Despite the worst two conference championship games in recent memory (although I at least didn’t repeat the debacle known as my divisional playoff predictions), there was a lot going on in the world of sports this past weekend, particularly on the basketball court:
1) AFC Championship Game: Beard Bowl is a Big Ben Beatdown – The Steelers are the gold standard of where the Bears want to be. Pittsburgh has a stifling defense coupled with a powerful running game, much like the Bears did this past season. However, as Rick Morrissey aptly pointed out in today’s Chicago Tribune, the biggest reason why the Steelers are heading to Motown while the Bears are staying home is that Ben Roethlisberger can do a whole lot more than just “manage” a game – he brings a ton to the quarterback position in terms of passing accuracy, mobility, and poise. Plus, Bill Cowher has completely shocked everyone by turning his QB loose and stretching the field out with aggressive passing plays over the last two games. The Steelers have been completely in rythm on offense.
At the same time, Jesus H. Unabomber, er, I mean Jake Plummer finally showed his true colors and imploded as predicted here and elsewhere. The interception he threw five seconds after the Broncos got decent field position for the first time all day was about as predictable as Jason going on a killing spree in a Friday the 13th movie. Plummer’s fantastic beard couldn’t hide the fact that he just isn’t a guy you can depend on in crunch time.
2) NFC Championship Game: Holmgren Climbs Hasselback Mountain – Watching this game was essentially 3 hours of “what if” questions going through my mind, as in, “What if the Bears had double-teamed Steve Smith?” The Panthers offense was clueless yesterday with the Seahawks draping two or more defenders over Smith the entire game. Troy Aikman appropriately called the Bears “arrogant” for believing that they could stick to single coverage on Smith last week. The Seahawks weren’t stupid and cocky on defense regarding the Panther wide receiver and made the needed adjustments, which is why Seattle is headed to their first Super Bowl this season while we here in Chicago continue to buy books about the ’85 Bears.
Meanwhile, Matt Hasselback has come a long way from his “We want the ball and we’re going to score” comment against the Packers after the overtime coinflip in a 2004 playoff game at Lambeau. This guy looks like a Super Bowl quarterback. Mike Holmgren has probably cemented his standing as the best teacher of quarterbacks in history, with Joe Montana, Steve Young, Brett Favre, and now Hasselback under his belt.
3) Two More Weeks??? – Other than the fact that the games themselves were terrible this year, the worst thing about conference championship weekend is that we all have to wait two friggin’ weeks until the Super Bowl. The Super Bowl should actually feature a pretty good matchup this year, but I don’t know how many human-interest stories can be milked from the Pittsburgh – Seattle pairing for two whole weeks.
4) Here Comes McBride – Richard McBride, it’s a pleasure to see you again. Hitting four three-pointers was a very good thing on Saturday. It was an even better thing to see the Illini notch their first Big Ten road victory, even if it was against Northwestern. In addition to McBride, Dee Brown and James Augustine got back on track in the victory. The only thing that troubles me is that Illinois didn’t completely shut the door on the Wildcats in the second half. Northwestern never really got back into the game, but it’s disheartening to see a 20-plus point lead dwindle to 10-points in a matter of minutes. We still need to improve on closing out games if we want to win another Big Ten title and make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
5) DePaul is Done – Unfortunately, this is probably going to be the last time I write about DePaul in the near future since the Blue Demons have gone in the past week from an NCAA Tournament bubble team to a club that is unlikely to even make the Big East Conference Tournament. After losing to Providence on Saturday, DePaul has dropped to 1-5 in Big East play and 8-9 overall. With the toughest games of the season remaining on their schedule (i.e. Georgetown, Villanova, at St. John’s, at Louisville, and Syracuse) the Blue Demons are pretty much out of it when it comes to any type of postseason play. DePaul freshman forward Wilson Chandler looks like a stud, but the team is at least a year away from making the NCAA Tournament.
6) Kobe’s 81 – On the one hand, Kobe Bryant’s 81-point performance on Sunday evening might be the greatest individual performance in a regular season NBA game ever. It is certainly a whole lot tougher for a perimeter player such as Kobe to drop that many points compared to a big man like Wilt Chamberlain (whose size compared to the rest of the league was even more of a factor in the NBA of the ’60s).
On the other hand, Kobe’s career seems to be the inverse of Michael Jordan’s and that’s a very bad thing for the Lakers. The highest individual numbers for Jordan came in the first few seasons of his career – it wasn’t until he figured out that he needed to get the rest of his team involved that he started to win championships. Kobe found great success as a team player at the beginning of his career in winning three rings with the Lakers. Now, as Kobe gets older, he seems to be taking more shots and getting higher individual marks even though his team gets worse.
So, as amazing as Kobe’s non-Wilt record 81-point game was last night, the trajectory of his basketball career is headed in the completely wrong direction.