Sunday, March 2, 2008

Working the Refs

The WCAC final also featured Bishop O'Connell's boys basketball coach, Joe Wootten, tirelessly complaining to the referees. In addition to the fabulous play on the court, Wootten's antics were singularly impressive. While Wootten's indefatigable whining did not change of the outcome of the game, one hopes that someone in the SRO crowd at Bender made note of his performance and informed the Clinton campaign.

After sitting through SNL's shameless suck up to the disingenuous ramblings of campaign strategists who have failed miserably in order to watch two solid live performances by Jeff Tweedy (an Obama supporter), I am even more puzzled by why HRC continues to waste her time and the dignity of her public service by whining about the inequity of everything. As Maureen Dowd usefully muses this morning, how does this strategy help demonstrate how HRC will be ready on day one... is it Presidential to complain that you are being asked to answer questions first (and subsequently volunteer to answer open questions before your opponent has a chance to)? What kind of president would go before the UN and whine that the international press isn't looking hard enough into Ahmadinejad's relations with slum lords in Tehran?

What is more offensive is the cacophonous voices, outside of SNL's utter irrelevance, that have added their two cents to this bizarre tactic and, in the process, willingly sacrifice credibility. On Saturday morning, the New York Times ran an article by Jacques Steinberg that used HRC's campaign's absurd complaints as an excuse to take shots at Obama. Later in the day, the Associated Press got to distribute a piece entitled "Media Expert Decries Campaign Coverage" based on the "analysis" released by HRC partisan Walter Shorenstein (he's already maxed out on direct financial contributions to the primary campaign). Regardless of how much I read or listen to the melodic voice of Howard Wolfson, I don't understand the point or the basis for the whining.

On February 11, we went to the Comcast Center for the third time in three months. Even after witnessing the highly entertaining Illini game and the historic American University upset, the Obama rally at Comcast was the most enjoyable time I've had in the stadium. It wasn't getting caught up in the persona or delivery of a (Chicago Bears supporting) charismatic Senator from my home state that impacted me... it was the time spent waiting for the candidate, which presented the opportunity to meet people that were enthusiastic about becoming reengaged in the country's political process. While an inane piece in today's Washington Post focused on the pop star concert quality of Senator Obama's reception, few focused on the enthusiasm people in the stadium felt for something very droll: the choice of a nominee for President of the United States. And while Mark Penn and Howard Wolfson bitterly complain to anyone within earshot that the press isn't being fair, the mainstream press derides Obama's supporters -- particularly those who pack into arenas or stand outside filled arenas -- as naive ingenues held rapturously captive by the even more melodic sound of Obama's cadence. The thousands that seem to thoroughly enjoy the opportunity to see the Senator deliver the same canned speech, going to great lengths (at the University, the line out of Comcast seemed to stretch from the Center to Byrd Stadium) to do so, have had their motivations, and intelligence, questioned in ways that weren't even applied to Promise Keeper rallies. Should Obama's supporters, then, bury newspaper editors and cable news networks with letters complaining about the lack of similarly critical or dismissive pieces about Clinton's supporters? What exactly would or could be achieved?

An attempt at an objective review of the strategy employed by the HRC campaign seems to indicate that what really is at work here is the eternal principle of CYA: it is not anyone on the campaign's fault that the Clinton dynasty got prematurely derailed. Instead, the media's thinly veiled (by fabric woven with gossamer thread) hatred for HRC doomed the campaign from the very beginning (leaving aside the fact that the candidate was widely viewed as the frontrunner for the nomination up until voting started). Penn can continue to collect millions of dollars touting the great work he did adapting Matt Groening for Tony Blair's "last successful campaign" and Wolfson can go back to a private practice of blaming other people for the problems of his less well-publicized clients.

Actually, Wootten would be a poor addition for the HRC campaign team. After O'Connell lost the championship game despite the coach's pleading with the referees, I doubt that he told his kids that they would have won had it not been for the bumbling of the men in stripes. Instead, I would imagine that Wootten told his players that they played well and that they just ran into a buzzsaw, a formidable opponent that just played better over the course of the game. I would imagine that Wootten was gracious, advised his players to take pride in what they had achieved, and that he thanked them for their incredible effort. As such, he's probably got the wrong temperament for politics, which is too bad as the campaign probably needs all the volunteers it can get.

We are...

After back to back road losses at Louisville and Syracuse in February, the Hoyas started to be derided as overrated and overexposed. Convincing wins over Providence, Cinci, and St. John's has done little to quell the growing criticism of the team by college hoops pundits. But, frankly, these shots have had, I believe, little impact on the enjoyment Georgetown's fans derive from following this squad. Through forty minutes of their last home game against the Johnnies, Gtown let St. John and Anthony Mason Jr. hang around before taking over to close out the game. In the interim, DaJuan Summers went through a ridiculous stretch that included a missed one-handed breakaway slam (an opportunity created by his flash into a passing lane for a steal), an immediate benching, a subsequent missed slam dunk (this time with two hands), and then, even more absurdly, a missed layup at point blank range that Hibbert followed up by putting in the basket. While 0 for 3 at the rim, the fans at the Verizon Center stayed fully behind Summers and the team (sans students, as, once again, many more Gtown students could not spare the time to attend the second to last home game of the season), and they repaid the faith -- Summers, while 0 for 3 at the rim was 5 for 8 from behind the three-point arc. Fast forward to today's game, against a tough Marquette team in Milwaukee, and Georgetown once again evidenced why DC has gotten behind this team. The Hoyas' sloppy passing led to a remarkable 20 turnovers, but as Clark Kellogg and Gus Johnson observed, it is hard to imagine a team less phased by a prolonged run of poor play. Against Marquette, this team overcame a horrible game by Jessie Sapp, poor offensive decision making by Summers, and an injury that seemed to reduce the effectiveness of a blossoming Austin Freeman. It was Patrick Ewing Jr.'s best game as a Hoya, proving that PE2 has the ability to change the course of game, building on what he did for the team last year in its impressive win over Pitt at home. Ewing's defense -- he effectively shut down James and made sure that the Golden Eagles did not get a shot off with the chance to win the game at the end of overtime -- passing, and rebounding sparked the impressive win.

Come tournament time, much will be said about controversial calls that helped Georgetown win games against Villanova, Marquette and West Virginia, but none of the calls at issue in those three games, to my mind, come close to what DeMarcus Nelson was allowed to get away with on Ben McCauley when Coach K was gifted his 800th win earlier in the day. Nevertheless, I hope this is the case. I hope that most of what Gtown has done this season is overlooked and that "fluke" wins and the road losses to Memphis, Pitt, Louisville and Syracuse are emphasized by folks commenting on the tourney. This team can lose focus and its guard play can be shaky (Wallace, who has been the rock of the backcourt, has faltered of late), but I can't imagine any team in the country that would want to match up against them in an elimination game.

To that end, the final regular season game against Louisville is huge. First, it provides the opportunity for Gtown to make up for a game they let get away from them in Louisville. Second, it would close out an amazing undefeated record at home. Third, it would continue the remarkable progression of JTIII's teams... from 16 and 11 in his initial 2004-2005 season, to 19 and 8 in 2005-2006, and 23 and 6 in 2006-2007. Should the Hoyas close out with a win, they'll finish 25 and 4 heading into the Big East tournament, capping an incredible season.

And the guard play looks like it will continue to improve even after the departures of Wallace as a graduating senior (how strange that comment is for someone who lives within walking distance of the Comcast Center -- indeed, the Hoyas have four graduating seniors who will play their last home games at the Verizon Center next Saturday ... Wallace, Hibbert, Ewing, and the ridiculously under appreciated Tyler Crawford) (I kid, as Gist, Osby, and McAlpin will all hopefully graduate from UMd this year). Much has been made of Georgetown's recruiting class for 2008-2009, featuring two highly touted 6' 10" interior players (Greg Monroe and Baltimore's Henry Sims) and another big forward, Chris Braswell. But that class also features a pretty good guard named Jason Clark that will join the backcourt with Freeman, Wright, Rivers, and Sapp. After Clark's heroics (in part) keyed a satisfying win over DeMatha, I went to watch him in person at Bender Arena as Bishop O'Connell took on Gonzaga in the WCAC finals last Monday. It made for one of the more enjoyable sporting events that I've witnessed in the past couple of years. The level of basketball played by these two teams was amazing -- Clark impressed, both in his offensive prowess and his fearless defense at the top of the key and inside the paint (he is very, very good) as did his teammate, sophomore guard Kendall Marshall... who has already committed to UNC (?). But both Clark and Marshall were overshadowed by a very disciplined Gonzaga team and a remarkable run by Harvard-bound senior (?) Max Kenyi, who at one point made twelve consecutive shots (of varying degrees of difficulty, the most shocking of which was a baseline dribble drive that resulted in an explosive hammer dunk) against O'Connell and effectively buried the upstarts. Kenyi's second-half performance (for the game he was 13 for 16 and scored 30 points) eclipsed a great game from Clark (who finished the game with 26 points and willed O'Connell back into the game).

Without doubt, the losses of Hibbert, PE2 and captains Wallace and Crawford will hurt the Hoyas in a conference that will, unbelievably, be even stronger next season. The question, however, is, how long will they hurt? Another soft non-conference schedule may give the Hoyas time to fully integrate their four very talented freshmen into the rotation and with the return of Sapp, Summers, Rivers, Macklin, Freeman, and Wright (hopefully healthy), Gtown may even be deeper than it was this year.