Fear the Jersey cuz the Rest is History

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Soooo James Young was at game 3 of the Brooklyn Nets vs. Toronto Rapters game with Rihanna. Which is curious and slightly ridiculous. The dude was in High School 10 months ago and now he’s watching NBA playoff games with a pop star wearing absurd floral pants that nobody noticed because of how ridiculous Rihanna’s popcorn munching friend looks in her leopard print jumper. Now, presumably Drake (known Kentucky fanboy, rapper, and Canadian) got him the tickets to see Canada’s great white hope attempt to win a playoff series, but thats not really what I’m interested in here. What I’m more interested in is James Young’s hat. Whats that? You hadn’t noticed? Here let me grab you a closer look.

Young Hat

Still need a closer look? Distracted by the fact that Rihanna is not wearing a bra for unknown reasons and probably shouldn’t have worn such a sheer white shirt to the game unless of course she was incredibly desperate for attention? Oh… wait a minute… BUT ANYWAY

hat alone

That, my friends, is a Chicago Blackhawks hat. Now, this wouldn’t be a problem except for the fact that James Young is from Flint, Michigan, just an hour north of Detroit. Moreover he recently claimed Detroit as his “home town,” during his April 24th interview on the KSR Radio show. He even went as far as to say he would love to get drafted this year by the Detroit Pistons (a distinct possibility as they’re on track to land the #8 overall pick in this year’s draft which is right about where James should land) whom he considers his hometown team. Now I realize you might not be a hockey fan, but if you were you’d know that this is an issue because Detroit happens to have its own hockey team. Moreover, this team ALSO happens to be one of the Original Six hockey teams of the NHL (just like Chicago) and in the last 30 years they’ve been one of the winningest teams in the NHL. And to top it all off, their biggest rival throughout history has been the Chicago Blackhawks. (Moreover, the cities of Detroit and Chicago consider themselves rivals in all 4 major sports and even play in the same divisions more often than not… so theres that Jimmy Buckets…)

Dear Mr. Young, this is approximately how Chicago and Detroit sports fans are supposed to treat each other. Yes? Yes. (Photo Credit - Dave Sandford)

Dear Mr. Young, this is approximately how Chicago and Detroit sports fans are supposed to treat each other. Yes? Yes. (Photo Credit – Dave Sandford)

Now, I don’t think any of this matters to James Young. I highly doubt this kid is a hockey fan, but then why would he wear a hat for ANY hockey team? The reason being, of course, that the Chicago Blackhawks are cool. Particularly this specific cast of Blackhawks. The Jonathon Toews / Patrick Kane Hawks are the perfect storm of cool, which lets them jump from hockey fans to casual fans and even non-hockey fans like Mr. Young there. They’re young, they’re exciting (their shootout antics are honestly spectacular, even to someone who hates them… also it helps that casual fans love shootouts and Chicago seems to find themselves in a lot of them) and they win (two Stanley Cups in the last 7 years with a chance to add another one this year and neither of those guys have hit their 27th birthday yet).

Patrick Kane is fairly successful at shootout fakeouts... dammit... (gif credit - SBNation.com)

Patrick Kane is fairly successful at shootout fakeouts… dammit… (gif credit – SBNation.com)

Now, this isn’t an uncommon occurrence in sports. Winners get popular and they attract bandwagoners like bears to honey. Whats particularly interesting about this situation to me, as a Detroit sports fan and a hockey fan, however, is that this bandwagon team used to be Detroit. Kids my age and a little older think of Detroit as the perpetual superpower of the NHL. Everyone remembers the rivalry with the Colorado Avalanche, Scotty Bownman behind the bench and the seamless transition to Mike Babcock, the Russian Five and Steve Yzerman the golden boy. They remember the “Old Guard versus New Generation” battles between the Datsyuk and Zetterberg Wings versus Sydney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin’s Penguins. But there are two issues with this line of thinking. The first, is the fact that Detroit WASN’T always a winner. In fact the Wings had one of the most tortured droughts of any Original Six team, lasting 4 decades from the 50s to the 90s. Nobody remembers that before drafting Steve Yzerman the Red Wings were derisively called (even by their own fans) the Dead Wings. They were terrible. Everything changed once Yzerman and the Russians showed up, and the legend of the Red Wings as perpetual juggernauts began. That’s the first issue anyway. The second issue, is that this era is of dominance has been dead on gone for 5 years.

That 2008 Stanley Cup ride was the end of an era for the Detroit Red Wings (Photo Credit - Romain Blanquart)

That 2008 Stanley Cup ride was the end of an era for the Detroit Red Wings (Photo Credit – Romain Blanquart)

In both 2008 and 2009 the Detroit Red Wings (the Old Guard) met the Pittsburgh Penguins (the new face of the NHL) in the Stanley Cup finals. In 2008 Detroit won in six, getting Mike Babcock his first championship as coach and allowing him to step out of Bowman’s shadow at last. In 2009, Detroit got robbed in 7 after leading the series 3-2. The Old Guard had finally fallen and the much awaited era of Sydney Crosby had finally begun. And Detroit’s last great shot at a title ended.

Sid the Kid was primed for a decade of dominance unseen since the reign of Gretsky, until concussions and Blackhawks got in his way (Photo Credit - Shaun Best)

Sid the Kid was primed for a decade of dominance unseen since the reign of Gretsky, until concussions and Blackhawks got in his way (Photo Credit – Shaun Best)

That was supposed to be Pittsburgh’s chance to finally come out as the league’s new superpower. They had the best player in the league, he was young, they had torrents of young talent surrounding him and enough veteran pieces to make them title contenders moving into the future. The Penguins would be the new Red Wings. They would be the team bandwagoners and casual fans hopped on to. Right? Wrong. The Blackhawks cut them off too. Crosby had a couple concussions and the Kane / Toews Blackhawks flew out of left field to become the new face of the NHL.

Ladies and gentlemen the new, prepubescent face of the NHL! (Photo Credit - Gregg Segal)

Ladies and gentlemen the new, prepubescent face of the NHL! (Photo Credit – Gregg Segal)

Everyone seems to consider the Red Wings immortals, but they’re not. They’re old. Moreover, the “team on the rise” that was supposed to dethrone them even found themselves toppled by a newer, younger, more exciting model. Detroit is two hockey generations removed from their days of dominance. They’re not the Old Guard anymore, they’re just old. Last year in the playoffs, however, those old guys led those “next generation” “dominant” Blackhawks 3-1 after losing game one of their second round series. They had 3 shots to knock their rivals out of the playoffs. What happend? The Blackhawks won three straight and booted Detroit. Jimmy Howard (Detroit’s Goalkeeper) played the best playoff series of his entire life from game 1 to game 7, and it still wasn’t enough (in fact he was man of the match for Detroit in every game except game 6 when Damien Brunner, another young Detroit up and comer, took the honors.). There was a fleeting glimpse of hope that the old dogs had one last run in them, but they were snuffed out by the new generation. Moreover, the following offseason brought more roster turnover which, rather than making Detroit younger, cost them one of their up and coming youngsters, and they got even older.

(Photo Credit - Tony Ding)

I do good?! I score goal puck?! Yes Hodor… yes you scored… good job… (Photo Credit – Tony Ding)

Damien Brunner was a lone bright spot in terms of future Detroit stars for me last season, but salary cap woes sent him packing for New Jersey (Photo Credit - Bruce Bennett)

Damien Brunner was a lone bright spot in terms of future Detroit stars for me last season, but salary cap woes sent him packing for New Jersey (Photo Credit – Bruce Bennett)

Letting Damein Brunner leave for New Jersey was a bad sign. Back in the old days it was DETROIT who pirated other teams stars. They even stole Chris Chelios, Chicago native and lifelong Blackhawks player and fan, from Chicago (their biggest rival historically and at the time). Chelios couldn’t get a cup with his hometown Blackhawks but he sure as hell got one in Detroit. That was the mystic of Detroit. Like the Miami Heat of today stars would flock in to grab a title on their way out the door. No more. Its not all bad though.

(Photo Credit - Bruce Bennett)

Chelios never got to hoist the cup until he threw on that beautiful red and white sweater. (Photo Credit – Bruce Bennett)

I was born in March of 1990. In April of 1990 the Detroit Red Wings missed the playoffs. That is the only time in my entire lifetime that Detroit has missed the playoffs. I was 2 months old. This year looked like it would finally end the streak, but in an April 5th shootout loss to their ephemeral rivals the Crosby-led Penguins, Detroit clinched its 23rd consecutive trip to the playoffs. Then, astoundingly they won game one IN Boston against perhaps the best team in hockey right now. Fear the jersey, right? The old dogs still have something left! Wrong. They lost the next 4 games including two in Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.

(Photo Credit - Michael Dwyer)

(Photo Credit – Michael Dwyer)

All things considered though I’m happy. This team wasn’t even supposed to make the playoffs. That would have been the first time I can remember (obviously… 2 months old last time) that they weren’t in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Instead they gritted it out and forced their way in, and even gave us one last taste of victory before bowing out. Sure I get frustrated every year when Detroit let’s a young player like Brunner go and replaces him with an old former great like Alfredsson. I loved having Alfredsson on the team. He’s always been one of my favorites to watch in Ottawa and I was sincerly sympathetic to the way his team pushed him out the door, but I just don’t like bringing these guys in at the expense of our youth. The door, in my opinion, has closed, but its not that far from reopening. Guys like Tomas Tatar, Justin Abdelkader, and Brendan Smith are young, talented, and could form the core of the next great Detroit team. Hell, Jimmy Howard is only 30 and Goalies play till their 40. Moreover, while guys like Bertuzzi and Alfredsson are closer to the end, Datsyuk and Zetterberg, Franzen, and Kronwall still have 3-4 great seasons of hockey left in them to bridge the gap. Detroit will be fine, and if everything goes well that playoff streak will keep on ticking.

Tomas Tatar not only has a badass name, but he can skate and score, and I can't wait to watch him develop into a centerpiece player for the Wings. (Photo Credit - Paul Sancya)

Tomas Tatar not only has a badass name, but he can skate and score, and I can’t wait to watch him develop into a centerpiece player for the Wings. (Photo Credit – Paul Sancya)

However, noone should be fooled by that streak. The Detroit Leviathan has been gone since Sydney Crosby put an arrow through its heart in 2009. Detroit isn’t dominant on the ice and they’re not cool off of it anymore. The new monster is Chicago. St. Louis (another up and coming young team) found that out the hard way in their first round series when, in spite of being the superior team all season, they got stomped in 6 games by Chicago. And if you don’t believe me, or the trail of bodies the Blackhawks leave in their wake every April and May, just ask James Young and Rihanna. They’re clearly the go to sources here. When in doubt, follow the bandwagon. It worked for those 90s Red Wing fans.

rihanna and james after game

Brotherly Love and the NBA Draft

(Photo Credit - Jamie Squire)

(Photo Credit – Jamie Squire)

The NBA is a tough place to land a job, and an even tougher place to hang on to a job.  As such, any little bit helps when you’re trying to stick around, and trying to make yourself look marketable in an increasingly competitive workplace. For some guys this stuff is simple. Its physical. A guy like Hasheem Thabeet has proven himself to be a stiff who just can’t compete at the NBA level in spite of his college pedigree. And yet? He’s on his 4th team. Four- different-teams-have seen this guy play and in spite of the fact that three of them blindfolded him and abandoned him in an alley to get him away from their team (I may be taking creative license here) a fourth team [the Oklahoma City Thunder] decided he still deserved another chance. Why is this? Because he’s 7′ 3″ and the NBA craves size like a duck craves bread crumbs.

However, your unique, marketable asset doesn’t need to be physical. The most readily apparent example of this in recent NBA history is the circus that was Linsanity.

LinsanityNY

Yes, that’s right… Jeremy Lin’s meteoric rise to basketball infamy in the purported “Mecca of Basketball,” Madison Square Garden, was so big it bumped a dictator, 2 of the remaining members of Bush’s Axis of Evil, Apple and its former frontman Steve Jobs off the cover of Time magazine. Now, on one hand this isn’t surprising at all. Jeremy Lin is a Taiwanese American, and as such is a member of an extremely fast growing demographic in the US. Moreover up until his early 20s he appeared to be following the stereotypical path of many Asian Americans… Smart kid, sprinkles in extracurriculars (in his case basketball) to make his college app competitive, goes to an Ivy League school (Harvard) and BOOM you’re well on your way to success in life. Except Lin’s path WASN’T this generic path. He went to Harvard on a basketball scholarship, and evidently had anything but the typical Asian-American college kid’s demeanor. He became a lightning rod for the Asian American community, especially young males hoping to break away from stereotypes plaguing the community. The kid walked, talked, and acted like he was born and raised in the hood. He had absorbed a lot of the components of “basketball culture” that exist in the US today, in spite of the fact that his demographic supposedly clashed with this culture. So this guy could definitely mobilize the ever growing and already massive Asian American community in the United States, and transplant this audience into the NBA world.

Perhaps more importantly, however, was the fact that he also energized the Chinese NBA fan community abroad. China LOVES the NBA and the NBA loves China’s money even more. However, after Yao Ming’s retirement the marketing aspects of the relationship took a step back. Enter Jeremy Lin. Sure he’s an American, but as any Asian American who has spent a lot of time in Asia will tell you, a lot of Asian’s accept anyone who “looks” Asian as native on site. This can actually be a problem as native Chinese or Japanese will get really frustrated when their Asian-American counterparts aren’t fluent in the language [Whereas caucasian Americans will be given more slack] BUT ANYWAY there was a marketing and fandom vacuum back in China, the NBA’s largest expanding market, and Jeremy Lin filled the gap perfectly.

Add up both these factors, PLUS the fact that Linsanity was occurring in New York City, and you have a marketing leviathan. Moreover, it should be no surprise to anyone that when the Knicks’ neurotic owner cut ties with Lin at the end of the season [out of pure pettiness] Houston (former team of Yao Ming, and therefore the most popular NBA team in China) brought Lin in to reap the PR benefits.

(Photo Credit - Andy Gary)

(Photo Credit – Andy Gary)

However, the more interesting part of this story is the question of Jeremy Lin’s talent. Jeremy Lin is simply an undersized shooting guard who has to play point guard because of his size. All this in spite of the fact that he can’t really run the point. He’s a scorer, not a distributor, and that’s fine. That’s part of what made Linsanity so exciting. It was his galaxy sized testicles with some of the big shots he would take [and make] against allegedly superior players.

However, anyone who watches basketball is aware that a guy can go on a hot streak. Usually that means within a single game, but there’s no reason a guy can’t get hot for a week, a month, whatever length of time. Jeremy Lin is an amazing story, but as far as the NBA talent metrics are concerned? The guy probably hovers right around average. On nights where he’s off he is atrocious and can single-handedly sink his team. On nights where he’s on he can single-handedly win the game like you saw above. But you could probably find 5,000 guys to give you what Lin gives you on the basketball court. A lot of times, in the NBA, the talent level is just so high and the number of roster spots is so limited (only 450 guys can be on NBA rosters at any given time. 30 teams, 15 spots per team… that is an incredibly small number for any career. Think about your job? How many people do that? I guarantee its not capped at 450.) that if you’re not an elite player you simply have to do something special off the court to earn your time on it.

This is what I’ve been thinking about in regards to Aaron Harrison. The BBN has been absolutely obsessed with the Harrison twins’ decision to turn pro or not this year. This issue has been particularly complicated because these guys are bothers, they are twins, and they are so close that they feel the need to make these decisions together. Now, I definitely don’t think that’s a bad thing, but it makes this issue  more muddled than it needs to be. If Andrew and Aaron weren’t twins, I think there would be no question that Andrew Harrison would turn pro and Aaron would come back. Andrew’s “unique aspect” that he would bring to the NBA would be his size. His abilities as a point guard definitely need work, but he’s young and that’s to be expected. However, there are very few 6’5″ point guards in the NBA. That size could be invaluable to a team on defense and it gives Andrew an advantage over any opposing point guard attempting to defend him.

(Photo Credit - Clay Jackson)

(Photo Credit – Clay Jackson)

Aaron though? The pro-basketball world is littered with 6’5″ shooting guards. Remember those 5,000 guys who can do exactly what Jeremy Lin does? Well those same 5,000 can do exactly what Aaron does on the court, and a team wouldn’t need to use a draft pick to get them. He would need to find a way to be like Lin, and market himself beyond his basketball skills. Aaron hit some insane circus shots for us. Aaron can DEFINITELY energize a fan base, and I think he can produce in the NBA at an adequate level. What I don’t know, however, is if this is enough to immediately energize marketing guys, and justify using him over the other, cheaper versions of him. I’m not sure he has one attribute which would get the dollar signs spinning in their eyes like Jeremy Lin does.

CalamityDollarSignEyes

With that in mind, if Aaron wasn’t Andrew’s brother it seems like he would definitely come back. That way he would have the option to learn how to play point guard in college (a difficult task, but at least POSSIBLE in college compared to the NBA where Rodney Stuckey will tell you its nearly impossible). If he were a point, he would have exactly the same value as Andrew and would be a lot more attractive to NBA teams. If he weren’t going to improve his on court stock and were going to try to leverage his marketability to earn a roster spot, the only thing I can really think of that he could use would be the fact that he has a twin in the league. For whatever reason fans get kind of excited about brothers and twins. The best example is the Morris twins in Phoenix right now, but people also get excited about the Lopez twins and the veritable cornucopia of basketball playing Plumlees, even though those guys don’t play on the same team. If there was some way that a team could bring in both Harrisons as a package deal they become immediately marketable. However, that would either mean one of them would need to drop to the second round (likely Aaron) where the contracts are not guaranteed, or it would mean they would need to go pro in different years (ie Andrew this year, Aaron next).

(Photo Credit - Clay Jackson)

(Photo Credit – Clay Jackson)

Either way it seems like the best thing for Aaron to do is to come back for one more year, maybe learn how to play point guard, or at the very least develop his skills more, leave the 2014 draft class (absolutely LOADED with guards … Dante Exum, Marcus Smart, Andrew Harrison, Tyler Ennis, Keith Appling, Gary Harris, Nik Stauskas… the list goes on for miles) and enter the 2015 class with far fewer guards, then he couldn’t help but improve his draft stock. This in turn would improve his chances of sticking in the league for a long time.

Now, this article is also a little too pessimistic. I think Aaron Harrison is REALLY good. Like 2 buzzer beating game winners good. And I think if he’s given a chance he’s going to stick in the NBA, and have a solid career. I simply worry about him getting a fair shot in the league. However, maybe he’s already done enough to make it happen. I know he’s certainly already done enough to be beloved by Kentucky fans forever, and I’m going to be happy for him and his brother no matter what decisions they make.

(Photo Credit - Andy Lyons)

(Photo Credit – Andy Lyons)

Naive Optimism: The Joys of Being a Detroit Lions Fan

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With the Free Agency period pretty much over and the NFL draft on the horizon I figured now might be the right time to recap the retooled Lions. Now, generally any Lions front office moves are a clinic in incompetence (still waiting on approval of that Matt Millen restraining order), but this year I’m feeling fairly confident (which certainly means something terrible is about to happen. Somebody go check on Calvin Johnson’s knees! Can we take out another insurance policy on them? Maybe protect them with 4 armed guards?) BUT IN ANY EVENT! Let’s take a look at the damage.

Things started out in typical Lions fashion. Ask any Lions fan what the team needed to prioritize after the Coach Schwartz firing and they would have said improve the secondary (which has needed repair for a decade but that doesn’t prevent the team from avoiding top level corners in the first round like the plague) and add a legitimate #2 threat alongside Calvin Johnson to make teams AT LEAST think twice about triple teaming him before ultimately decided “screw it… give him the triple team.”  So… of course… with these two concerns in mind what does Detroit do? They cut Safety Louis Delmas, their best secondary player who, by the way, WAS ONLY 26 YEARS OLD!!! Yes he had injury history, but he played all 16 games last season… so… this was smart… And then, in order to improve their receiving corps, they cut their #2 receiver Nate Burleson. Awesome. Now I know Nate injured himself last year as a result of his unhealthy love of pizza, but this does not seem like the way to build your receiving corps… unless they just thought everyone else on the field was getting in Calvin’s way…

In a lot of ways its like you never left Matt... (photo credit Matthew Emmons)

In a lot of ways its like you never left Matt… (photo credit Matthew Emmons)

That was all before Free Agency  had even started. Free Agency made things worse. One of my biggest fears with losing Coach Schwartz is that this dominant defensive line he built will take a huge step back. However, I tried to convince myself that, hey, we still have all the players from that unit so even without the coach we should still be able to produce on some similar same level. Buuuut as it turns out… Mayhew did not think those players were as important as I did… We lost defensive end Willie Young to division rival Chicago (which has shades of the Cliff Avril to Seattle loss… except worse because the Bears are in our division) and we also lost defensive end Israel Idonije to the Bears (less important loss, but its the principle that matters!) We also lost Shaun Hill to St. Louis which is fine until you realize that we replaced him by bringing back Dan Orlovsky.

HOWEVER thankfully that is where the bad news stops and I get to put on my Honolulu Blue Fan Goggles!!! Prepare yourselves for wreckless optimism! The first big move (and really the Lions only big free agency splash in recent memory) was signing Golden Tate away from the Superbowl champion Seattle Seahawks. At first I was a little unsure of this signing because Tate is undersized and he’s never really put up huge numbers in Seattle. However, *fan goggles* that was in an offense which ran the ball 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and only thought to pass as a 4th option. If Tate can put up 64 catches, 898 yards, and 5 TDs in that Seattle offense, there is absolutely no reason he shouldn’t be able to dwarf those numbers when playing next to the walking triple team that is Calvin Johnson. I’m thinking around 80 catches, 1,200 yards, and 8-9 TDs. Plus if Tate really can put up numbers like that its just gonna free up Calvin Johnson even more. Not only that, but Tate’s leaping ability makes up for his size so he can play #2 BUT if we decided to draft another receiver in this loaded WR draft, we could probably slide Tate into the slot. He clearly has no fear going over the middle. This is a major improvement over Nate (as much as I loved him).

No no no Patrick! That is not how we catch the ball!!

No no no Patrick! That is not how we catch the ball!!

However, the biggest positive about bringing in Tate is the fact that he never. drops. passes. Ever… Tate has only dropped 5 passes in the last three years combined. Last year alone the Lions dropped more balls than a Scarlett Johansen nude scene.

Evidently Scarlett finds my comments to be excessively lewd. My apologies.

Evidently Scarlett finds my comments to be excessively lewd. My apologies.

SO after filling their self made hole at receiver, the Lions had to address their self made hole at safety. They did so admirably in my opinion by signing James Ihedigbo, even if it is just a bandaid solution. Whereas Delmas was only 26 and Tate is only 25, Ihedigbo is already 30. This makes it clear that the Lions are in win now mode, and honestly they probably don’t have more than a 2-3 year window anyway. Calvin Johnson is 28 and Reggie Bush is 29 so this window isn’t as wide open as it used to be. Plus the Lions are already strapped for cash and pushing up against the salary cap, so within a couple years they’ll probably be in the same terrible problem the Panthers found them in this offseason where they need to cut valuable players year after year just to stay under the cap. So while it would have been nice to grab someone younger, Ihedigbo is still a serviceable player, he’s familiar with Coach Caldwell, and he’s generally stayed healthy throughout his career. Paired with Glover Quinn that should give us some solid leadership at the 2 safety positions. In this same vein, the Lions brought back Rashean Mathis (thank God) to bring some veteran experience to the worryingly young secondary led by the disappointing and troubled Chris Houston and Darius Slay (who will hopefully look 100% recovered this year from an injury late in his college career). They also brought in Cassius Vaughn for the same reason so hopefully between the talent of the young guys and the skill of the old guys we can duct tape together a pass defense.

Hey! Hey guys! Mr. Ford Jr. how you doin today? I really like those shoes!! Hey, you wouldn't fire me right?? Right??? (photo credit AP)

Hey! Hey guys! Mr. Ford Jr. how you doin today? I really like those shoes!! Hey, you wouldn’t fire me right?? Right???
(photo credit AP)

Those were really the 2 major stories in the Lions offseason moves. I also think its interesting to point out that our new OC grabbed a Fullback off of the Saints (his former team) to come with him and help implement his schemes. The Lions haven’t used a Fullback consistently for maybe 8 years as far as I can remember. So I don’t know if this is good or bad or if it will even change anything, but hey… thats new. They also brought back Joique Bell which is a great story (Michigan kid who went to Wayne State right in the city and has experience working with our new OC Joe Lombardi from his time in New Orleans along with Reggie Bush) but also a solid move. I love having a two back system to protect Reggie’s legs as much as possible. Moreover, the offensive line is looking young (outside of Raiola) and solid with the addition of Larry Warford from Kentucky last season, which is a Godsend for Stafford.

(Leon Halip - Getty Images)

(Leon Halip – Getty Images)

All things considered I’m cautiously optimistic about all these moves. The draft will hopefully address some other concerns. The Linebacking corps could use an influx of talent so I wouldn’t mind UCLA LB Anthony Barr. But I’ve also praying for a 1st round corner for the last 7 years so I would love to see Justin Gilbert as well. And like I mentioned earlier I wouldn’t mind drafting another receiver at 10. Maybe someone like Mike Evans if he’s still around, but if they end up trading up for Sammy Watkins I think thats a mistake, because they can’t afford to give up draft picks that they need to use to add talent other places.

(Kirby Lee - USA Today Sports)

(Kirby Lee – USA Today Sports)

Either way though, this is a competitive team. At its ceiling it could probably win 11 games but that would definitely require a slip from either Chicago or Green Bay within the division. There’s probably no chance that they win less than 8 games, but I think the team really needs to do whatever it takes to make it to the playoffs this year. You can’t continue to waste the greatest receiver of all time (shut up Jerry Rice). I know this team can’t win a Superbowl, but the core of Johnson, Stafford, Bush, and Suh should at least have won a playoff game by this point. We have a three year window to make some noise here so I’ll be polishing up the Honolulu Blue Goggles and preparing to go down with the ship.

The Death Defying Heroics of the US Men’s National Team

(Photo Credit - Ulf Dietrich)

(Photo Credit – Ulf Dietrich)

I absolutely love international sports. There are very few things in the world of sport that I love more than rooting for flags. The national anthems, the emotion from fans and players. The playing out of international relations in the war simulation environment that is sports. Its all beautiful. So other than maaaaybe the Olympics I’m not sure that there is any better sporting event than the FIFA World Cup. I realize for Americans the game itself can appear slow moving, but when you watch it in an international setting and at the highest level, and you let yourself get sucked in with the fans of these nations, and live and die with them for every moment… its just the best there is.

So I love watching the World Cup regardless of whether or not my team has a chance of winning the whole thing. However, this year’s event is different. With former German National Team (and American citizen) Jurgen Klinsmann at the helm, the US has became a team that made naive fans like myself really hope for a magical run. And then this happened.

Group of Death

(image from fifa.com)

The notorious Group of Death, and the US has a seat at the table. Germany, not only the #2 team in the world and perennial contender for top honors, but the former team of our coach. What a stomach punch to force Jurgen to compete against his former squad. Then Portugal who… y’know… they only have the reigning Player of the Year is all… no big deal…

… oh… okay maybe its a little bit of a big deal…

And then, of course, there is Ghana. Easy points right? Right. … Wait what? Whats that? Oh yeah… right… Ghana is the team that has knocked the US out of each of the last 2 World Cups. They’re a good team with great, top caliber athletes and not only should the US be afraid of them, but so should Germany and Portugal. They have the athletes to play with anyone in the world. Maybe not the skills and discipline but physically, they’re elite.

However, I don’t think USA Soccer fans need to completely lose heart before the tournament has even started.

The Group of Death, would not be the Group of Death if we weren’t in it. The same goes for Ghana. Two teams come out of every group, so while I’m sure the Germans and Portuguese would have preferred not starting the tournament playing each other, its not like that match should have kept either of them from getting out of the group stage. Then enter the United States and Ghana. Under Jurgen Klinsmann’s leadership the US has been pushed right to the cusp of international elite status. No really! Don’t laugh! Hey stop that! Look! We’re ranked #13 in the world right now!

USA 13 ranking

(image from fifa.com)

So I don’t think either Portugal or Germany are happy to see the US in their group, and that should give American soccer fans hope. Now, I also think both those nations are the true elite of international soccer so they’re definitely not afraid of us and they don’t expect to drop any points to us, let alone lose to us, but both are undeniably aware that the US can play with them and probably wouldn’t be surprised to see the US come out of the group (so long as it was in 2nd, behind them).

The path to the knockout round is definitely not easy for the US, but this is probably the best team the US has ever had. As upsetting as it can be for Jurgen and fans of American soccer to watch US players flood back to MLS from Europe (and thats probably a topic for another time) the fact remains that this is the best collection of talent US soccer has put together in my time as a fan.

Not only is Jurgen one of the best coaches to lead the US squad, but Michael Bradley has finally completed the transition for 'hard working coaches son' to a bonified star and perhaps the most talented, gritty player on this team. (Photo credit - ESPNFC.com)

Not only is Jurgen one of the best coaches to lead the US squad, but Michael Bradley has finally completed the transition for ‘hard working coaches son’ to a bonified star and perhaps the most talented, gritty player on this team. (Photo credit – ESPNFC.com)

The talent pipeline into US soccer looks absolutely fantastic, which has always been harder than it should be since the vast majority of the US’s top athletes are filtered into a myriad of other sports (football, basketball, baseball, etc) before they even consider soccer. However, the talent pipeline is undeniably improving and our play on the pitch proves that. Moreover, this is even before you consider the absolute coup engineered by Jurgen to convince Julian Green (son of a US serviceman) to pick the US over Germany for his international soccer-playing allegiance. Green is an elite up and coming player who plays for one of Europe’s top clubs (Bayern Munich) and securing him now means the US has locked up a player with the potential to be one of the best in the world. Green will be the anchor to at least 3 future US World Cup teams, and represents a sign that the US is serious about contending in the crucible of international soccer for years to come. Compare this kind of reckless optimism to the dejection in 2010, just before the World Cup, caused by the loss of Giuseppe Rossi (New Jersey born, but of Italian parents) and its hard to argue that things haven’t changed for the better with the United States Men’s National Team.

This skinny little man with his questionable choice in hair styles will be the future of US Soccer. (Photo - AP)

This skinny little man with his questionable choice in hair styles will be the future of US Soccer. (Photo – AP)

So in any event, we can’t lose heart since our team is among the best collections of talent the US has ever brought to the World Cup. Moreover, things aren’t all bad in facing our opponents. One particular problem with the US’s group is that it includes a trip to the dreaded Manaus. Everyone wanted to avoid the Amazonian venue this year because of the terrible weather conditions (heat and humidity), the added travel required to play there (the US will have to travel 9,000 miles just to play their 3 group stage matches) and the reportedly abysmal conditions of the (as yet unready?) venue itself. However, the beauty of being in a “Group” is that the 3 other teams have to do exactly the same thing. Yes this will be difficult and yes conditioning will be an issue, but its not insurmountable, and this trip is just as likely to derail one of our group mates as it is us.

(Photo credit - Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

(Photo credit – Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

As far as our opponents themselves, yes Ghana has twice knocked us out of the cup, but there is no reason this US team, which is more talented than either of the last two, can’t beat them. Its not like those two losses were blowouts (a 2-1 loss in Germany in 2006 which came off a penalty shot late in the first half and a 2-1 loss in South Africa in 2010 that came on a miraculous goal in extra time [93rd minute]). Both those losses could have swung our way given a little luck, but this time around, when the World Cup starts for the US on June 16th against that same Ghana squad, I think the US will be the more talented squad and that game is ours to lose. We need to win. Not just draw and get points. Three points in that game is a must, but its more than possible, and if we don’t manage to beat Ghana, I think everyone on the US Men’s National team will know they didn’t deserve to move on anyway. (Not that that will be a concern, 3-1 US over Ghana. Vengeance!!!!)

I don’t really have any idea how anyone stops Cristiano Ronaldo (reigning player of the year with Lionel Messi’s injury plagued season) who is so unbearably graceful on the pitch he’s like Tinkerbell out there (which sounds like it should be an insult until he absolutely dismantles your back line with his faery-like flittering and overall astoundingly nimble ways). Just ask Sweden how safe you feel when the King of the Faeries is on the pitch with you…

So against Portugal we definitely won’t have the most talented player on the field, but honestly, when we play elite teams we never have the best player on the field. Doesn’t mean we can’t or don’t win. Just means we’re in for an exciting ride. Portugal will likely lose to Germany in the first game, putting Germany at 3 points and Portugal at 0. All we need to do against Portugal in our second game (as long as we beat Ghana in the first game like we should) is draw. Grab one point to put us at four while Germany will likely beat Ghana (putting Germany at 6 and Ghana at 0) and we’ll end up sitting pretty at 2nd place in the group! [Germany 6, USA 4, Portugal 1, Ghana 0]

If things roll that way for us, our final game against Germany will be meaningless for them. They will have locked up a berth into the knockout rounds win or lose. Moreover, after playing a grueling travel schedule (same as the US) they might even want to rest some players. If Germany sits back and relaxes, giving us a chance to draw with them (a win would be amazing but we don’t need it) we’ll clinch the second spot in the group and a berth into the knockout rounds! (Portugal would only be able to get to 4 points with a win against Ghana leaving us free to sneak past them with 5 points like the victorious little ferrets we are!)

oberonaldo

Come Faery children! King Oberonaldo shall lead us in victory to the knockout round! (yes I lazily edit photos with mspaint… deal with it… this ain’t a professional operation we’re runnin’ here…)

I’m not saying any of this is particularly likely. Portugal and the Faery King Oberonaldo could easily beat Germany which would throw off the whole calculation. We could play terribly against Ghana and draw (essentially ending both teams’ chances of moving on). The real point though, is simply that there is a chance. This team has grown leaps and bounds since 2010. Even if we don’t make it to the knockout stages, this will still have been an incredibly impressive run and a necessary step toward true championship contention for the US on the world stage. However, I’d like to believe that the Group of Death will  just be one more proving ground for the US’s continued emergence on the international football scene. So prepare yourself Oberonaldo, you beautiful faery-man you. The US is on the rise.

Little Brother and the Frozen Four

(Photo credit, Elsa - Getty Images)

(Photo credit, Elsa – Getty Images)

So, over the weekend Union College of New York won their first men’s hockey championship and I presume their first championship in any sport since their colonial founding in 1795. Moreover, the Dutchmen did so by manhandling #1 overall seed and America’s hockey homeland Minnesota [much to my chagrin]. Minnesota looked sluggish and almost uninvested (save for a few moments of adrenaline fueled desperation where they showcased their superior skating and physicality) as Union punched them in the mouth time and time again. However, as is always the case for me personally at the Frozen Four, the real storyline was NDSU’s little brother, the UND [redacted]’s, and the national holiday that is their annual exit from the tournament.

(Photo credit Getty Images)

(Photo credit Getty Images)

This isn’t necessarily interesting. Rivals should hate each other. NDSU fans SHOULD be happy to see UND lose. However, the NDSU / UND relationship is a bit more unique than, say, the Kentucky – Louisville or UNC – Duke rivalries. NDSU is undeniably the Alpha to UND’s Beta in this relationship. Football, Basketball, Volleyball, Wrestling, Curling, Cup Stacking… you name it and NDSU has been and is better at it than UND. However, until the dawn of this Bison Sports renaissance that we’ve been living in since the Bison made the leap from D2 to D1, UND had the larger national profile in the region’s second biggest (behind football who is America’s sporting leviathan) sport. UND dominates on a national level in hockey. They have won 7 national titles since the 50s and are by all means a blue-blood of college hockey. They contend for titles every year and the NHL is littered with their former stars. This, in turn, inflates UND fans’ egos to Wonkan-blueberry esque levels.

"...You can't silence me! 7 national titles! Everyone knows hockey is the national sport! Our arena puts yours to shame!..."

“…You can’t silence me! 7 national titles! Everyone knows hockey is the national sport! Our arena puts yours to shame!…”

".. hey WAIT!!! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! YOU CAN'T SILENCE ME!!! PAY ATTENTION TO MEEEEeeee~~~"

“.. hey WAIT!!! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! YOU CAN’T SILENCE ME!!! PAY ATTENTION TO MEEEEeeee~~~”

Moreover, while I think UND fans can be incredibly insufferable, hating them isn’t as easy as it should be. Because North Dakota is such a small state and is generally off the national radar (unless the Cohen Brothers are churning out a new screenplay or someone is hoping to make a nobody lives here joke) I really want to band together and carry the State banner whenever  possible. UND has made this impossible though. And I’m not just talking about the fans, but the administartion. When NDSU went D1 they naturally needed a partner to make the move up with them. No conference would agree to travel to Fargo, North Dakota as a one of trip. NDSU needed a nearby partner to make in conference foes’ road trips more economically viable. Naturally, NDSU used logic and set aside animosity to ask UND to move up with them. UND refused, simply because they couldn’t stomach the idea of helping big brother NDSU do anything. They hoped to submarine NDSU’s efforts to help themselves, actively hurting their own school in process (we know it was a mistake to not go up with NDSU because UND DID go up to D1 a few years later on their own…) In any event NDSU ultimately paired with SDSU and USD, meaning UND’s attempt to cut off their nose to spite their face blew up in their now maimed face anyway. Well done guys…

But in any event the hatred goes really deep, and really prevents the state from banding together. Moreover, UND has always loved to cling to their hockey success, not just out of school pride, but as a way to anger NDSU fans. (Important to note here that NDSU hasn’t even had a hockey team for decades, presumably because they can’t compete with UND on this front… which ought to make UND fan’s giddy. However, that doesn’t stop NDSU from dominating them in every other sport of any consequence… I’m not bitter or anything though… wait a minute I need to cheer myself up quick)

Ohhhh yes... nothing makes me happier than sad UND hockey players (Photo credit Eric Hartline - USA Today Sports)

Ohhhh yes… nothing makes me happier than sad UND hockey players (Photo credit Eric Hartline – USA Today Sports)

Alrighty. So to wrap it up, UND has a much higher profile at the pinnacle of a major sport and has an immense presence in that sport. However, as much as I love it, hockey really isn’t a national sport in the United States.  Its huge in New England and the Upper Midwest, as well as many other pockets throughout the country, and despite Gary Bettman and the NHL’s best efforts its growing in popularity. But in large parts of the country its a running joke (Kentucky, for instance, where watching hockey is grounds for ridicule). And even though North Dakota is one of the states where hockey is loved, football is still bigger and NDSU’s recent three-peat puts UND’s embarrassment of a football team to shame. And heres where we come to the real heart of the matter. NDSU, the true big brother in this relationship, has finally established itself as such in my opinion. In the same year where NDSU capped off its Football 3-peat, hosted ESPN’s College gameday, and pulled off its first NCAA men’s basketball tournament run, UND got punched in the gut by their biggest (hockey) rival, losing on a miracle goal with 0.6 seconds on the clock (WHILE UND WAS ON THE POWERPLAY) which I will revel in for at least a decade… probably longer

NDSU’s renaissance continued with a flourish while UND’s counterpunch fell hilariously flat. Its good to have you back little brother. I hope you’re comfy where you are, because with a little luck you’ll stay there forever. But no matter what, we’ll always have this beautiful moment.

(credit gifsection.com)

(credit gifsection.com)

 

 

Living in a Gilded Age

(Kevin Jairaj USA TODAY Sports)

(Kevin Jairaj USA TODAY Sports)

First things first… I just wanted to say that I really wanted to prove the national media folks wrong with a title year from this crew. To take 7 freshmen and 2 sophomores (neither of whom were starting after the WCS injury) to a title would have emphatically ended the anti-Cal camp’s claim’s that Calipari’s approach cannot work. However, when I’m really honest with myself it becomes clear that these people will never see the truth no matter what Cal does, and I just need to learn and embrace that. Taking this crew to the championship game… and in truth simply getting them to the final four, should be enough to disprove every one of the Cal haters’ arguments.  This method works, every coach in the country would take these players if they could get them, and its not just Cal who does this anyway *cough cough* your beloved angel Coach K *cough cough*  But Cal is simply the best recruiter in the nation and the best at what he does. So it makes it easy for national media hacks [Charles Pierce, Pat Forde, Dan Dakich, Pete Thamel, Dana O’Neil] to single him and his players out as a scourge, devastating college basketball like the Four Horsemen of the apocalypse. Somehow they take innocent kids who are just making sensible, logical career decisions (Bill Gates dropped out of college and became a billionaire, I graduated and spend all my time writing blogs that noone except my girlfriend and her mom reads… sooooo…) and somehow claim that Cal is exploiting these kids like some kind of pimp. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Cal HELPS these kids do what they want to do, and they all love him for it.

(Mark Zerof, CatsPause.com)

(Mark Zerof, CatsPause.com)

BUT ANYWAY not only did Cal and his “one and done devils” pull off one of the most spectacular turn arounds and tournament runs I’ve ever seen, they did it by knocking off “Do It The Right Way” Golden Boys left and right. First and foremost was that undefeated Wichita State team, but they also knocked off Wisconsin just to make it to the title game. This strategy works, and when its on its game its much better than “doing it the right way” Also, how is this still a debate for the national media hacks? Didn’t Cal put this to bed in 2012 when HE WON A TITLE WITH FRESHMEN?!?! I will never begin to understand how these people can hold a grudge so firmly that they are willing to publicly embarrass themselves with these anti-Cal arguments. The Cal hate is wrong. It makes no sense and is completely illogical. If people admit they are being irrational and emotional when they direct their anger and ire toward Calipari, I’ll accept it. Theres no way I can change an irrational person’s mind. But when they claim to be using reason and common sense… I become infuriated. So after this run, I’m going to have to come to grips with the fact that what I believe is right regardless of what these irrational morons think.

This season ended in disappointment, but was in no way a failure. (Darrell Bird, CatsPause.com)

This season ended in disappointment, but was in no way a failure.The NCAA tournament is incredibly random. If it weren’t we would have four 1 seeds in the final four every year. A run to the title game is as impressive for this team as finishing it off with a win would have been. (Darrell Bird, CatsPause.com)

What happens when you bring NBA talent to the college level? You get success. Thats true for coaches (Kevin Ollie) and players (this entire Kentucky squad). They’re not evil because they’re better at what they’re trying to do, and the people who try to say that are the real ones at fault. Just because you bring NBA talent to a college level doesn’t make you a monster. Cal isn’t trying to spit in the face of the game, he’s just trying to help kids reach their dreams, while they help him reach his and the Kentucky fans as a collective reach ours. He’s not malicious and those kids are not demons. No more than Kevin Ollie (who will be in the NBA in the next couple years) is. Just being better than your peers is not evil. I really will never understand why people don’t accept this viewpoint.

For Kentucky fans, then, I just want to say that we’re living in a Golden Age of Kentucky basketball. I as a fan and maybe all Kentucky fans in general need to sit back and enjoy this. This has already been said ad naseum, but in 5 years at Kentucky we have seen 1 title, 2 title game appearances, 3 final fours, and an elite 8. Regardless of whether or not everyone wants to admit it, Cal and UK have been a perfect match and this has been a stellar run. I hope we can have another 5 years with identical results, even if that means another NIT loss (it won’t). Championships are hard to come by. Theres a reason why in 70 years of college basketball noone has won more than 11 titles. What Cal did in 5 would make him the greatest of all time if stretched over his entire career.

(Andy Lyons)

(Andy Lyons)

This is really important to remember because Kentucky fans get really upset with the one and done era too. They feel cheated that they don’t get to become truly attached to the players. For a lot of them this makes them lash out and become overly critical of players (this year it was the Harrisons in particular, most unfairly. Last year it was Archie Goodwin, the year before that it was Marquis Teague) They want a whole 4 year career out of these kids in the few months they get to see them play. This is unfair, but its the way things are going to be as long as we’re bringing the nation’s best talent to Kentucky (and as long as the NBA refuses to change their rule) so I just hope that Kentucky fans (most of whom already do this but there are the outliers) can take a step back, focus on what an amazing ride these guys just took us on, and what an amazing ride Cal has had us on for the last 5 years. I hope we can sit back, come together as a community to ignore the national hatred, and simply savor whatever time we have left with Cal and this era of complete dominance by Kentucky.

Christening a Power

(Ronald Martinez)

Ronald Martinez

I’ll get to what this championship game meant for my Kentucky Wildcats in the next few posts, but I think for me the biggest story starts with UConn. Being a UK fan (The Greatest Tradition in the History of College Basketball / We Don’t Play College Basketball We Are College Basketball etc. etc.) I get really particular (read:insane) about classifying programs as truly elite and granting blue blood status (I’m allowed to do this because I have a blog and I can yell really loud). But anyway I’ve been particularly hard on UConn in this sense for a number of reasons. First off their fans on large are among the worst in college basketball. This is because in large part they have all the arrogance with none of the support. They do not travel to support their team (The last 2 final fours UConn has been to, the NCAA has even had to give away UCONN STUDENT TICKETS to local Texas school just to fill the seats. In 2011 this meant giving away UConn’s student tickets to Rice and Houston students and in 2014 TCU received the honors. You can tell me that people with jobs and responsibilities can’t get off work to fly to Texas and miss a day or 2 of work… but the students? C’mon… if anyone is gonna support the team it NEEDS to be the students.).

(Star-Telegram, Max Faulkner)

(Star-Telegram, Max Faulkner)

They only come out of the woodwork when the team is good, and they can’t even do that right. All in all I just don’t feel like the large majority of their “fans” are really invested in the team, and even after this win this will not change. UConn fans en masse will continue to be terrible. That does not, however, mean that they don’t have some real fans. They do have some excellent real support such as Aaron Torres of aarontorres-sports.com, but overall they do not have the mass support I consider imperative to be a true basketball power. Now, in truth very few schools proved the kind of support I consider truly necessary (one of which is of course Kentucky, but also Wichita State, Utah State and Kansas) and there are far more schools which look like powers that have exactly the same kind of terrible support as UConn (Florida is maybe the worst here, but there’s a veritable cornucopia of them), so I’m willing to let this slide for the time being in hopes that over time the good UConn fans can grow at the expense of the terrible ones.

Another one of my complaints in separating new-bloods from blue-bloods in college basketball is whether the school owes its success to the program, or the coach. UCLA is a begrudging blue-blood in my book, but it can’t be denied that they’ve never been the same without Wooden. They’re a pittance of a shadow of what they were with Wooden. Similarly, Syracuse is only what they are because of Boeheim, and they will take a major step backwards when he finally hangs it up (although Ollie’s success should give Orange fans hope). Duke has major history, but never had real success until Coach K arrived, and have surpassed anything that they previously were under his leadership. Schools like Kentucky (8 titles under 5 different coaches over 7 decades of success) North Carolina (5 titles under 3 coaches over 7 decades of success) and Kansas (3 titles under 3 coaches over 7 decades of success) have sustained success. Yes they all have their legendary coaches, but the program rises above all. For UConn? They were largely a creation of the arrogant egomaniac Jim Calhoun. In fact, the jackass was doing interviews after Monday’s championship as if he was still the coach. He can’t leave Kevin Ollie alone even after Ollie pulled off perhaps the most stunning run of all of UConn’s four titles. However, the fact remains that Ollie DID win this title.

(Jessica Hill, AP)

(Jessica Hill, AP)

I thought UConn would take a big step back after Calhoun The Tyrant left, but Kevin Ollie proved me wrong (which if it weren’t against my team I would have loved. Kevin Ollie is a great guy, fun to watch, and along with Fred Hoiberg will be in the NBA in a couple years which is a shame for College basketball). Moreover, UConn now has a quarter century of success to build on, and they have dominated the last 15 years of college basketball unlike any other program within that timespan (4 titles, 2 coaches, 15 years, but the programs success really started with that 90-91 season when they earned a #1 seed). So as far as sustained success and success belonging to a program rather than a man, UConn hits the criteria.

Also important to point out is the simple fact that UConn broke into hallowed ground with the 4th title. A sizeable handful of schools have 2 titles and that doesn’t really give them blue-blood status (does anyone think San Francisco and Oklahoma A&M [now Oklahoma State] are blue bloods?). Having three titles means a lot more as it puts you in the conversation with Kansas and Louisville but 4? Now you’re tied with Coach K and Duke, and you’re only 1 title behind UNC and the decrepit but formerly great Indiana Hoosiers. If this were Cincinnati, Wichita, Washington, or Tennessee I would have no problem proclaiming them a blue blood, so I can’t really deny UConn that status even if they have atrocious fans.

(Doug Pensinger, Getty Images)

(Doug Pensinger, Getty Images)

Also important is the UConn just plays good basketball. This is the same program that put guys like Ray Allen, Rip Hamilton, Caron Butler, and a bevy of other players into the NBA (Shabazz Napier, who I really learned to like sure to join them). They recruit and produce great talent. And whether this is arrogance or not I don’t care, but it means a lot to me that UConn had to go through Kentucky (the bluest of the blue bloods) for each of its last two titles (once in the final four to take on a Butler team that everyone knew couldn’t win, and now in the championship game). The same way it mattered that Arizona and Lute Olson, who had a lot of success for along time, weren’t really elite until 1997 when they went through a much better Kentucky team for the title, beating out Kentucky for a title can make you elite. (Also, just to add to this, they went through Duke in 1999 which certainly helps the case).

Moreover, as a side note I like that UConn is 4-1 in final four games. It shows they aren’t just on some crazy 25 year hot streak, but that they’ve had some pain and had to earn their status. I don’t know that I was really a Kentucky fan until I had to suffer through the West Virginia loss in 2010 and the UConn loss in 2011. If everything has always been handed to you and you haven’t paid for it with suffering, you don’t really deserve it (this is another one of my major problems with UConn supporters, but you already know how I feel about this). Furthermore, its not just losses, but you have to get SO CLOSE to victory, have it torn away, and then come right back the next year without losing heart. That’s a real fan.

Most UConn supports don’t deserve what they’ve been given and they won’t develop into a top tier fan base anytime in the near future. But even if they don’t, you can’t deny that UConn just stamped their ticket as an elite program. I’d like to see their success last longer than 25 years if they’re ever going to aspire to enter the conversation with programs like Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina, and Duke, but they’re definitely pushing in the right direction. They are a burgeoning blue blood and a (shockingly) still rising elite power.