Just a few quick thoughts today on the little basketball content that I took in last night:
1) I caught a good portion of the second half of the Minnesota-Siena game last night. Because I only tuned in for the second half, and not the first half where the Gophers fell way behind, it's tough for me to get a good read on the Gophers. As for my favorite moment, Gopher forward Rodney Williams became the early frontrunner for most athletic play of the year when he took an alley-oop pass which forced him to adjust mid-air from his straight-on attack and throw down a reverse dunk instead. Very nice, Mr. Williams.
2) During the broadcast of the Minnesota game last night, the announcers noted that Tubby Smith was calling forward Trevor Mbakwe the team’s “X-factor,” and saying that Mbakwe was the guy that the team’s success or failure could hinge on. If I was Tubby Smith, I would probably have an uneasy feeling about the season after making those statements.
Mbakwe is undoubtedly a great talent. He’s also a guy that makes confusingly bad decisions. Let’s review how he got to Minnesota. His high school career spanned, if I recall correctly, three schools in two states. In college, he started off injured at Marquette and instead of taking a redshirt year, returned to play a mere 11 games at the end of the season. He then left Marquette the day before classes for his sophomore year were about to begin, leaving virtually no way for the Marquette staff to fill the huge hole that he left on the roster. From there, he ended up at a junior college in Miami, a city which he had seemingly no ties with. And last year he found his way to the Golden Gophers, but was held out of play all year due to a then-unresolved sexual assault charge against him from his time in Miami. Oh yeah, and during this past offseason he talked about potentially transferring from Minnesota.
I hope for Tubby Smith’s sake that Mbakwe’s head is finally screwed on straight, but he certainly doesn’t have the track record of a guy that you want to depend on. That’s a shame, because his abilities as a player make him a guy that you’d like to lean heavily on. But don’t color me surprised if Mbakwe leaves the team midseason for mind-boggling reasons.
3) I didn't realize until it was too late last night that Dickey Simpkins was doing color commentary on the Minnesota-Siena game. A tip to everyone out there--if you ever hear that Dickey Simpkins is calling the game that you're watching, don't change the channel, but do turn the volume up and listen closely. I guarantee that it will be less than five minutes until Simpkins says something so asinine that you'll find yourself wondering how he ever got anyone to give him a microphone.
4) After all of my pre-season analysis of television packages and providers, we’re one week into the season and I now realize that I have a huge hole in my coverage: ESPN3. In previous years, ESPN3 (or ESPN 360, as it was formerly known) was a niche product, as no one wanted to watch a game on his or her computer. So I never thought twice about the service. But in the last two years, connecting a computer to one’s television has become a much more common way of watching games, and ESPN3 actually appears to have some value. In fact, I was thinking of watching tonight’s Wisconsin game on ESPN3, until I realized that I don’t have access to it. My internet provider is Time Warner, and as it turns out, Time Warner subscribers can only receive ESPN3 if they receive ESPN in their cable programming package. As I’m a Directv subscriber, I have no Time Warner Cable package and am 95% sure that I'm out of luck for tonight’s Badger game. This will be something to take into consideration as I evaluate my television needs going forward. As for tonight, it’s a good thing that Badger play-by-play man Matt Lepay is the best in the business.
5) I love the ESPN 24-hour hoops marathon, even though I’m tied up doing other things for something like 15 of those hours.
6) I caught a bit of ESPN’s pre-season basketball preview last night, and particularly enjoyed the discussion of the newly expanded 68-team tournament by ESPN’s panel of basketball experts. Of particular note, Hubert Davis put forward my constant objection to the play-in games as being an unfair way of keeping low-level conference champions out of the “real” tournament. And my idol, Jay Bilas, noted that while the reason for the expansion to 68 teams is money, money isn’t exactly a terrible reason to make a decision. I agreed with the general consensus of the group that while 68 teams was far better than an expansion to 96 teams would have been, it doesn’t have the simple fairness that the old 64 team tournament had.
Back tomorrow with thoughts on whatever I manage to watch or listen to.