(Originally written on 4/4/08 for FSU's The Bottom Line here)
-- After a tumultuous basketball season, Indiana University seems to have landed on its feet with the recent hiring of Tom Crean. With Crean now on board to lead the Hoosiers, the basketball team and its fans will now try to forget the brief yet embarrassing era of head coach Kelvin Sampson, who was fired earlier in the season for violating telephone recruiting restrictions. In 1999, Crean left his associate head coaching position at Michigan State to assume the head coaching position at Marquette. Taking over an average team in the Conference USA, Crean had his work cut out for him. After two consecutive 15-14 seasons, Crean guided Marquette to a 26-7 record in 2001-2002 and its first NCAA Tournament berth since 1997. The very next season, Crean, with the help of a young superstar-in-the-making named Dwayne Wade, led Marquette to a Conference USA regular season title and its first Final Four appearance in over 25 years. Since that season, Marquette has finished 19-12, 19-12, 20-11, and 24-10, with the latest strong season coming to an end with a heartbreaking second round loss to Stanford on a last-second shot. Crean was a class act at Marquette and a coach who turned an average team into a national power in the Conference USA and eventually the Big East. Hoosier fans could not have asked for a better choice to lead the program.
-- Two very different playoff races are taking place in the NBA’s Eastern and Western Conferences. In the East, three teams are currently tied for fifth at 38-37: Washington, Toronto, and Philadelphia. Atlanta is eighth at 35-40, and two other teams at 31-44, New Jersey and Indiana, are on the outside looking in and are just about eliminated. But in the West, three teams, Dallas (47-28), Denver (46-29), and Golden State (45-30) are all battling for the seventh and eighth playoff spots. During the final stretch of the season, one of those teams will probably not make the playoffs, which may not seem fair considering Atlanta’s sub-.500 record may be enough to get them in. Any of the top nine teams in the West could have a legitimate chance to make noise in the playoffs. For example, the Houston Rockets recently completed a 22-game win streak, the second-longest streak in NBA history, but at this very moment, the Rockets are in sixth place in the West. Such a run has not been enough to even keep them in the top four in the West. Be prepared for a bunch of fans (probably from the team that does not get in) and NBA analysts to start complaining about how the NBA needs a drastic plan to re-seed teams to make sure the best teams get in. Every so often a conference or league gets stacked with talented teams. Very good teams in the MLB and the NFL get left out of the playoffs all the time, but usually, the teams are to blame, not the league or playoff format. Last year, the Browns had the chance to solidify its playoff hopes over the Bengals in Week 16 -- they lost, and the Titans grabbed the sixth and final spot. The Mets also blew a significant lead over the Phillies last year in the NL East by finishing 6-13 in the last 19 games in September. It’s always easy to point to the other league and say that one team is better than another, but if a team folds when the pressure is on, they don’t deserve to be in the playoffs anyway.
-- A few new rules changes have been adopted for the upcoming NFL season: field goals are now reviewable by instant replay, defensive players (one on each team) can wear radios in their helmets, and five-yard facemask penalties no longer exist. Arguably, the biggest rule change is the elimination of the force-out rule, meaning that receivers must now get two feet in bounds for a pass to be ruled a completion. Before, if receivers were pushed out of bounds by defenders and could not get two feet in bounds, referees were supposed to make judgment calls about whether or not the receiver could have gotten two feet in if he was not pushed in the first place. The rule does eliminate a lot of guessing by referees, but it also shrinks the field and may cause scoring to slightly dip next season.
-- Sometimes analysts should really stop overreacting and overanalyzing certain things. Case and point: before the MLB season even started, analysts on ESPN were arguing about whether the Detroit Tigers would have the greatest offense of all time. Now, after that the Tigers had a poor showing by getting swept in a three-game series by the Kansas City Royals, some of the same analysts are already jumping off of the proverbial bandwagon. Maybe they should just stop with all of the crazy projections and at least let a few weeks pass by before making other bold statements. I seriously doubt that the Tigers, let alone anyone else, would seriously consider their season over after just three games.