Archive for February, 2012

Hoops insider: Can Fox and Georgia fashion a fast finish?

For the record, Georgia is unbeaten since Mark Fox got ejected at Tennessee. (AP photo)

For the record, Georgia is unbeaten since Mark Fox got ejected at Tennessee. (AP photo)

Hoops Hysterics

1. Does Georgia have a chance to finish strong? Winning at Mississippi State on Saturday gave the Bulldogs their first victory of substance since they beat Notre Dame in November, and this week offers an opportunity to consolidate gains. They face South Carolina, which is awful, on the road, and then get Vanderbilt at Stegeman Coliseum on Sunday. Win both and it’s possible Mark Fox’s team could finish 7-9 or even 8-8 in SEC play.

2. Which is the nation’s most disappointing team? Aforementioned Vandy has shooters on the perimeter and size underneath and experience everywhere — its contributors are either seniors or juniors, which rarely happens in contemporary college hoops — and still it has lost eight games, five of them at Memorial Gym. Ranked seventh in the preseason ESPN/USA Today coaches’ poll, Vandy didn’t receive a single vote this week.

3. Which is the nation’s …

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An appreciation of the greatness that is the Atlanta Hawks

You could read this post. Or you could just admire Curtis Compton's photo, which says it all.

You could read this post. Or you could just admire Curtis Compton's photo, which says it all.

Michael Gearon Jr., one of the Hawks’ many charming owners, believes that print media folks in this town have failed to appreciate the splendor that is his remarkable organization. And I must confess that the achievements of this special team sometimes have had a numbing effect on this jaded correspondent. So here’s where I pay homage and bestow overdue superlatives.

The Hawks are the greatest team ever to have drafted so badly. In my glass-half-empty moments, I wonder, “Why aren’t the Hawks any better?” With age and perspective, however, I realize I should have seen said glass as more than half-full. Positively brimming, truth to tell.

From 2004 through 2007, the Hawks had five lottery picks. They whiffed on four. They took Josh Childress instead of Luol Deng/Andre Iguodala in 2004; Marvin Williams instead of Chris Paul/Deron Williams in 2005; Shelden Williams instead of Brandon …

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The Heat showed up; the Hawks (and their fans) left early

It was a no-go night for All-Star Joe. (AP photo)

It was a no-go night for All-Star Joe. (AP photo)

Even by the Hawks’ careening standards, this has been a turbulent season.  With shifts in conventional wisdom attached, we offer a recap:

• Opened by winning four of their first five games, including a victory over the Heat in Miami. And folks thought: “Hmmm.”

• Blew a 19-point lead and lost in Chicago. Lost in triple overtime here to the Heat without LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. And folks thought: “Same old Hawks.”

• Won the next three games but saw Al Horford injured — and subsequently ruled out at least for the remainder of the regular season — in a loss at Indiana. And folks thought: “Stick a fork in ‘em.”

• Won nine of the next 11 without the man considered their most indispensable player. And folks thought: “Hmmm.”

• Came home for a four-game stand and lost the first three games by a total of 39 points. And folks thought: “Same old Hawks.”

• Went to Orlando and won. And folks thought: “Nice win, but didn’t …

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From Cardinals to Giants, it’s the era of the accidental champ

Eli Manning celebrates the greatest month a 9-7 team ever had. (AP photo)

Eli celebrates the greatest month a 9-7 team ever had. (AP photo)

Every season ends with music blaring, confetti falling, a trophy awarded. It’s “One Shining Moment,” a pinnacle attained, a champion crowned. But more and more, we’re seeing trophies taken by teams that aren’t quite the epitome of excellence. We’ve entered the era of the accidental champ.

We consider the most recent winners in the six major American sports:

Connecticut, the 2010-11 NCAA basketball titlist: The Huskies finished in the bottom half of the Big East, which numbers 16 teams. They were 9-9 in regular-season conference play and entered the Big East tournament as the ninth seed. They won five games in that event, six in the NCAA tournament. They won more than half as many games (11) in the two postseason events as in the regular season (21).

Boston Bruins, the 2010-11 NHL titlist: They finished the regular season with 103 points, seventh-most in the league. They had the fewest points of any of the six …

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ESPN’s Law ranks the Braves’ farm system pretty darn low

That's Mike Minor in the middle. Keith Law wasn't high on him, either. (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

Keith Law wasn't so high on Mike Minor (middle), either. (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

Because the Braves take pride in their farm system, Keith Law’s latest appraisal isn’t apt to get the save-print-and-frame treatment at 755 Hank Aaron Drive. Writing for ESPN Insiders, Law ranks the Braves’ minor-leaguers as baseball’s 16th-best.

Law’s take on the Braves (link requires registration):

They have reaped as little from the draft the past two years as anyone, taking low-ceiling college guys with early picks, staying at or under MLB’s bonus recommendations and having less luck on the international market. It’s telling that the major question on every position-player prospect in their top 10 is whether he’ll hit.

This represents a sharp falloff. Law had the Braves third in his organizational rankings last winter. In 2010, he placed them fifth. (That was the year he tabbed Jason Heyward as the No. 1 overall prospect.) That said …

Over the past two seasons, the Braves have produced …

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Kennesaw State (3-22) is losing, but its coach isn’t conceding

Lewis Preston on the day he was introduced as KSU coach's. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

Lewis Preston on the day he was introduced as KSU coach's. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

When Lewis Preston delivered the first halftime speech of his life, his team trailed 41-8. And what, Preston is asked, did he say to the Kennesaw State Owls that November day?

“I said, ‘We’re going to go out here [meaning against Wisconsin in Madison] and continue to play, and we’re going to get better as a group no matter what the score is.’ ”

Three months later, Preston offers that oration, or a variation thereof, on a daily basis. His Owls are 3-22. They last won two days before Christmas. They’re 0-13 in the Atlantic Sun, and they’ve already been eliminated from inclusion in the conference tournament. Adding to the fun and frolic is this: The rookie head coach is working on a one-year contract.

But that last part is about to change, and not in the way you might think. Said Vaughn Williams, KSU’s athletic director: “We’re working on a multi-year contract. In a lot of ways, we’re improving …

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Hoops insider: A early line on Bradley’s 25th Bracket Fiasco

You've got to be strong with the ball to outmuscle Wisconsin. Jared Sullinger was. (AP photo)

You've got to be strong with the ball to outmuscle Wisconsin. Jared Sullinger was. (AP photo)

Hoops Hysterics

1.The silver anniversary — meaning the 25th year — of Bradley’s Bracket Fiasco is almost at hand. How about a silvery sliver of a guess as to who’s going to make the Final Four? I’d say Ohio State, Kentucky and Syracuse have stamped themselves as the three best teams, and unless one of them slips they won’t have to play each other in a regional. I’m guessing I’d pick at least two of those to reach New Orleans. As for the fourth team: I’ve been underwhelmed by North Carolina, and I won’t pick Kansas no matter how good Kansas is because I’ve been wrong so many times before. I liked Florida last season because of its guards and I like the Gators again for the same reason. If you’re looking for a unranked major of substance, I’d try West Virginia. For a mid-major, try Wichita State.

2. With big conference games at hand all across the basketball landscape, how do we …

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Year 1 hasn’t been easy, but Tech and BG are making strides

Brian Gregory, seen offering a friendly reminder. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

Brian Gregory offers a friendly reminder. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

GT (Georgia Tech) had just beaten BC (Boston College), and BG (Brian Gregory) was in a GM (good mood). His Yellow Jackets had won their first game in three weeks and their second since Christmas, and when you don’t do it often winning comes to seem a very big deal. “You need tangible evidence sometimes,” Gregory said, and Saturday’s modest victory offered a snippet.

Everyone realized this would be a difficult season: A team that went 13-18 and lost two of its three best players (Iman Shumpert and Brian Oliver) would shuttle between arenas under a new coach, and not just any new coach but a temperamental and tactical departure. But knowing what was coming didn’t make being 8-14 less painful.

“It’s hard on the guys,” Gregory said. “I’m cognizant of that. And it’s not just this year [Tech has been losing] — there’s a piling-on effect. And I know I’m a lot different than what they signed up for. Not to say …

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Can the Super Bowl really be Super if nobody plays defense?

This is basically what pro football has become: One guy slinging the ball. (AP photo)

This is basically what pro football has become: One guy slinging the ball. (AP photo)

Always before, old-school football would rise up in the Super Bowl and save the day for us codgers. The 1983 Washington Redskins set an NFL record with 541 points in the regular season, but managed only nine against the Raiders of Lester Hayes and Michael Haynes. The first installment of Buffalo’s hurry-up offense was grounded by the New York Giants, after which Bill Parcells exulted, “Power football, baby!” The St. Louis Rams and their Greatest Show on Turf were undone by Bill Belichick’s Patriots.

And now you’re saying: “The Super Bowl is Sunday. It still could happen.”

And here’s where this old-schooler concedes defeat and says: It won’t.

This champion will have the lowest-rated defense of any Super Bowl winner ever. The New England Patriots, still Belichick’s team, ranked 31st in the 32-team NFL. And the Giants, who are seen as the more traditional of the teams still standings, ranked …

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The Hawks were rolling, but on this night they rolled over

Joe Johnson gets that hemmed-in feeling against the Grizz. (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

Joe Johnson gets that hemmed-in feeling against the Grizz. (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

The Atlanta Hawks, as we know, are a strange crew. They lost Jamal Crawford, their fourth-best player, to free agency. They lost Al Horford, considered their one indispensable man, to a torn pectoral. Yet they entered Thursday’s game against Memphis tied with Chicago, Miami and Philadelphia for the fewest losses in the NBA East.

They were 7-4 with Horford; they’d gone 9-2 without him. You might be wondering just how. If you watched the Hawks lose to Memphis by 19 points after trailing by 30 Thursday night, you’re wondering still.

“We got out-toughed,” said coach Larry Drew. “That’s something I hadn’t seen in a while.”

Speaking before the game, Drew had said: “When you lose one of your big guys, one of two things will happen. Guys will start to feel sorry for themselves, or guys will elevate their play.”

For three weeks without Horford, the Hawks had elevated like Pogo Joe Caldwell, once a …

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