Coach K has confirmed that Kyrie Irving will be playing in the 1st round of the #NCAA tournament.
Holy sweet mother of the one and true color. He's suiting up. We made some fine jazz while he laid up with that toe, no doubt, but jazz is jazz. Friday, the funk is back. THE FUNK IS BACK, BABIES. Put your womens in their fine attire and natty up them suits; we dancing.
That's not the last I say about Kyrie, I promise. But before we start swinging again, one last word on what's happened the last few days. I'm talking the blast and the apology.
I know the latter didn't sit well with some of my long-timers. They saw it as capitulating, or being terrified that a stern sportswriting establishment would put my name on a black list. But that's not how it is: the kowtow ain't my style, and you should know that by now. I've always been honest with everyone here, so this is the truth:
Having something spread like that does get you a little paranoid, as I admitted. That's just natural. But I apologized not because I was scared, or because I'm switching things up to play it conservative, but because I legitimately felt bad about grouping in some hard-working, talented people with everyone else I attacked. If I hadn't felt that way, and if it hadn't nagged at my conscience, I wouldn't have apologized- no matter who took issue. I'm not going to back down just because someone famous has a problem; that's not my MO, never will be. I can carry the weight of disapproval, believe me. Easiest thing in the world if I think I'm correct. And in fact, I stand by the original post I wrote. You still see it standing, right? If I didn't stand by the majority of what I said, it wouldn't be there. But Chris Jones was right, and I knew he was right, and with my apology I did what I thought was the right thing.
My man Jonny, a Moody Blue from way back in the day, wrote me a nice e-mail with this advice: "Sure, apologize for the generalizations and stereotyping, but next time you sit down at the keyboard, please don’t hesitate for a second because of this episode."
To which I say: Man, what kind of motherfucking clown do you think you're talking at? Do I look down and see a big pair of red shoes staring back up at me? Am I waltzing around a dusty lot having a lot of grimy kids tug at my giant coat? Am I spraying water from a flower pinned to my shirt at some overtaxed dude with three younguns and then laughing like it's the funniest damn thing I seen all day? Am I sobbing in the circus trailer, makeup all smearing on my face, because a tatted-up carnie just banged the trapeze girl and now I'll never know love?
Get your head right. I'm a Moody Blue for life. Nothing's changed.*
*Apology for any Sportswriter I Might Have Offended
Please forgive my swear words and general attitude of rebellion and disrespect. If you were about to give me a job at a high level or even low level organization or were just going to let me cover junior high volleyball for free, please direct me as to which parts of the post I should delete. Better yet, I'll just give you my login information and you can write this yourself. If I've upset any of you fine folks, I sincerely apologize and hope you'll drop me an e-mail telling me where you'd like me to make confession. Oh wait, I already know; I'll see you at the Church of the Divine Silence, the Holiest Incarnation of the Blessed Grimace, i.e. press row.
(Grabs crotch defiantly, skateboards off into the distance while a pair of black un-belted pants slowly fall down.
And that's enough of that shit, agreed?
Because Kyrie Irving is back. I don't know how much he'll be playing. I don't know if he'll start. But I know he'll be suiting up, and that's good enough for me.
Here's my only worry, and then I'll shut up: this team is pretty good already. I'm not saying we're national title good, but I do believe that's a possibility. We're playing some fantastic ball lately, the best of the year since the man went down. Could this new development cloud up our mojo?
I'll answer myself: this is Kyrie Irving, man. The truth. The sickness. The wunderkind. You play him no matter what.
Still, there's a small debate in my head. I'd like to hear what everyone has to say on this matter. Am I being a worry-wart for nothing? Or are we changing things up just when they got really, really good?
Let's talk it out. In the meanwhile, it's time to continue picking the perfect bracket. Today, we focus on the KYRIE REGION. You can find the Southeast picks here. As before, I'll be using Ken Pomeroy's glorious site to break this down scientifically, ensuring that no pick has any chance of being wrong.
Kyrie Irving over Hampton
Hampton defends the inside pretty well.
Still, in 1847, in the foothills of Mexico, a Christian mission was under attack by a group of bandidos. They'd held the villains off for three days, but supplies were running low and morale among the missionaries was all but gone. The heads of the mission met to talk surrender. Just then, a humble beggar came into their midst. He told them not to surrender, that things would be okay. The missionaries, annoyed, told them to leave him alone. Then the humble beggar opened his poncho, and revealed two M-80 machine guns. "What are those?" the missionaries asked, since machine guns weren't invented yet. "Oh, just a little boom," said the humble beggar. Then he raced out of the room, vaulted over the mission walls, and opened fire. After three minutes, the noise came to an end. Cautiously, the mission folk opened their giant swinging mission doors. Outside, they saw nothing but dead bandidos and a humble beggar smoking a cigarillo like it wasn't a thing. "Who are you?!" they called, as the beggar walked away.
"I'm Kyrie Irving, from New Jersey," the beggar said. "And you'll never see me again."
Michigan over Tennessee
This was a tough call, because my original instinct was to go with that fleabag Bruce Pearl and the Volunteers. At their best, they're certainly a better team than Michigan. The question is, can we expect them to play their best in Charlotte?
They've lost 7 of their last 11 games, and four of those have been at home. They didn't even manage 20 wins in a relatively pain-free SEC. They're really only in the tournament because of some huge wins along the way, including Villanova and Pittsburgh. But they have not impressed lately, to say the least. The Vols D is pretty strong overall (48th in efficiency), but when you look at the individual stats, nothing really raises an eyebrow. Their offense is 72nd, and they're completely incapable of shooting threes, but they do get a lot of offensive boards and second chance points. This is a very, very tall team, with just one starter (Melvin "Goony" Goins) under 6'6". They're athletic, and they can bang, but they don't necessarily make the best use of their talent.
Michigan, in some ways, seems to be a polar opposite. While their defensive rank is similar (47th), they're a more typical Big-10 team that excels in ball control and making the most of their scoring opportunities. They avoid the hell out of turnovers and steals, and they have a high field goal percentage, especially from inside the arc. They grab very few offensive boards, though, despite shooting a ton of threes (10th-most in the country, relative to other shots) and theoretically creating long rebounds, and they also never get to the line.
It's a clash of styles, and sometimes in games like these, when you expect it to be close, it's better to go with the more athletic side. I'm going against that advice and opting for the more disciplined team. I don't think the final margin will be more than 4 points.
Arizona over Memphis
In order to pick a 12/5 upset, there has to be something compelling about the 12. With Memphis, I see two things: blocks and steals. Beyond that, there's nothing much; 63rd in defensive efficiency, 142nd on offense, can't shoot threes, turn the ball over quite a bit, fail to keep teams off the offensive boards, weak at the line.
Arizona, meanwhile, has the 15th-ranked offense in the country. They shoot really well from 2 and 3, and their defense is solid, if not exceptional (though they are fantastic at defending the three; 2nd in the country). The question becomes this: can Memphis apply enough defensive pressure, via blocks and steals, to overcome the talent and efficiency gap? To me, that's a big 'hell no.' I don't see one good reason to pick this upset.
Texas over Oakland
I hate Rick Barnes as much as anyone, and I greatly enjoy all the reassuring talk about how they're not that scary a 4-seed since they always blow it in the NCAA. It's nice, it's fun, and I'll listen to it all day. But here's the truth: they have the best defense in the country. I looked back at their previous defensive efficiency rankings, and here are they are in reverse chronological order, starting with last season: 25, 28, 36, 62, 10, 44, 22. Two of those years, they went to the Elite 8. Their rankings those years were 36 and 10. We all know great defense is a wonderful predictor of NCAA success, and though it's nice to think Texas is an early out, they're not; they made the Elite 8 with worse, and now they're tops in the country.
Oakland, unfortunately, is a team with pretty poor defense (199th in D-1). They have the 14th-best offense around, but that's just playing into Texas' hands. This is another no-brainer.
Cincinnati over Missouri
It's impossible to feel confident about this pick since Cincy is so bipolar. They're capable of playing really, really bad basketball, as in their 89-51 drubbing against Notre Dame. And that was their last game before the tourney, which you hate to see from a confidence standpoint. But get this: they're 10th in the country at grabbing offensive boards, and Missouri is 314th at preventing offensive boards. Damn, right?
So let's assume the Bearcats get a lot of second chances. How else can Missouri beat them? Cincy's defense is 16th in the country, and they do a reasonable job in ever facet. Missouri, though they struggle to draw fouls, has a very efficient and balanced offense that rarely turns it over. On defense, they're 9th nationally at forcing turnovers, something Cincy can be vulnerable to on bad days. But though they defend well at the guard positions, they let teams get to the line a lot. The statistics are kind of a wash beyond the glaring one mentioned above, and I'm not seeing enough evidence in any one spot to sway me from the Bearcats.
Bucknell over Connecticut
Don't hold your breath; the stats don't support me on this one. This is a gut pick, based largely on the fact that UConn is capable of a bad loss and is just coming off a grueling Big East tournament with only four days of rest. It's going to be very hard for them to find their rhythm so quickly, and how long can you go relying on one player to take you out of the tight spots?
What I looked at here was whether Bucknell had the components of an upset team. Can they shoot the 3? Yes. 7th nationally in 3-point FG %. Do they play consistent, if not flashy, defense? Yes. They can't grab an offensive board to save their life, but they keep other teams off to the tune of 41st in the country. They never force turnovers, but they force teams to a very low effective field goal percentage (18th). That's the makeup of a team who doesn't force the issue, but just tries to play consistent defense. If they hit a few threes, frustrate UConn and Kemba with a maddening kind of steadfast D, and defend the inside (UConn is quite bad at getting to the foul line), I think this is going to happen. Plus, you gotta roll the dice sometimes.
Temple over Penn State
I saw Temple play Duke, and they're just not that good. But this is a perfect first round game for them; both teams are small, neither one mixes it up well down low, and neither gets to the line with any kind of frequency. Temple's a little better on defense, and PSU's a little better on offense. The only big difference I see is that teams shoot pretty well against Penn State, and pretty poorly against Temple. Also, the Nittany Lions don't defend the 3 and are a bit less adept at interior defense.
Man, this is a really boring game.
San Diego State over Northern Colorado
My friend Justin went to Northern Colorado for a little while. Annnnnywhooo....
Kyrie Irving over Michigan
Michigan will be coming off a nice win against Tennessee.
Still, 1898, people in Central America wanted to build a waterway connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans so they could hunt pirates more effectively. Unfortunately, the task was really difficult because of mosquitoes and unreliable labor. Some said the land was cursed. Just when they were about to give up, a man in a straw hat and khaki suit showed up with a shovel. "Why don't you all take a two-day break?" he said. At first, the local people laughed at him. Who was this strange newcomer, ordering people around? But they'd been digging in the swamps for like a year, and a break sounded pretty nice. So they went to the Atlantic beach for a day to chill out. Late in the afternoon, while they sunbathed and started to get sad about the day ending, they heard a loud rumble from behind them. They turned just in time to see the strange man shoveling an entire huge ditch toward the ocean. In no time at all, he was finished. The water flowed through the new canal as the stranger stood on the banks, smoking a Panama stogie like the world was still new. "Who are you?" they called, as the man walked away.
"I'm Kyrie Irving, from New Jersey," he said. "And I hate the fuck out of pirates."
Texas over Arizona
The one caveat to Texas' #1 defensive ranking is that they've had a few missteps of late. In the last month, they gave up 75 to Kansas State at home, 91 to Colorado on the road, and 85 to Kansas on a neutral floor. All of those came up losses. Arizona is a team that relies on their offense, with a reasonably high percentage of shots coming from 3. They've shown against USC and UCLA that they can be held in check (57 and 49 points, respectively). If they had a really great defense, this upset pick might tempt me. They don't, and this game is in Tulsa, so I'm going with the Longhorns.
Cincinnati over Bucknell
Man, Cincy is exactly the kind of team that could get snakebit by a team like Bucknell, right? At least historically. But they're clearly better, more athletic, and with a stouter defense. This is also one of those safety picks; I know UConn is ready to go down, and if it's not to Bucknell, I think it'll be to Cincy. Anyway, the Bearcat perimeter defense is fairly strong (38th in eFG%, 58th from 3), and they're decent at keeping teams off the line. Bucknell will rely on threes and free throws when they can't score inside, and that's no kind of formula for beating Cincy.
San Diego State over Temple
The 4th-best defense in the country isn't going to lose to a team that rarely shoots threes, has a mediocre eFG%, and can't get to the line. I'd love to pick against the Aztecs, but they got a nice early draw.
Kyrie Irving over Texas
Texas has a good defense.
Still, there was a time in late 1945 when Adolf Hitler discovered a secret to winning the second World War. He and his engineers had developed a gun that could shoot bullets that would only kill Americans and British. The exact science was super complicated, but basically it worked by scent. He and his men went down to their bunkers to have one final party before they unleashed their master plan. After they drank a couple beers and broke out some liederhosen, they heard a knock on the door. They looked through the peephole and saw a dude holding a German pizza box. "Und catering!" they shouted, opening the door. The man in the German pizza uniform slowly opened the box. Inside, there was nothing but an American flag. "Gesundheit!" the Germans shouted in alarm. But it was too late. The man delivering the pizzas went ballistic, destroying everything inside the bunker. When he was finished, an American soldier came in and saw all the German higher-ups strewn across the floor. The man in the pizza uniform smoked a tiny cigarette in a long golden holder, looking like he'd just heard a piece of okay news. "Who are you?" the spy asked as the man walked out the door.
"I'm Kyrie Irving, from New Jersey," he said. "Make it look like a suicide."
San Diego State over Cincinnati
This has all the makings of a close game. Unlike the earlier teams SDSU will face, Cincy has a strong enough defense to shut them down. The Aztec's big offensive weakness is shooting threes, and Cincy will be able to take a chance and pack the middle with their big, physical bodies, daring SDSU to beat them from deep. On the flip side, Cincy should be able to score points. The Aztecs have the 4th-most efficient defense in the country, but that's obviously skewed by their competition. If the Bearcats can attack the offensive boards at their usual pace, they have a fighting shot to pull off the upset.
All of which is to say: I'd take Cincinnati on a neutral floor. Not by much; SDSU's defense is great, and though they struggle from deep and don't get to the line that often, they put points on the board. But this isn't a neutral floor. It's in Anaheim, and I'm not dumb enough to pick against the semi-home team unless it's obvious. Against a team like Cincy, who can put up a stink-bomb at a moment's notice, I'm not taking that chance. Aztecs in a nailbiter.
Kyrie Irving over San Diego St.
A raucous home crowd will be cheering on SDSU.
Still, last year, a flight leaving from New York City experienced trouble after take-off. The pilot, Charles Sullenberger, realized that he had no recourse but to land on the Hudson River. It was a risky move, but he managed to land the plan on the water surface with the least impact possible. But as he stared from the cockpit, he realized it wouldn't be good enough; the whole fuselage was sinking, and there'd be no time for an escape. He turned to give the bad-news to his co-pilot. All the sudden, he felt a huge lift from underneath the plane. What could it be? He knew there was no time to ask. He alerted the passengers of the evacuation procedure, and soon everybody had left the plane. When the rest of the passengers and crew were safely stowed, Sullenberger took one last look at the plane. Just underneath, between the body of the jet and the water, he saw a man dressed in a mermaid costume, holding up the plane. So that's who had saved them! He shook his head in wonder as the man in the mermaid costume chewed on a piece of seaweed as though life was nothing but a thing you existed through. "Who are you?" Sullenberger shouted, as the rescue boat ferried him away. "And why are you wearing a mermaid costume?"
"I'm Kyrie Irving, from New Jersey," the man said. "And there's some questions a dude shouldn't ask."