Random Rumblings: April 4th

I had breakfast with a good friend yesterday and he asked me how I was doing. The answer, as has been typical as of late, is "the job hunt's going slowly, but I'm really good." Those are both true. The job hunt in a super competitive industry that hasn't had a lot of movement is going slowly, but despite that I'm largely enjoying life and making the most of the free time.

As the conversation continued and he asked what I've been doing, I told him about what I've done to stay busy, including writing and podcasting. I followed that up with my usual "I really should be doing that more." My friend, who is also in the business, agreed. So I am. Starting today, there will be a post here of some type five days per week. Sometimes it'll be a short blurb. Sometimes it'll be a podcast. Sometimes it'll be a longer piece.

Unless there is one topic that deserves its own, stand-alone column, I'm going to return to the form I used when I was job-less in 2013. I'm going to just "empty the notebook." Whatever topics are on my mind, I'll comment on. Some will be the ones everyone is talking about. Some will be a little more off the beaten path. Off we go, with today's topics being on the hardwood.

The Cuse is No Longer Loose

Syracuse's miracle run through the NCAA tournament ended Saturday night when they were soundly beaten by an unquestionably better North Carolina squad. UNC is the perfect tournament team. They've got an incredible mix of talent and experience with seniors Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson leading the way. They're both incredibly talented, know how to play and are tremendous competitors.

Syracuse isn't quite there yet. They have some talent, but the best of it is young outside of senior Michael Gbinije, who carried the Orange offensively through much of the year. Malachi Richardson and Tyler Lydon weren't quite ready for the moment as freshmen. Trevor Cooney actually played one of his best games in a Syracuse uniform in the season finale, but never quite lived up to what many thought he was capable of offensively in his time at SU. The talent was too young. The experience wasn't quite at the level of UNC's talent.

That said, this run was so enjoyable because of just that. It was an imperfect team who was completely maxing out what they were capable of. While the average fan may not understand the x's and o's of execution, everyone can appreciate effort. Even the most clueless of sports observers can go "that guy is playing really hard." While yes, Cooney didn't pan out as an offensive force like many of us thought he might, he played extraordinarily hard every minute and clearly put in a lot of work based on his growth over five years on campus into a well-rounded player. The same can be said for DaJuan Coleman. The five-star prospect arrived on campus as a hometown hero from nearby Jamesville-Dewitt, but has fought injury and never been the impact player he was slated to be. He's still busted his ass to become the best he can be, and hopefully with a fifth year next year after finishing this season healthy, can be a big time producer.

Jim Boeheim says Gbinije grew more as a player in his time than any player he's ever coached. Watching that growth has been a joy as a fan. I think he's got potential, because of his size, to be a pro. He's shown he can improve and will have to extend his range to the NBA three, but he's worth a second round pick in June.

Malachi Richardson's NBA path is a different story. He's not ready yet, but likely will be after next year. He was wildly inconsistent all year and that includes his signature game of the NCAA Tournament. He started 0-7 against Virginia before erupting in the second half to lead SU to the Final Four. Richardson should follow the Dion Waiters model and wait one more year. He'll be the featured option next season and should average between 15-20 ppg. With Syracuse poised to be a very good team again next year, Richardson could wind up in the lottery.

It won't surprise me if he tests the draft waters. The NCAA changed their rules in January to allow prospects to attend the NBA combine, feel out where they'll be drafted and still return to school so long that they don't hire an agent. Richardson could, and probably should, go but he'll find he's at best a borderline first round pick. One more year should do the trick.

Is UConn's good, good?

Boston columnist Dan Shaughnessy has spouted many questionable opinions over the years, and his most recent is being called that and worse by many. Shaughnessy said that the UConn women's continued dominance is bad for women's basketball. While his initial method, a tweet that seemed to wreak of sexism, wasn't a great look, his column after expounded and brought up legitimate questions that are worth exploring.

I think the answer to the question, "Is UConn's dominance good for women's basketball?" is "yes and no." In the short-term, Shaughnessy is right for a lot of fans. As he says, competition is the essence of sports and UConn has no current competition. After beating Oregon State on Sunday night, they've won 121 of 122 games, all of them by double figures. They're the three-time defending champions and only mighty Syracuse (go Orange!) stands in their way of number four. I love Coach Q and company, but my school will be finishing in second place.

Because of that dominance, there are fans who won't watch. However there are also fans that will. I enjoy greatness immensely and watching UConn pick a part an opponent is actually enjoyable. They play basketball at an extraordinarily high level. At that point you're not watching for the competition. You're watching for the excellence.

So while the short-term concerns Shaughnessy has are at least worth considering, there's no question this is good for the game long-term. There's a generation of girls watching this team, striving to be like Breanna Stewart and Moriah Jefferson. The level of skill and creativity is on the rise in the women's game and a lot of this can be credited back to what Geno Auriemma and UConn have done. Auriemma runs NBA sets with his players and let's those players, like Stewart, Dianna Taurasi and Maya Moore showcase their skills. That will lead to more talent in the women's game and the sport will be better for it.

The bar UConn is setting will raise the sport as a whole. It already has in many ways. While UConn sits alone at the top, the other three teams in the Final Four were there for the first time. That's a great sign of the growing talent, and as more elite talent becomes available, the gap on UConn will close. Frankly, it'll close next year anyway when Stewart (who is in the discussion for best player UConn's ever had, which means she's one of the best ever anywhere) and Jefferson graduate.

Shaughnessy's initial tweet may have been very hot-takey, but his concerns were at least worth asking a few questions. Hopefully that helps answer them.

Coming Up Tomorrow

If there's a logical thing that I know I'll be writing about tomorrow, I'll preview it at the end of the blog. I'm headed to Opening Day in Baltimore, which should be a blast. Unless it rains. Baseball does pomp and circumstance better than any other sport, so I'm looking forward to the festivities.

Of course the national championship game will also be discussed. Villanova is playing outstanding basketball, but I'm taking North Carolina. That and more tomorrow!