Thursday, February 15, 2007

Neck Beards

What is it with neck beards and inside players? It looks like Greg, "I'm really on temporary leave from my job as a bus driver for the the Muncie Transit System--'North America's Best Transit System'--" Oden has spawned some sort of trend. I mean, even though he's only 19, that guy can pull off the beard/neck beard. As can the Stiemer. At one point in the Big Ten season, he started rocking the neck beard, linking it sideburn to sideburn with some extended lambchops, I think during the Illinois-Michigan stretch where he played really well. It was subtle, since there's relatively dim lighting at many venues, and his blond-ish hair blends doesn't contrast strongly with his Upper Midwest-Western/Central European paleness. And then Landry also started representing Joseph Fiennes' "Shakespeare in Love" neck beard,

also linking it sideburn to sideburn, and also, curiously, playing quite well-- earning the most minutes of any big guy on the team for a fair stretch of games.

Now the look has come full circle, with Minnesota's double-wide 270 pound junior center, Spencer Tollackson, working the look and playing his best basketball of the season, though the woman insists it's "just a beard" not a neck beard, and not a neck beard + normal beard.

Whatever. The point is, I am doing you the sorely needed service of documenting a cultural phenomenon-- Big Ten post players, burgeoning inside play, and facial/neck hair. All these inside Big Ten players have reached their highest performance level to date while rocking beards/neck beards. Coincidence? I'll leave that to you to decide, but you know what the good Christian lord thinks about this one. (See Judges 16:19)

Unfortunately for these semi-unshorn gentleman, a mighty face and nape full of fur also seems to correlate with foul problems. Teams have been getting the mighty one-eyed Oden into foul trouble, Stiemer and Landry both can't play a simple game of hoops without hearing a cacophony of whistles, and Tollackson got his due last Wednesday night. Specifically, the weighty Minnesotan fouled out of the game with 8 minutes remaining, and the Badgers then slowly edged away from what had been a close game, easing into a thirteen point victory in Dinkytown. (Thirteen points actually was the spread--well done oddsmakers).

Tollackson's last two fouls were hysterical. For the first bit of the second half, he was owning Butch and Stiemsma--going right around Brian for a bcuket, and going right into the Stiemer for a foul and a hoop. Then Chappell, aka J-Cheezy, aka "It's not easy being Cheezy", aka "our only legitimate post defender" went back into the game, moved his feet and stayed upright, and the bearded gopher shouldered right into his chest and J-Cheezy flopped hard to the floor. 4th Foul. Tollackson sits, J-Cheezy sits, and at a later point Tollackson comes back in for about twenty seconds, misses a close range shot, battles for the board, is falling to the ground as Alando is sprinting away with the ball, and yanks back Alando's arm. From the replay, it looked like Tollackson was just trying to grab something, anything, to help break his fall. This is understandable, since he weighs close to three bills and has a broken left hand. But sadly, for him, he grabbed the guy with the ball. Fifth foul--Tollackson out, game over. Yee haw. Oh, and at some point in the second half Chappell had the ball at the top of the key, the lane was open, his guy was pressing him, so he shot by him, did a clear travel/stutter-step in the paint and dunked hard with one hand. Also hysterical.

Other interesting things about the game, beyond it proving my theory about neck beards and Big Ten post players:

- Minnesota shot freakishly well from beyond the arc. You know things are going your way shooting-wise when one guy banks in a three as the shot clock is running out. They finished 8 of 12, and were 8 of 11 at one point, over seventy percent. This kept them in the game until the end, despite Alando having a good night (beyond his problems at the line), UW going to the foul line a bunch, and UW rebounding more efficiently then them.

- The main culprit on the long-range bombing was one of Kam's old high school rivals, Lawrence McKenzie, a transfer from Oklahoma ("where the wind comes sweeping down the plain...") who hit four 3's, completed a three-point play with a lay-up and a foul on Trevon, and generally could be seen talking to Michael Flowers about his impressive offensive accomplishments. Kam described his comments as "woofing" and said "[i]f he wants to woof at one of our freshmen [referring to Trevon], I guess that's up to him." Ten bucks says Trevon owns McKenzie in both Minnesota/UW games next year. Trevon is way more talented than McKenzie, and quite competitive. Mr. McKenzie--as Kent in Real Genius put it-- "you'll rue the day!" (Of course, Kilmer's character responds, "Rue the day? Who talks like that?")

- Has anyone ever been to "The Barn"? Is there any explanation for why the floor is raised? It kind of looks like the old Field House to me. Are they comparable?

- Another awesome fascet of this game was the crowd quieting techniques we employed. Seriously, it reminded me of what Bobby Hurley used to do. Duke would be up, the other team would make a mini-run, Hurley would casually dribble the ball up the court to the top of the key, suprise his defender (who was probably busy waiving his arms to hype up the crowd) by quickly pulling up, and then nailing a three pointer. The crowd makes a disappointed murmur, the noise level falls, the beat down resumes. Alando stabbed the dagger twice in similar fashion in the second half, nailing three-pointers when the Gophers got close, as did Flowers once (on a ridiculously improptu shot off an offensive rebound), and Kam once. These buckets occurred right when the 60% of the crowd that was supporting Minnesota was getting excited, having cut the lead to 2 or 4, or even taking the lead at one point early in the second half. Being able to recognize a slight momentum shift, and then shut it down, is the mark of an excellent team.

- Have people been hearing the Flip Saunders talk about the Minnesota head coaching job? That is, there's a rumor that he'll quit or get fired by the Pistons and then take over the reins with the Gophers. Is that supposed to worry other people in the Big Ten? I tend to ignore the NBA, but it's not like Saunders is Phil Jackson, or Greg Popovich, or Jerry Sloan, or Pat Riley, or even George Karl. He's a decent NBA coach. Is there some sort of reverse Rick Pitino/Mike Montgomery logic going on? That "logic" would go like this--Pitino and Montgomery were very good college coaches (at Kentucky/Providence and Stanford, respectively) but poor to middling NBA coaches. So if a very good college coach is only poor in the NBA, than a pretty good NBA coach should be the second coming of John Wooden! Yea, Gophers! That seems wacky to me. The NBA, like the NFL seems largely about talent. The most talented and healthiest teams tend to win, and the coaches and their "strategery," if you will, are generally about equal, with a handful of coaches being outside the mean. But really, general managers matter more than coaches, because they put together the team. (E.g., the Knicks are terrible now because Isiah Thomas, an atrocious evaluator of talent, has been their GM for years.) Conversely, in college ball strategery can make a bigger difference because there are simply more strategies available-- no illegal defense, longer shot clock to run more complex offenses, etc. Also, colleges teams are constantly in flux personnel-wise, so attracting talent and developing players is paramount. NBA coaches, except with free agents to a small extent, don't recruit playes. Also, though I'm sure NBA coaches work on improving players, especially young ones, they don't work anywhere near as much on creating talent and developing skills. They get talented and skilled through the draft and free agency. I think the skill sets are different, and in college, to put a bottom line on it, coaching is more important than in the pros. Thus, if I were a Gopher fan, I would not sit around and pine for the Pistons to get bounced in the first round of the playoffs so Flip can come back to the motherland. Instead, I would encourage my AD to look for a good, unappreciated college coach. How about the guy at Pepperdine? He's the king of strategery, and he's got an awesome name--Vance Walberg. Alas, no neck beard.

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