericials.

5. Has It Really Been Six Years Since The Panthers Were In The Super Bowl?

Yes. It just seems longer.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Observations from a good, not great, weekend

Five slightly iced over observations from a sports weekend that was good but not necessarily great:

1. How Good Are The Bobcats?

They’re 3-1 so far on what was seen a potentially season-defining West Coast road trip. One night it’s Stephen Jackson, the next night it’s Gerald Wallace.

With games left at Portland and the Los Angeles Lakers, the Bobcats may not be done winning on this road trip.

2. The Hottest College Team In The State

That has to be the Charlotte 49ers, who are plowing through the Atlantic-10 these days.

They keep finding a way to answer whatever question comes their way. That’s what good teams do.

3. Is North Carolina NIT-Bound?

If you laughed off that notion before, don’t laugh now. As Virginia showed Sunday night, the Tar Heels have serious issues that aren’t going to be solved overnight. And if you haven’t looked, the Tar Heels are just getting into the tough part of their schedule.

4. It’s That Time Again

The Daytona 500 is still nearly two weeks away but the NASCAR season gets going later this week with the Daytona Shootout Saturday night. Does that get your motor running?

5. It’s February

That means Valentine’s Day is two weeks away. It comes right after the Super Bowl, so don't forget.