Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Game No. 70 Recap, Bulls-Heat: Rasputin Strikes Back

Bulls 101, Heat 97

The Bulls came out firing, jumping out to an 11-2 start in the game's opening minutes, causing an Erik Spoelstra timeout at just the 9:02 mark of the opening quarter. Obviously, the rest of the game would not continue this way, but it was encouraging to see the Bulls come out strong, hitting some shots and getting to loose balls. 

Carlos Boozer was in on the early hot start, helping to extend the lead to 13-2 with an offensive rebound and a solid conversion from about 10-12 feet. Unfortunately, a quick pair of LeBron threes cut the lead down to 13-9. 

However, with some more hard work on the offensive glass, Boozer forced Udonis Haslem into his third foul of the game, just 5:15 into the contest. 

The Bulls were putting on a beautiful display of spacing and ball movement early on in the game, supplemented by some opportunistic defense at the other end. Chicago was shooting very well early and cleaning up some of its misses; although the glass half empty thought would be "this won't continue," again, at least it happened at all.

Deng nailed another trey near the 4:00 minute mark, and the game was starting to remind me of the Bulls' two trips to Madison Square Garden this season. 

Thanks to a pair of absurd Nate Robinson floaters near the end of the quarter, the Bulls entered the second up 32-22 despite 13 first quarter points for LeBron. Then again, the Heat aren't necessarily new to being down early in games as of late, so the Bulls could not afford to ease off even a tiny bit.

Fortunately, they didn't in the second, keeping their double digit lead for most of the quarter. Nate did his decidely Nate thing, and various other Bulls pitched in on the offensive end. Boozer had some trouble finishing around the basket in the first half on a couple of different occasions, but he otherwise had himself a nice half, going 5/10 from the field for 10 points. 

The Bulls outworked and outplayed the Heat in the first half, dishing out 15 assists to Miami's five. A staunch defensive effort on a Chris Bosh shot attempt in the closing seconds of the half sent the two teams into the break, the Bulls up 55-46. Something something end the streak something something. 

In the third, the Heat drew closer, this time down just five, 57-52, less than three minutes in. It felt very close to gut check time for the Bulls, who could have begun to fold once Miami threatened to tie it up.

Nazr Mohammed should come in for praise here, as he hit the Bull's first jumper of the half in addition to picking up an offensive board and a defensive one that drew Haslem's fourth foul. No, starting a 35-year-old Nazr Mohammed will never be ideal, but he has been sneakily effective at times. Like Kurt Thomas of the Knicks, sometimes that old man game is better than you think. 

Despite a highlight reel alley oop from Deng to Butler, dunking over a hapless Bosh, the Bulls went into the final frame up just 69-68.  On the bright side, after 13 points in the first quarter, the Bulls held LeBron to just 11 in the second and third combined. Progress! Also, despite a 1/10 start from the field in the third, it is nice that the Bulls were not only still in the game but up one, no less.

The Bulls would need to continue being physical in the paint and not allowing Miami any easy buckets, whether in transition or the half court. Regardless, entering the fourth in the upper 60s is a win for the Bulls, who simply cannot keep up given the state of the active lineup. 

A 6-0 run by the Bulls, capped by Birdman derping an open dunk and Butler finishing over him at the other end, gave Chicago some breathing room. Still, it was difficult not to hope for the lead to grow a decent bit before the final four of five minutes, as we've seen the Bulls collapse down the stretch due to a lack of playmakers vis-a-vis the opponent.

An aggressive take by Hinrich in transition gave the Bulls a 80-73 lead with six minutes or so to go, a make sandwiched by two Deng treys. It was a somewhat lethargic third quarter, but the Bulls' outside shooting was coming to life at the right time. Now, it was all about getting stops.

LeBron baited Hinrich into driving past him on three consecutive (I believe) possessions, leading to three straight blocks and a lot of consternation. STOP DRIVING KIRK AHHHH. Well, with just over two minutes to go, Kirk drove, found on the wrap around pass at the baseline, who then swished it to give Chicago a 94-85 lead with 2:18 to go.  

A pair of Miami buckets cut the lead to just five with over a minute to go, which might as well not have been a lead at all with LeBron looking to go into heroball mode after the flagrant foul situation with Boozer several minutes earlier.

Big buckets from Boozer and Robinson essentially sealed up the win for the Bulls, sending the Heat into foul mode. 

The Heat entered the United Center and lost tonight for the first time since Feb. 1. It seemed unlikely after the Heat tied it up in the third, but the Bulls continued to fight and scratch and do all the things people scoff at because of irony and Internet sarcasm. 

The Bulls have notched some solid wins against some solid teams this season, but this one, without the service of Noah, Belinelli, Rose and Hamilton, easily comes in as the best victory of the year. Obviously, a Bulls team with all those guys is a completely different squad, and it's difficult to extrapolate based on this game how they'd do at full strength, but...either way, it's hard not to get excited after wins like this.

An excellent performance from Deng, Butler, and, yes, Boozer, powered the Bulls to victory while short-handed against a team on an insanely prolific streak. Who knows how the rest of the season will unfold, but tonight was one of a select few regular season games that will be remembered for years to come.

Northwestern hires Duke assistant and former Glenbrook North Spartan Chris Collins

There you have it. Northwestern is set to hire Duke assistant Chris Collins, per basically everyone on the Internet, less than two weeks after firing longtime head coach Bill Carmody. Here's Jeff Goodman reporting the above:
Duke associate head coach and Illinois native Chris Collins will become the next head coach at Northwestern.
Collins met with the Northwestern administration on Monday and a deal is expected to be finalized on Wednesday. Collins will continue to coach withthe Blue Devils until they finish the postseason.
This was not unexpected, and, on the surface, it all makes pretty perfect sense. Collins is from nearby Northbrook, Ill., from a high school (Glenbrook North) that has produced players like Jon Scheyer. Insert verbiage about new blood, the ability to recruit the area, "Northwestern is basically Duke waiting to be unleashed," etc. etc.

To be honest, this seems to me like if Michigan had hired Brady Hoke back in 2007, i.e. a slightly early homecoming. Collins has been an assistant at Duke since 2000, and was also an assistant under Tommy Amaker for a couple of seasons. However, he's never been a head coach; is it better to hire a guy with Collins' profile (local guy, yada yada yada) or make a play for one of the countless mid-major guys out there? I'm obviously not privy to the details of Northwestern's coaching search, but I suppose we shall find out in the coming years. It's entirely possible that Northwestern felt that it wouldn't be able to snag a guy like, say, FGCU's Andy Enfield.

Whatever the case may be, the Wildcats needed some change. Carmody's efforts can't be discounted, as he left Northwestern basketball in better shape than he found it despite never being able to cross the river into tournament land.

A quick Rivals search shows that there aren't any Glenbrook North college prospects on the current squad. The question is, can Collins recruit outside of the Evanston/north suburbs? As always, it will be a tough road, but it doesn't hurt to have coached under Coach K for over a decade while also having Doug Collins for a father.

Game No. 70 Preview, Bulls-Heat: Have You Heard

Chicago Bulls (38-31) vs. Miami Heat (56-14)
8:00 ET, ESPN
So, due to school, the Hawks and Big Ten basketball, the Bulls sort of fell off the radar here. Such is life. It's hard to believe that tonight's tilt is the 70th game of the season, but here we are.

The Bulls have been the basketball manifestation of Rasputin this season, suffering all manner of injuries and seemingly deadly blows only to continue to trudge along, seven games above .500 and fifth in the Eastern Conference, currently slated for a winnable first round series against Brooklyn. 

Derrick Rose is still gone, and it seems fairly obvious to everyone that he won't be suiting up this season. Richard Hamilton has done his best Martin Havlat impression, having not played since Feb. 26. Taj Gibson missed 10 games with a sprained MCL, but mercifully returned to the lineup last Thursday against Portland. Since his return, he's averaged 12.3 ppg in three games. Needless to say, he was missed. 

Kirk Hinrich did return against Portland on March 21 after having missed seven straight,  but he's shot a horrendous 5/24 from the field in his first three games back. He was a -10 in Sunday's win in Minneapolis, and Robinson rightfully got 10 more minutes despite Hinrich getting the starting nod.

The Bulls will still be without Rose and Hamilton, and Marco Belinelli will be a game-time decision after missing the Minnesota game on Sunday. Joakim Noah, who has missed the last two games with a case of a return of that pesky plantar fasciitis, will also be a game-time decision. 

If Belinelli and Noah can't go, the Bulls' chances of ending the 27-game Heat winning streak are slim. If they go, I'm saying there's a chance. The Bulls are 1-1 against Miami on the season, beating the Heat in Miami on Jan. 4 but getting thumped at the United Center on Feb. 21, 86-67.

In case you've been living under a rock, you've probably heard that the Heat are on a bit of a streak. Their last loss came on Feb. 1, which is fairly ridiculous. However, their upcoming stretch comes against some opponents with a pulse, so if they are going to lose it might as well be now; why not Chicago?

There's not much need to go through the standard personnel rundown. LeBron James is not from this planet, and is sure to be this season's MVP, an award he will probably win [*Sandlot voice*] for-ev-errrr. He's averaging 26.7 ppg, 8.2 rpg and 7.4 apg. LeBron is a basketball cyborg, sent to us from Cyberdyne to terrorize the National Basketball Association. Good luck, Luol and Jimmy. Hoping your team prevents LeBron from getting into the lane is like trying to stop a speeding locomotive. 

As always, here's the Deng-James player comparison (sample size caveats do apply, given these teams have met only twice): 

Elsewhere, Dwyane Wade has missed the last two games for the Heat and might be out for this one [update: he's playing]. Ray Allen continues to come off of the bench to drain threes in your eye (43% on the season); Mike Miller starts at the SG spot in Wade's stead.

The Heat have had a few close calls during this stretch, including a 98-95 victory at Cleveland (sans Kyrie Irving). I mean, they have to lose eventually...said every other team in the last six or seven weeks. 

If Noah can go, which I doubt will happen, the Bulls have a shot at doing some work on the offensive glass against a team with a defensive rebounding percentage of 72.8%, putting them in the bottom third of the league. Otherwise, it all depends on whether or not Boozer can nail some jumpers, Deng can pitch in something while having to check LeBron and Nate Robinson doing his best 2011-12 John Lucas III against Miami impression. 

On the bright side, the Bulls have showed some fight, winning their last two against division leader Indiana and at Minnesota after having previously lost six of their last eight. The Pacers game was yet another Big Ten-esque clash, with a combined 38 points from Noah and Boozer powering the Bulls to to a win on a night when Nazr Mohammed not only started but played 31 minutes. To his credit, he did score 11 points and grab seven boards, which I would be lying if I said that I didn't think he would reach those numbers in an entire season with the Bulls. 

But, as they say, next man up. Injuries or not, the Bulls have proven they can beat the Heat without Rose on the floor, but that doesn't mean it will actually happen.

At full strength, I'd actually feel pretty good about the Bull's chances, even if we're talking 2012-13 "full strength" (i.e. everybody but Rose). Even if Noah and Belinelli sit, I would still like Chicago's chances against a Wade-less squad. LeBron is great, but can he do it against Chicago by himself?

The answer to that question is, well, of course he can. There are a lot of injury-related hypotheticals tied to this one, but one team has LeBron and the other doesn't. Play this game ten times without Wade, Noah and Belinelli (and Hamilton and Rose) and the Heat probably win six of seven times out of ten.

Bulls 89, Heat 93.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Shameless Self-Promotion Time: FGCU Eagles

Source: Fouad Egbaria

Once again, I took a brief look at a potential Michigan opponent in the next round (should the Wolverines advance); this time, I put in a few words on the 15th-seeded Florida Gulf Coast Eagles, this year's Norfolk State if Norfolk State had won another game after knocking off Missouri last season.

Anywho, here it is. We're still many hours away from 7:37 on Friday, so fill your mind with useless sports knowledge.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Shameless Self-Promotion Time: Indiana Recap

Michigan finished the 2012-13 regular season with a mark of 25-6 (12-6); yes, that Big Ten mark is inferior to last year's by one game. Sure, this year's Big Ten is better than last year's, but isn't college basketball just funny sometimes?

Anyway, here is my recap of Sunday's gut punch of a loss, at Maize n Brew as usual. Every single loss Michigan took this season stung in its own way, perhaps all magnified by the fact that they were relatively few in number.

Nonetheless, what would ordinarily be hailed a wildly successful regular season ended with an anticlimactic thud, as the Wolverines enter this weekend's Big Ten Tournament in Chicago with the 5-seed and a Thursday matchup with, yes, Penn State.

To Chicago we go.

Friday, March 8, 2013

One Week

State Street, Chicago

Of course, there's one little thing to take care of before that. Before they can see the red of the Red Line, they'll be seeing Indiana's crimson on Sunday...preview will be up at Maize n Brew at some point tomorrow. I say "one week" instead of "six days" because, yes, I'm hoping for that first round bye. That would be nice, wouldn't it, because we know who awaits if we land the 5-seed. It seems strange to be even somewhat worried about a potential matchup with a conference cellar dweller when you root for a top 10 team, but this is where we're at. College basketball, man.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Shameless Self-Promotion Time: Michigan State

So, I won't lie, I've been a little disappointed that I haven't had much time to post much of anything here in 2013. With a break coming up in a couple of weeks, I will have a decent chunk of free time to get this thing going again.

Also of note: thanks to being a Big Ten student again (YEAH #B1GCATS), I am planning on being at every session of the Big Ten tournament here in Chicago. I'll do my best to provide some real, actual coverage of this, doing some journalisty things like video, pictures (probably take from the 300 level of the United Center) and general updates, Michigan and non-Michigan alike. Either way, it should be a fun time, assuming the Wolverines bring yesterday's defensive intensity to the Windy City.

Speaking of, I recapped yesterday's rematch against the Spartans over at Maize n Brew, as usual. Michigan is now 8-5 in its last 13 games, so to say that things have been just a little up and down this past month would be somewhat of an understatement when juxtaposed with that 16-0 start.

Regardless, whether you're beating Northwestern by 28 on Jan. 3 or Michigan State by one on Feb. 3, a win is a win. The share of the regular season title is out of reach unless Indiana gets upset by Ohio State on Tuesday, but a pair of wins to end the season would do wonders for Michigan heading into postseason play.

Even on the heels of a tremendous victory such as this one, it's hard not to look back and think about what could have been (see: @Wisconsin, @Penn State). Luckily, there's still a great deal for which to play.