Greetings folks! Let's talk about the Toronto Raptors Playoff match up in a few weeks. Gotcha. Happy April Fool's Day! Hopefully, next year it's a reality.
1. NCAA FINAL FOUR: Down to the Final Four next weekend. You can catch all the action next Saturday on TSN, should be fun. Russ Smith has been brilliant for Louisville. Their team plays harder than any team I've seen in the past few years. Talented--Yes but their biggest talent is their incredible heart. Wichita State has impressed me with its efficiency on both offense and defense. Cleanthony Early & Malcolm Armstead have gotten it done for coach Gregg Marshall. Syracuse continues to get it done with their 2-3 Zone. Ask both Indiana and Marquette, who shot a combined 27% against it and an amazing 16% from three-point range against it.
Michael Carter Williams is coming into his own and The 'Cuse has the combination of experience and talent to get it done. Michigan is a wonderful story, incredible comeback on Friday vs. Kansas on Friday night. Trey Burke is the real deal as their lead guard. He's got a terrific feel for how to run his team. Wonderful performance by Canadian, Nik Stauskas with six three's vs. Florida. Coach John Beilein has done a masterful job turning around that program. I'm pumped up for our final 2 days of NCAA coverage next Saturday & Monday. Enjoy!
2. JONAS VALANCIUNAS (Raptors): In an otherwise dreary finish to the Raptors season, it's nice to see this guy get major minutes and prove himself each night. He's settling into a nice rhythm offensively and will begin to figure it out in time defensively as he continues to learn by trial and error. He's getting more confident in himself and is demanding the ball more with his back to the basket. He's a very efficient face up shooter and gives you honest effort on the glass.
Definitely part of the solution, fellow Rookie, Terrence Ross has been wildly erratic down the stretch yet it's important for the organization to keep throwing him out there each night to get tested and for them to be able to evaluate what they think he'll be able to give them as a 2nd year player next year. Hopefully, Quincy Acy is able to get a look here in the final nine games. Important plans need to be made for the future and you need to have a good sense of what your 3 Rookies can give you in the future to determine what your overall organization needs might be.
3. MANU GINOBILI (Spurs): Injury Bug strikes again and concern that he might miss final few weeks of regular season is an issue. Bottom line, as good as this team is (2nd Best Winning % in NBA) the margin of error for this team is slim in a conference as good as the West, without Ginobili. They need all hands on deck for the entire Playoffs to make one final push for another title. He's the guy who makes the big shots and gives you those major defining hustle and defensive plays that push a game in your favor. Need to have him April 20th and on.
4. FLIP SAUNDERS: Reports out of Minnesota are that the University of Minnesota alum has turned down the head coaching job at his Alma Mater after the termination of Tubby Smith. I see Saunders returning to the NBA as either a GM or Coach--if not, I don't think he would have turned down this job. Maybe the Minnesota Timberwolves?
5. STEVE ALFORD (UCLA): Agrees to a 10 Year Contract at New Mexico and then jumps to the Bruins. As storied a program as this is--success is defined by National Championships and nothing else. Ask Ben Howland. I think folks in Westwood need a reality check--Yes it's a terrific job yet it's one of 30 great jobs in NCAA Hoops. The days of John Wooden, Lew Alcindor & Bill Walton and complete domination are over. Hopefully, for his sake--he's able to get this thing on stable ground and win consistently and make runs at the Final Four and Championships--if not, he'll meet the same fate of many others that have followed John Wooden.