*Duke-Gonzaga Saturday at 4pm. The Zags are ranked 15th, but they've dropped two so far this year; one to Michigan State, and one to Wake Forest. MSU started the year ranked highly, but they've dropped out of the top 10, and Wake is supposed to be in the midst of a down year. Saturday's game will be played here in the city (MSG), and though I may be invoking a jinx, I'm going to brazenly declare that this particular west coast team does not scare me on a neutral court.
I'm envisioning a 15-point victory, but what I'm most interested in is the play of Nolan Smith. It seems like he's the kind of player who gains confidence as the game goes along, but who occasionally plays tentative at the start. Someone must have told him the same thing, because this earlier this year he came out firing right from the opening tip. Unfortunately, that tactic has been dropped of late, and now he's back to easing into the flow. Against Gonzaga, I'd very much like to see him take the reins early and often, and establish his presence without restraint.
The team needs a better sense of interplay. At the moment, we're a strong squad with very good individual players who emerge by turns. At any given time, the ascendant personality may be Scheyer, Singler, or Nolan, but so far they haven't meshed into a self-sustaining unit. Until that happens (and granted, we're only 8 games deep into the season), we'll be prone to off games like the one at Wisconsin. Once an opponent isolates the cogs, we're at the mercy of individual talent. Often enough, that's plenty for a Duke win. But sometimes it's not, and it certainly won't cut the mustard in March, or even in January-February during ACC road games.
Besides our three stars, the one player who can go a long way in fomenting chemistry is Mason Plumlee. He's shown flashes of brilliance as he recovers from his early injury, and my fingers are crossed that he continues to grow and flourish. An athletic big man who can run will transform this team; it's miles different than having a statue like Zoubek mucking up the flow. (PS, I'm never angrier watching Duke games than when Zoubek tries to take a charge against a driving guard. Play some f*$#ing defense, big man, you've got a foot on the guy!)
*Bowl season starts Saturday. Normally I wouldn't be too excited about the opening games, but my college bowl pool has worked its magic and made me interested in the outcome of match-ups like Fresno St.-Wyoming. (If you want in this pool, there's still time, and it's only 10 bucks, and it even has its own blog!) That game in particular tempted me, and I decided to make it my highest priority, a 33, with Fresno St. as the winner. I can't exactly explain why; I do like Fresno in this game, but mostly I just wanted to make a statement with the opening game, and also experience the tingle of risk. Ah, gambling...
*The Colts kept their undefeated season alive just barely last night, winning 35-31 over Jacksonville. All season, one of the semi-humorous semi-maybe-true talking points has been that Peyton Manning is actually coaching the Colts, and head coach Rich Caldwell is just along for the ride. Who knows if this is even remotely true, but the following post-game quote from Caldwell does not help his case:
"This was an old-time shootout at the OK Corral."
Boy howdy, that one sure had me nervous! I didn't know up from down, what with all the passing and the scoring and the shouting...hoooooo doggy! Lucky thing Peyton called up them good plays, or we'd 'a been deader'n doornails out there!
*Giants-Redskins on MNF this week, and it's possible we'll have a shot to move into the 6th and final Wild Card position. The Cowboys play the league's other undefeated team, the Saints, on Saturday (NFL Network pisses me off so bad), and once they lose the Giants control their own destiny. The problem, of course, is that we're aligned to meet New Orleans in round 2. Which, in my mind, will be the end of the line. Something needs to happen over the next few weeks that lets us somehow play the Vikings, a game that could foreseeably end in something other than a 20-point loss. But that's getting greedy; I should probably just settle for playoffs.
*After being highly disturbed by this week's New Yorker, which includes a few articles on global warming and a horrifying short story by Helen Simpson, I figured I should sign off with one of the few songs ever dedicated to an antarctic ice shelf. Have a great weekend.