Monday, December 8, 2008

Monday Schadenfreude

Monday's Starting Five

1. Al Harrington. He became a Knick on Sunday. At least, he became as much of a Knick as someone who likely won't ever reach 200 games in a Knicks uniform can become. The Knicks jumped all over the Pistons in the first half of yesterday's matinee at the Garden (more coming on this later), even threatening to push the margin to an embarrassing 30 points. But, the Pistons came back. Of course they did. So, it was a six point game with less than a minute and a half to play. The Knicks had missed nine shots and committed seven turnovers already in the fourth quarter (while making five field goals) when David Lee sent a dart out to Harrington beyond the arc. He caught. And he shot. He didn't pass the ball, like he did in the final moment of the loss in Atlanta on Friday night. He caught. He shot. And he scored. The Knicks lead was back up to 9 points. The Pistons immediately called a time out. And Harrington, who went to high school in nearby Elizabeth, NJ, was pounding his chest and pointing to his heart as the adulation of the Garden crowd swept over him. It was a moment. He was home. And, he was a Knick.

2. The Bowl Championship Series. They're not here because I believe in the system. Or because I'm against a playoff, and think that collegiate football is best played off the field. Nope, the BCS makes the starting five because they are the biggest winners of the weekend. They avoided the scenarios that would have exposed them worst. They lived to screw over another team in another year. Which, at this point, has to be the biggest concern of the heads of the major football conferences. Survival. Things started to break the way of the BCS overlords on Friday night when Buffalo shocked previously undefeated Ball State in the MAC championship game. With No. 12 Ball State knocked from the ranks of the unbeaten (which still includes Utah and Boise State) there was one less team with a logical demand for a spot in a would-be playoff. And, the argument that these mid-major teams (like Boise State in 2006) could knock off a BCS-conference powerhouse was further undermined. In my opinion, nothing is more shameful about the current BCS setup more than the fact that it precludes most teams (like Utah, Boise State, et. al) from EVER winning a national championship, regardless of whether they win every game they play. In the minds of most, however, the thing that reveals the BCS to be some sort of NCAA boondoggle is when a team from the SEC or the Big 12 gets slighted. And, had Missouri managed to upset Oklahoma this weekend in the Big 12 Championship Game (with Florida also handing Alabama its first loss) then we would have been in for a quite an interesting week of garment rending and teeth gnashing. Because, if Chase Daniels and engineered a Tigers win then we would end up with all the Texas fans fired up again and asserting their being a better side than Oklahoma (who they did beat during the regular season). Texas fans would then want to play for the National Championship even though they had not even reached the Big 12 Conference Championship. And, those folks would have a valid claim. However, Alabama fans would counter, saying that they are more deserving than Texas of a berth in the National Championship Game because they reached a conference championship game (which Texas didn't) and have the best lost, having lost in a mostly close contest to Florida, the team with undisputed path to the national title. And that would be true. To further complicate matters, Texas's signature victory over the Sooners would seem far less impressive after OK had lost to Mizzou. Do you follow? Are you coming down the rabbit-hole? So, if Missouri could have pulled the upset then we would be staring down the barrel of a Florida/Alabama rematch (with the rematch scenario being one of the most damaging for the BCS ranking system, I think) or allowing a Texas team to play for the national championship when they didn't even reach their own conference championship (being the most damaging for the notion that the regular season matters, I think). But that didn't happen. And, the BCS lives on. Awesome.

3. Chad Pennington. He must already feel the lack of feeling in his fingers. He must be anticipating the phantom weight of the football in numbed hands, like holding a stone through styrofoam mittens, more than schoolchildren are looking forward to Christmas. He must know that everything that has happened to him in the past few months has been building towards Dec. 28th. That Sunday he'll be leading the Miami Dolphins out onto a frozen football field in East Rutherford, NJ to play the Jets. Pennington has the Dolphins (with mostly the same roster that went 1-15 last season) tied atop the AFC East with the Jets and the Pats. As of now, the Pats are on the outside looking in thanks to the tie-breakers, the Jets are losers of two on the bounce and the Fins are hot, having won six of their last seven. If these AFC East foes do their part then Chad will return to the swamp in the final week of the regular season with the division title on the line. He'll be able to propel the Dolphins into the postseason at the expense of the team that jettisoned him after years of loyal service. And, on a cold day with everything on the line, that victory will probably go to the team which avoids the crucial mistakes. Which QB is less likely to make that mistake Favre or Pennington?

4. Tim Tebow & the Florida Gators. After watching the Gators roll to a title in 2006 and reveling in the domination of Tebow last season, college football fans collectively decided to look elsewhere this season. The Big 12 shootouts were the story in 2008. Nick Saban was the story in 2008. The epic ineptitude of Charlie Weis was the story in 2008. Until Saturday, when Tim Tebow engineered two scoring drives to open the fourth quarter of the SEC Championship Game and made sure that all eyes on college football were on the Gators. Florida trailed 17-20 heading into the final period but won 31-20 to secure a place in the National Championship Game.

5. The Indiana Pacers. Unlike, everyone else on today's list they didn't actually win anything this weekend. In fact, they lost twice. On Friday to Cleveland. And on Sunday to Boston. But, I think there is something positive brewing in Indianapolis. They took the Celtics (who, unlike the Pistons, seem to never take a day off) to overtime yesterday before falling short and they beat the Lakers in OT not too long ago. Currently the only club in the NBA with wins over the Lakers and Celtics, the Pacers sport an ugly 7-13 record but are worth keeping an eye on. They've got some fight to them (that only seems to manifest when they play the league's best) and they've played thus far without leading-scorer Mike Dunleavy.