Thursday, March 26, 2009

So what changed?

A few weeks ago on the verge of an epic collapse, I wrote a blog about our favorite Pittsburgh Penguins. In the blog I was questioning if they would make the playoffs and wondering just what the hell was wrong with them. I gave a few suggestions on what they needed to do to get back on track. If you don't remember the blog you can read it here. It turns out I am more of a super genius than Mark Madden because my suggestions were spot on. Lets go over them shall we?

Step one was to get an identity as a team and a coach who is a motivator who is likable and will get down to the basics and not switch up lines all the time.

Step one, Check.
The pens have done just that. They dropped the attempts to play a defensive game. They are aggressive and it is paying off with an offence like the pens have and defencemen like Letang and Gonchar who can score both the offence and defence have gotten better. Fluery is not facing as many shots because the pens are controlling the zone. Dan Blysma has been just what the Lemieux Group LP ordered. He is a young guy who can relate to the players but has been around the game a long time and has a style of play that really fits this club. He seems to be doing nothing wrong and the team has rallied around him and really played a better more fitting style of hockey. Blysma said it best on inside penguins hockey the other day. Hockey is a game of mistakes. If you are playing the majority of the game in the opposing teams zone when you make a mistake the negative outcome from that mistake won't lead to much other than a possession change or something small. If your opponent makes a mistake in their own zone, you can generate great opportunities to put the puck in the net. The pens have bought into that philosophy and it is showing with only one game in the month of march without bringing home at least a point.

Step two was to get rid of Ryan Whitney and Satan and bring in a winger for Crosby.

Step Two, Check.
They got rid of that bum Ryan Shitney and picked up my man, Chris Kunitz. Now not only is his name very similar to another Pittsburgh legend Rusty Kuntz, he has been a perfect fit for this team. We have him for a few more years which is also a plus. He is the winger Crosby needed, a guy with good skill and hockey sense who is tough and will park his ass right in front of the net and put home the trash. Alongside that we dropped Satan down to Wilkes-Barre so we didn't take that cap hit and we brought in another veteran leader in Bill Guerin. Now our first line is playing like the first line, our second line is playing like a first line and hell our third line is playing like a first line alternate. Jordan Staal has really emerged as the player I knew he was from the start for a while people were hating on Staal but you can't argue with his production over the past few weeks. But the biggest plus for this time was ditching Shitney.

It has been exciting to watch this team return back to premier form over the past month. As it stands now it looks like they will storm into the playoffs on a high note and lets see if they can keep it up and make it back to the Cup Finals. Maybe this time Malkin won't shit all over himself in the playoffs.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Down to 16: NCAA Tournament Musings

Arguably the most exciting four days in all of sports has just passed, the two opening rounds of the NCAA Tournament. There were a couple of surprises along the way, however none of the top three seeds have been taken out.

The first day of the tournament lacked excitement, with the UCLA/VCU game probably being the best of the day. Western Kentucky "upsetting" Illinois being the biggest seed upset of the day. I don't buy that it was really an upset in the first place because the Big 10 is relatively crappy. Illinois lost a 39-32 game against Penn State earlier in the year. How in the blue hell as a major Division I program do you only put up 32 points? The top seeds rolled on with UConn, Carolina, Oklahoma and Duke all advanced. Memphis, Kansas, Villanova pulled away late with Marquette hanging on against Utah State. Clemson shit the bed and on my bracket with its loss to Michigan. I had Clemson beating Oklahoma....whoops.

Day 2 provided a little bit more intrigue. Pitt played like absolute ass and escaped the clutches of mighty East Tennessee State, who strikes me more as a non-conference football opponent for Penn State (I can't resist taking digs at Penn State/Big 10 whenever possible). Arizona pulled a "upset" over Utah. Everyone was bitching about Arizona getting in but I had a feeling that they would make some noise. They were always flaky in years past, for example losing to Steve Nash and Santa Clara as a two seed in the early 90s and winning it all as a four seed with Mike Bibby and company. However, with Jordan Hill, Nic Wise and Chase Budinger, probably three NBA level players they are all of a sudden very dangerous now that their heads are removed from their asses. There aren't too many teams who have three NBA level players in the field, let alone a 12 seed.

The night games provided us with some upsets. Cleveland State taking down a Wake Forest team that in my opinion was very flaky. The Vikings raced to an early lead and never looked back. Wake has struggled mightly on offense at times this season and it bit them in the ass against Cleveland State. I had Wake losing to Louisville in my bracket. In a game that made my blood boil was Florida State losing to Wisconsin. The Seminoles shit the bed in the second half and proceeded to lose in overtime to a middle of the road Big 10 team (Yeah, I had FSU beating Pitt...another whoops). Goodbye to Toney Douglas who was a good player that I liked. Siena beat Ohio State in double-overtime but I don't really make mention of the 8-9 games because they are always coin-flips and they usually get whipped by the one seed.

The second round started out with little intrigue. Villanova rolled over UCLA, UConn trounced A&M, Carolina beat LSU and put the SEC out of its misery. Memphis and Oklahoma had little trouble with dispatching Maryland and Michigan, respectively. Purdue helped carry the tattered flag of the Big 10 with its 76-74 win over Washington. I must bid adieu to another one of my favorite players in Washington forward, Jon Brockman. A very tough, hard-nosed player who doesn't act like a total douchenozzle, looking at you Mr. Hansbrough.

Duke survived a second half run by Texas thanks to Gerald Henderson and some awesome referreeing. Western Kentucky and Gonzaga gave the viewers the best ending of the tournament thus far. Steffphon Pettigrew (what the hell is with the two f's and the ph?) tipped in a shot to give the Hilltoppers a one-point lead with 7 seconds to play. Gonzaga's Demetri Goodson drove the length of the floor and hit a runner to give the Zags the win. Good call by Gonzaga coach Mark Few, in not calling a timeout. The WKU defense wasn't organized and Gonzaga has guards who can get to the hoop, which proved to be the difference in the contest.

Part two of the second-round saw Syracuse advance thanks to some good perimeter shooting in its win over Arizona State. ASU star guard, James Harden, decided not to show up again and big man Jeff Pendergraph fouled out with about 10 minutes left in the game. Pitt won a narrow 84-76 victory over an average Oklahoma State team. The Cowboys were shooting well to start but had no answer for Sam Young and DeJuan Blair. Xavier and Kansas rolled into the Sweet 16 while Arizona advanced over Cleveland State.

The game between Marquette and Missouri gave us a shitty way to lose the game 101. The game was tied coming down the stretch and Missouri guard J.T. Tiller got a wide open layup attempt on a screen and roll. The Marquette defenders ran into each other and Tiller was fouled. Hell you probably defend a pick and roll a thousand times a year between games and practice but that got bumbled. However, Tiller was unable to shoot the free throws so the Tigers brought in Kim English and he hit both free throws. Winding up, Tiller checked back in right after the free throws. I looked it up and Tiller was a 74% shooter to English's 68%. Who knows though, Tiller could be a choke artist. On the imbounds, Lazar Hayward, stepped on the line and turned it over, in a Chris Webberesque moment. Missouri hit both free throws and took a four point lead. Maurice Acker's halfcourt heave missed, but it looked like he was mugged to me and Missouri won.

Louisville did nothing to inspire confidence as the number one overall seed in its 79-72 win over Siena. Michigan State hung on because USC can't shoot worth a shit, going 1-10 from 3-point range. That about wraps everything up in the first weekend of the tournament. I have 11 of 16 and seven out of the Elite 8 remaining in my bracket.

Now on to the winners and losers.

1. The Big East. Five out of the 16 remaining, could've been six had Marquette not brain-farted its way home. It proved once again that the Big East was the top conference.

2. The Big 12. Three Sweet 16 teams and the conference went 5-0 in the opening round.

3. The top 3 seeds. Every single one, two and three seeds advanced. Even though Louisville and Pitt looked shaky, as long as your playing another day, that's all that really matters. UConn and UNC had very little trouble as well.

1. The ACC. In the running with the Big East for top conference billing. Didn't quite happen that way. Boston College looked listless in its pounding against USC. Clemson couldn't figure out how to beat a zone, so it relied on bombing away to a tune of 5 for 22. Terrance Oglesby and K.C. Rivers couldn't hit the water if they fell out of the damn boat and Oglesby got tossed for throwing an elbow. Good work Clemson. Florida State's inexplicable bed-shitting against Wisconsin. Maryland won one but got thumped by Memphis. Topped off by Wake Forest getting mauled by Cleveland State, the ACC has done horribly. UNC and Duke are all that's left and that's just as many teams as the crap-ass Big 10 (Mich. State, Purdue).

2. The Pac-10/SEC. Arizona is the only team left out of the Pac-10 and the SEC only got three teams in and they were all sent packing.

3. CBS. Jesus Christ, does CBS stand for Commercial Broadcasting Station. If not, it should. The amount of commercials was complete and total overkill. Every time out = commercial. Hell, it was more unbearable than its football broadcasts.

4. The "Cinderellas." Not one of them made it to the Sweet 16. Don't call Arizona one for reasons I've previously stated.

That about does it for the first weekend of March Madness. The fun starts back up again on Thursday.