Monday, May 18, 2009

From the Weekend That Was

Ole Miss stays undefeated against yet another Arkansas team. After seeing the football and basketball teams go undefeated against their Razorback opponents, the Ole Miss baseball team got in on the action, sweeping Arkansas and in the process earned themselves a share of the SEC regular season title. And they managed to do so without Scott Bittle, who didn’t travel to Fayetteville and we can assume at this point is probably done for the year (more on him later).

First, congratulations to the Ole Miss baseball team. Winning a regular season conference title (even a share of it) is a really hard thing to do, even harder than a tournament title. I think most anyone would have to agree that playing at a successful level for an entire season is much more impressive than getting hot for a few days and winning three or four games in a row (I’m only talking about college here, not professional.). However, the prestige of winning a tournament title is greater than a regular season one.

Can you remember a team celebrating with a trophy after they’ve won a regular season title? Can you even name a regular season champion? I immediately thought of this past SEC basketball season. I guessed that Tennessee won the SEC regular season, but wasn’t completely sure. But I know for certain that Mississippi State won the SEC Tournament. I remember seeing the game, trophy presentation and net cutting on TV.

After some quick research, I discovered that LSU won the regular season SEC basketball title. I have no recollection of the game they won that earned them the title, nor do I recall any sort of celebration highlights on TV. There wasn’t nearly as much (if any) hype or national notoriety as Mississippi State received for winning the tournament (which they deserved). I think that’s because at the end of the regular season, everyone knows more conference games will be played so there’s no sense of completeness. Whereas in tournament play, the championship game signals the end of conference play in a much more dramatic and complete way (And of course most of the tournament games are available for everyone in the Southeast to watch on TV, creating more exposure, interest, etc.).

I’m not exactly sure how to go about bringing more recognition to regular season champions. Perhaps some sort of trophy presentation (although logistically it would be nearly impossible to have it on the field/court right after clinching game) or a more formal announcement or reward. I don’t know. Of course, this would mostly be for the fans. I have always read or been told most coaches and players appreciate what it takes and understand how special it is to claim a regular season title. We fans however (and as usual), don’t have a clue. Except for me. I am smarter than everyone.

And let me add that Ole Miss should hang this co-championship banner right next to the 2003 SEC West co-championship banner. Remember, the SEC West title we shared, but didn’t go to Atlanta to represent the West? As with that co-championship, we lost the tiebreaker this year to LSU. When you lose the tiebreaker, you’re technically not the champion. If you were, you’d find yourself as the #1 seed in the baseball tournament or in Atlanta.

Scott Bittle and Kevin Garnett have something in common. What might that be? Both are injured, but no one really knows how bad it is. Much like Garnett’s injury near the end of the NBA regular season, Bittle’s injury was initially explained as something minor (soreness in Bittle’s case). And much like Garnett’s injury, vague terms and no concrete timetable for a return were given. Now we’ve reached the stage of Bittle’s injury where the coach, Mike Bianco, has admitted Bittle isn’t improving, he won’t take part in the SEC Tournament and will see Dr. Andrews in Birmingham (Small side story here. When I lived in Birmingham, I lived near Andrews’ old house and drove by it most days. If you had to choose a house owned by someone who restores the careers of professional athletes, this one would suffice.) on Wednesday.

Now I’m all for downplaying injuries initially. You don’t want to cause panic on your team or set off mass hysteria among your fans. But you can’t keep being vague and elusive for more than a week. People start to get angry because you’re not being straight with them and soon after you’ll start to lose your trustworthiness. Fans will tolerate a certain level of shiftiness as long as you’re winning, but once a slight misstep happens they’ll be quick to turn.

Can you imagine the outrage if the Ole Miss basketball team had pretended that Chris Warren was just “sore” after he suffered a torn ACL? Instead of hiding the injury for a week or two, it was announced the next morning he was done for the year. Fans essentially gave Andy Kennedy and the basketball team a break for the season because of the swift and severe loss of the team’s best player. Sneakiness with fans is a dangerous line to walk.

Kevin Garnett has the next six months free to practice his poser sneer. And Paul Pierce can heal from a potential career-ending bruise that thankfully did not require the assistance of a wheelchair. As you know, the Celtics finally were eliminated from the playoffs last night by the Magic. It was a brutal last month or two for the Celtics as they played that time without the hard as kittens Garnett, yet still found a way to be a competitive team even with Brian Scalabrine as the seventh man.

I almost felt sorry for them as no team or group of fans should be subjected to double-digit minutes of Scalabrine. Sure he plays hard and brings some energy to the crowd and his team, but the level to which he is physically overmatched really can’t be calculated. But just when feelings of sympathy started to creep in, Paul Pierce would suffer a temporarily disabling injury to his woman parts and I’d see Garnett bowing up from the safety of his own bench. Good riddance.

The Rockets are unable to rub another round of playoff advancement in Tracy McGrady’s face. Without Yao Ming, the Rockets brand of small ball was pummeled yesterday by the Lakers, who absolutely killed them on the boards (55-33). The advantage was so great that even the soft and playoff disappearer Pao Gasol grabbed 18 boards and scored 21 points, leaving Memphis Grizzlies’ fans confused and disoriented. I don’t really care either way about this, I just wanted to see another lack-of-playoff-accomplishment graphic get stuck to McGrady’s name on SportsCenter.

Tennis is a college sport? Apparently, it is. I write this just to take note of the Ole Miss men’s tennis team (not even sure if they have a women’s team), who lost yesterday in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tennis Tournament. The Rebels, unbelievably ranked #2 in the country and undefeated in the SEC, lost to UCLA, who, according to the article I read, was probably the most talented team in the country.

I once went to a tennis match while I was at Ole Miss. I’m not really sure why, maybe the weather was nice or maybe I was refusing to do school work. Whatever the reason, I hope it was legitimate. But I do remember being there and after a few minutes of watching players not quite good enough to turn pro, I wished I was somewhere else. But congratulations to the tennis team, it’s not often you see Ole Miss and Elite Eight in the same sentence.

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