Last week Phil Jackson admitted he was leaning towards retirement. While it's very possible he will change his mind (assuming the money is there), it's reasonable for us to speculate about who could replace him. Here's a look at the candidates to coach the Lakers:
Brian Shaw, Lakers assistant coach- After Kurt Rambis left for Minnesota, most believed that Shaw was the heir apparent to Jackson. That may change now that the Lakers assistant is reportedly the top candidate to be named the head coach in Cleveland. The LA Times reported that Shaw was "likely to be named" the coach of the Cavaliers, while ESPN reported that no offer has been made yet.
Shaw's reported willingness to take the Cavaliers job (before we know where Lebron James will sign) means that either Jackson will keep coaching or that the Lakers would rather hire someone else. Personally, I think Shaw would be excellent coach. An exceptionally smart player on the Lakers 2000-02 title teams, Shaw has been a well-regarded assistant and long been viewed as head coaching material. He provides continuity for the Lakers, allowing them to keep running the same system that has worked so well for the past two years. He's not a big name, and he won't excite the fan base, but there's no reason why the Lakers can't three-peat with Shaw running the show.
Byron Scott, former Nets and Hornets Head Coach- An Inglewood native, a former Laker, and a one-time mentor to Kobe Bryant, there are many people in and outside the organization who would like to see Scott become the next Lakers coach. As a head coach in New Jersey, Scott took the lowly Nets to the NBA Finals twice (albeit in a really weak Eastern Conference). As a head coach in New Orleans, Scott boosted the Hornets from obscurity to premier status for a brief period of time.
While most people I speak with are thrilled about the possibility of Scott coming to the Lakers, I'm not so sure. Scott will likely bring an entirely new system to the Lakers, having run a hybrid Princeton Offense in his previous NBA stops. There's nothing wrong with the system, but this team has won two titles in a row playing the Triangle, and Kobe has run it for more than a decade. Also, Scott's stints in New Jersey and New Orleans both ended badly. He feuded with Jason Kidd in New Jersey, leading him to get fired after a 22-20 start in the season after a second straight finals appearance. His Hornets players complained he was too much of a hard-ass and basically gave up on him in the 2009 playoffs. Maybe he'd have a different mentality with a veteran Lakers team. But I think there are other candidates who make more sense.
Kurt Rambis, Timberwolves Head Coach- If this were college football, then there would be a decent chance that Rambis could effectively become the next Lane Kiffin, leaving after one season for his dream job. But the NBA works differently. I think Phil Jackson would love for his former top assistant to replace him, and I would bet that Mitch Kupchak has looked into the possibility of prying Rambis away from Minnesota. I'm sure Rambis would secretly love to leave the Timberwolves for the Lakers. But I highly doubt that Wolves GM David Kahn would let Rambis out of his contract, having just started a lengthy and deliberate rebuilding process.
Jim Cleamons, Lakers assistant coach- There was a time when Cleamons was viewed as the heir apparent to Jackson. Serving as a top assistant with the 1990s Chicago Bulls teams, Cleamons took a highly desirable Dallas Mavericks job that offered a young core of Jason Kidd, Jamal Mashburn, Jim Jackson, and Michael Finley. But Cleamons' one-plus year stint was so disastrous that it seemed to permanently derail any future head coaching ambitions he may have had.
Still, Cleamons became Jackson's top assistant in his first Laker tenure and filled in as head coach on several occasions, even winning a playoff game against the Spurs in 2003. Cleamons may not be a popular choice, and he may not be a big name hire, but he does provide some short-term stability, allowing the team to continue with the Triangle Offense.
Mike Krzyzewski, Duke Head Coach- A long-time favorite of Kobe Bryant, Coach K was offered the job back in 2004 and memorably declined. Krzyzewski claims he gets his fix of coaching NBA players during the Olympics and other international play, but after winning a fourth national title at Duke, the 63-year old knows this might be his final shot at coaching an NBA team. Most college coaches have failed in the NBA, but most college coaches also get stuck with horrible NBA jobs. The Lakers job would be a challenge for Krzyzewski, but it offers him a chance to win.
I think there's a better chance Krzyzewski would accept a Lakers offer this time around, but I would be surprised if an offer is coming. With a championship team, the Lakers probably don't want to experiment by having a college coach learn on the job, even if it is the legendary Coach K.
Roy Williams, North Carolina Head Coach- Mitch Kupchak once said that Williams turned down the Lakers job three times, calling it a Los Angeles record. Jerry West offered Williams the Lakers head coaching position in 1994, while he was still at Kansas. Williams declined and the job went to Del Harris. Like Krzyzewski, Williams was also offered the job in 2004 before it went to Rudy Tomjanovich. He also declined consideration in 2005 when Phil Jackson was eventually re-hired. In total, Williams claims to have turned down 12 NBA offers. This time could be different though.
Long known as the best coach never to win a national title, Williams now has won two. He has nothing left to prove in college, and at age 59, he could be looking for a new challenge with a last shot at the NBA. Kupchak is a North Carolina alum and would probably secretly prefer Williams over anyone else. It's not his Kupchak's decision alone though, and it seems unlikely that the Lakers would hire a college coach when anything less than a title next year will be considered a disappointment. Still, I guarantee you that Williams will get a call gauging his interest.
Larry Brown, Bobcats Head Coach- Like Williams, Brown is also a North Carolina alum, and that has to appeal to Kupchak. Brown's wife is from LA, he owns a beach house in Malibu, and it's well-known that he loves Southern California. Brown never lasts anywhere particularly long, but the Lakers championship window may not be open very long either.
Having taken the woeful Charlotte Bobcats to its first playoff appearance this past year, Brown has already been peering around at other jobs. New owner Michael Jordan (a fellow Tar Heel) has said he'd let Brown out of his contract, but doing so would probably anger the game's greatest player to no end. Not sure if Brown wants to risk that relationship. But Brown is one of the best X's and O's coaches in the NBA, and he'd probably be a great fit in LA where he could go for one last title. He'd also be the first man to coach the Lakers, the Clippers, and UCLA.
Jeff Van Gundy, former Knicks and Rockets Head Coach- Supposedly, both Kobe Bryant and Mitch Kupchak really like Van Gundy. If the timing had been different, he might very well have become the Lakers coach back in 2004. His name also came up for the Lakers job back in 1999 while he was feuding with Knicks ownership. I must confess to being a Van Gundy fan, and I believe he has one of the brightest minds in the game. That being said, I'm not sure if he'd fit in with the Lakers at this point in time. His defensive style might not work with the current personnel, and I don't know if his personality is right for this particular Laker team. I definitely think he could be a successful woach somewhere else though.
Prediction- Given the reported move by Brian Shaw, it appears he's either taken himself out of the running, or he was never in it to begin with. If you believe sports talk radio and internet message boards, then this would appear to be Byron Scott's job to lose. But I would bet that the Lakers will make a run at Kurt Rambis first, and may even try for Brown or Williams before making Scott an offer.
UPDATE- Byron Scott has reportedly accepted the head coaching job in Cleveland. This instantly makes Brian Shaw the odds-on favorite to replace Phil Jackson, should he retire. Jackson will announce his decision on Friday.
The big local interests in the World Cup both crashed and burned in their second round matches in South Africa this weekend and are headed home. The United States lost to Ghana, 2-1, in extra time Saturday, and Mexico fell to Argentina, 3-1 on Sunday.
For both teams, the losses were were repeats from 2006 in Germany. In the last World Cup, Ghana eliminated the U.S. in group play with a 2-1 win. Argentina beat Mexico 2-1 in extra time in 2006 in the second round.
The United States loss was the first ever for the Americans to be forced into extra time. After conceding a goal in the fifth minute to Ghana's Kevin Prince-Boateng, the Americans had to rally, eventually tying the match in the 62nd minute on a Landon Donovan penalty kick.
Ghana's Asamoah Gyan broke the Americans' backs three minutes into the extra time, when he made a great play to claim a ball from American captain Carlos Bocanegra and then drive it home past keeper Tim Howard. For this match, the U.S. could not point the fingers at the officials. They were simply beat by a team that was slightly better. Ignore the size and economic status of each country. It was the quality of the players that mattered the most.
Mexico could pin its defeat (and likely will) in part on the officials, who missed an offside call and allowed Argentina's first goal, by Carlos Tevez in the 26th minute, to stand. But, Gonzalo Higuain scored his fourth goal of the tournament in the 33rd minute, and Tevez drilled in another in the 52nd minute to show Argentina's dominance. Mexico got a goal from Javier Hernandez in the 71st minute. That goal probably satisfied the small group of people who were in a contest on Yahoo to pick the winner and final score of each match. (Hey, that's me!)
Sunday was not the officials best day. During Germany's 4-1 rout of England, the officials failed to see that a Frank Lampard shot crossed the line.
Germans would point out that the missed goal might have been payback for an eerily similar call that went in England's favor against Germany in the 1966 final.
Ghana will play Uruguay on Friday for a spot in the semifinals. Argentina plays Germany on Saturday.
There are two more days in the Round of 16 with two matches each day. Tomorrow, Slovakia plays the Netherlands in Durban at 7 am PT. Chile takes on Brazil in Johannesburg at 11:30 am PT.
On Tuesday, Paraguay plays Japan in Pretoria (or as the locals prefer Tshwane) at 7 am and Spain plays Portugal for supremacy of the Iberian Peninsula at 11:30 am in Cape Town.
So far, all the South American teams in the tournament (all five) are still alive. One of them will be eliminated in the Chile-Brazil match. The final is shaping up to be a matchup between Brazil and the Argentina-Germany winner.
Unless I'm wrong. And I've been wrong a lot. But, if it's a Ghana-Japan final, I'll stop making predictions about anything.
On Wednesday morning, American soccer fans glued to their TVs (or in my case, a highly pixelated computer monitor) were sitting on pins and needles. And those pins and needles were sitting on another set of pins and needles.
Why? Because, the U.S. had to beat Algeria in its final game (played in Pretoria) in group play to advance to the second round of the World Cup. History was not on the U.S. side, as the team had lost this game in each of its World Cup appearances since 1950 (0-6).
Sure, the United States had advanced to the second round in 1994 and 2002, but each time the Americans backed in with a loss in its last game thanks to favorable outcomes in other matches.
That was not going to happen Wednesday. England grabbed an early lead against Slovenia. The Americans' path to moving on with a tie was likely gone.
The U.S. was favored against winless and goalless Algeria, but wins have always been hard to come by for the Americans.
The early signs were mixed. Algeria almost took an early lead, but a shot by Raffik Djebbour banged off the crossbar. Then, 21 minutes into the match, Clint Dempsey looked to have scored. But, the assistant referee's flag was up. Offsides was the call, even though replays showed that Dempsey likely wasn't.
The second half saw more scoring chances fail to come to fruition for the U.S.
Ninety minutes had been played. But, in every match, the referee adds time for stoppages because of injuries. The Americans had a brief reprieve.
Algeria stormed down the field, but American keeper Tim Howard made a save on Rafik Saifi. He threw an outlet pass worthy of Bill Walton to a streaking Landon Donovan on the right side.
Donovan passed off to Jozy Altidore. Altidore crossed the ball to Dempsey. Dempsey's shot was blocked by Algerian keeper Rais M'Bolhi, but the rebound trickled out to Donovan. Donovan did not miss. United States 1, Algeria 0.
Donovan's goal was his fourth all time in World Cup play, tying him with Bert Patenaude for the most by an American player. Patenaude scored all of his in 1930 in Uruguay.
The win gave the U.S. the top spot in Group C and an appointment in the second round to play Ghana (which backed in with a 1-0 loss to Germany combined with a 2-1 win by Australia over Serbia) on Saturday in an 11:30 am PT match. The match will be played in Rustenburg. The winner of that match would face the winner of a match between Uruguay and South Korea scheduled for 7 am in Port Elizabeth.
Mexico will play its second round match on Sunday in Johannesburg at 11:30 am against one of the tournament's most impressive teams, Argentina. The winner of that match will face the survivor of what should be another hard fought match between England and Germany in a 7:00 am match on Sunday in Bloemfontein.
The final eight teams will be set Thursday and Friday. Brazil and the Netherlands have already qualified. Defending champion Italy may end up needing a win over Slovakia in its final match or face the ignominy of being eliminated by New Zealand. Another tournament favorite, Spain, will likely need a win over a very lively Chilean side to move on.
The United States and Ghana faced each other in the 2006 World Cup in a match in
Leipzig Nuremberg, Germany. It was the third match in group play. Ghana won 2-1.
After a dreary first set of matches, the World Cup has become more than a series of aimless passes set to the drone of vuvuzelas. The United States will get to stick around for a few more days. Oddsmakers have already made the U.S. a slight favorite over Ghana. Nevertheless, don't expect it to be a smooth ride.
As the Lakers prepare to celebrate with another championship parade, one might wonder if they can do it all again next year. In all likelihood, the 2010-11 Los Angeles Lakers will look similar to this year's team, but there are still a few changes that could happen.
The big question is whether or not Phil Jackson will return, and I think he will. There was a distant possibility that Jackson could have left to coach the Bulls or Nets, but those two teams have since hired head coaches. That leaves the Cleveland Cavaliers and LA Clippers as the only two teams without a head coach. LeBron or not, I simply can't envision Jackson going to Cleveland at this stage in his life. And it would take a dramatic set of circumstances for Jackson to go to the Clippers.
So Jackson's choice is essentially between coaching the Lakers or retiring. I believe that Jackson will ultimately want to try for his unprecedented fourth three-peat and his 12th NBA title. There has been speculation that Jackson might have to take a pay cut, because Jerry Buss increased payroll expenditures (luxury tax included) by $30 million this past year without seeing a marked increase in revenues. But Jerry Buss (who is Hall of Fame bound this offseason) has said his No. 1 goal is to surpass the Celtics in NBA titles. With the Lakers at 16 and the Celtics at 17, Buss knows that Jackson offers him the best chance of getting there quickly. Expect Jackson to sign a one-year deal to come back next year for roughly the same amount of money he's making now.
The other major question is at point guard. Derek Fisher is an unrestricted free agent, Jordan Farmar is a restricted free agent, and Shannon Brown is likely to opt out of his contract to become a free agent. Farmar is as good as gone. He never progressed far enough and just doesn't seem to fit into the triangle offense. The Lakers won't match any team's offer for him, and Farmar sounds like a guy who'd like to try a new situation. I also believe that Brown will wind up getting a larger contract offer from another team hoping to channel his athleticism into quality minutes.
Fisher's free agent options are limited, and it is likely that he will stay. Fisher only wants to play in a handful of cities so that his daughter can continue to get quality medical care, and few teams are looking to sign a 36-year old point guard who is clearly on his last legs. Fisher fits in better with the Lakers than any other team, and he's the squad's emotional leader. Expect Fisher to sign a short-term contract for less than what he's been making the past few years.
The Lakers will subsequently need to sign 2 point guards, and will have limited resources to do so. They will likely make a run at veterans Steve Blake, Luke Ridnour, and Earl Watson. I would also expect the Lakers to audition a variety of point guards most basketball fans haven't heard of before, similar to how Smush Parker came out of nowhere to start a few years back. None of these names are exciting, but the Lakers don't need much out of the point guard position because of their strengths elsewhere.
For nearly a year, we've been hearing rumors about a potential Andrew Bynum for Chris Bosh trade. This is a fun argument for Lakers fans to have. Bosh is one of the best big men in the league, and as a free agent this summer, he could only come to LA in a sign-and-trade with Toronto. The Raptors might be inclined to do the deal in order to at least get something in return for Bosh, who could otherwise walk away for nothing.
Most Laker fans will tell you not to this deal. I would disagree. I think Bosh is a premier NBA player who can keep the Lakers title window open even longer. Contrary to what you hear on sports talk radio, I believe that he can play strong at the basket. Phil Jackson is also one of Bosh's biggest fans, and thinks he'd fit well in the triangle.
On the other hand, Bynum has proven himself to be injury prone and inconsistent. If not for Kendrick Perkins' injury, a Bynum injury could have cost the Lakers the title against the Celtics for the second time in three years. Even when he's at full strength, we never completely know what we'll get. It's true that Bynum is just 23 and still improving, but he's been hurt quite a bit for a player of his age.
Regardless, I don't see this deal happening. I'm not sure if Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo wants to invest $14 million a year in a player who is about to have knee surgery. And I also see Mitch Kupchak being concerned about how Bosh could fit in the front court with Pau Gasol, when we know that Gasol can play with Bynum. Additionally, Bosh will probably cost more than the Lakers can afford. Expect Bynum to get his knee surgery, come slow into the season, and then Laker fans can just hope his body holds up through the year.
Next, there's some question about what Kobe Bryant will do in the offseason. It's easy for me to say this, but if I were him, I would get surgeries on both my knee and my fingers. I'm fairly certain that Bryant will skip the World Basketball Championships. But if he thinks that surgery will take too much away from his offseason training, it's possible he won't go through with it.
Finally, expect the Lakers to part ways with DJ Mbenga and Josh Powell. Neither guy had a significant impact on the team this year, and the Lakers would be better served by taking flyers on other players. Adam Morrison and his $5.25 million contract are gone too. Hopefully, he'll shave his mustache.
UCLA's athletics programs has picked up a record 106 titles, the most recent coming a few weeks ago by the softball team. One sport has, in somewhat baffling fashion, has rarely, if ever contended for an NCAA championship: baseball.
According to Baseball-Reference.com, UCLA has produced 63 future Major League players, including Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson, third most among California schools behind USC (100) and Stanford (82). However, the sum of the parts at UCLA has always been much less than the whole.
In college baseball, there is only one destination that matters: Omaha. Since 1950, the NCAA has played its college baseball championship, called the College World Series, in Omaha, in storied Rosenblatt Stadium (which is shutting down after this year's CWS, as a newer stadium has been built in Downtown Omaha.)
UCLA, prior to this season, had made just two trips to Omaha, once in 1969, a team led by Chris Chambliss, and again in 1997, with Troy Glaus leading the way. In the eight-team, double elimination tournament, UCLA had a 0-4 record. Both trips were, as they say in Omaha, were "Go two and barbecue."
The 2010 Bruin baseball team made history on Saturday night, picking up UCLA's first ever win in the College World Series, pounding the #3 seed Florida, 11-3.
UCLA was expected to be among the top teams in the ultra-competitive Pac-10, but was not expected to be a national power. However, the Bruins started off the season with a school record 22 straight wins. Once conference play got underway, UCLA slowed down a little, but still finished the regular season with a 43-13 mark, 18-9 in the conference. UCLA finished two games behind conference champion Arizona State.
College baseball rankings vary quite a bit, but most observers thought that the #6 national seed that UCLA received from the NCAA wasn't too far off. The Bruins hosted a first round, four-team regional at Jackie Robinson Stadium, winning it easily, defeating Kent State, defending champion LSU, and UC Irvine.
That set up the Bruins for a best of three super-regional against Cal State Fullerton, a school that had given the Bruins fits in previous seasons. The Titans had won 60 of the previous 83 meetings (including two wins by the Titans in the regular season) before the two teams met on June 11 at Jackie Robinson Stadium.
In the first game, Fullerton beat the Bruins again, winning 4-3. UCLA had the tying run on third and winning run on first with no outs in the bottom of the ninth. And within a few pitches, a runner was picked off, one batter struck out, and another grounded out and the Bruins had to win two straight to get to Omaha.
The next day, UCLA trailed the Titans 6-5 with two outs in the ninth and no one on. Designated hitter Blair Dunlap drew a walk and second baseman Tyler Rahmatulla homered to put the Bruins ahead 7-6 going to the bottom of the ninth. The Titans managed to tie the game, but the Bruins used a dropped fly ball to score four runs and won 11-7.
The deciding game was far less dramatic as lefty Rob Rasmussen threw a complete game two-hitter. The Bruins cruised to Omaha with an 8-1 win. But, in the postgame celebration, Rahmatulla, the team's best hitter, broke his wrist.
The Bruins didn't seem to miss Rahmatulla much on Saturday night. They picked up 18 hits, although 15 were singles. UCLA made good use of four hit batters, four wild pitches, and three balks by the Florida pitching staff. The Bruins also stole five bases. Trevor Bauer struck out 11 batters in seven innings.
UCLA's next game will be Monday evening (around 6 pm) against TCU. If they win that game, they will not have to play again until Friday. A win Monday would be big for the Bruins because it would give them a chance to get more rest for the pitching staff, which has been the team's strength all year.
The Bruins have a team ERA of 2.97 (2nd best in the country) and held opposing batters to a .218 average. Six UCLA pitchers were picked in the recent MLB first-year player draft, including
three two of the team's four regular starters: Bauer, Rasmussen and Garret Claypool. (The other four were relievers, I mistakenly said that Bauer was drafted.)
Sophomore pitcher Gerrit Cole was a first round pick by the New York Yankees coming out of high school in 2008, but decided to go to UCLA instead. Cole has gone 10-3 this season with a 3.25 ERA (sophomores are not eligible for the MLB draft) and should start on Monday. Bauer and Cole both were named All-America pitchers.
Now, if you want to see a briskly paced game, you might not want to tune in to see UCLA. The Bruins usually play games of Yankee-Red Sox like length. (Saturday's game took 3:46 to play as the Bruins scored in eight different innings.) UCLA coach John Savage likes to play small ball, as his team has hit just 61 home runs in 63 games, a fairly low total for college ball. UCLA has been successful on 100 of 131 stolen base attempts. The Bruins have also sacrificed 53 times. (They've also reached on catcher's interference once this year.)
In a best case scenario, UCLA can beat the Horned Frogs on Monday and then wait until Friday to play the survivor among TCU, Florida, and Florida State. And if they win on Friday, they move on to the best of three championship series, possibly against conference champ Arizona State, the #1 team in the country. (Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Clemson are also in Omaha.)
The Bruins still have a long way to go to bring home their first national title in baseball. But, at least they have won a game in the College World Series and are no longer tied with Harvard for the worst record ever in the CWS. The Bruins took a big step Saturday night to having a lengthy stay in Omaha.
While most of Los Angeles slept off hangovers from celebrations of the Lakers NBA title win, the U.S. soccer team played a thrilling match starting a 7 am in Johannesburg against Slovenia, the smallest country to make the World Cup.
Slovenia started play in Group C in the lead with three points. The U.S. and England had one and Algeria had zero.
The Slovenes took a 2-0 lead in the first half on goals by Valter Birsa and Zlatkan Ljubijankic. The U.S. looked to be headed for another in a succession of disappointing performances in World Cup play, as in 1990, 1998, and 2006.
In the second half though, the Americans sprang back to life thanks to the play of L.A. Galaxy midfielder Landon Donovan.
Three minutes into the second half, Donovan took advantage of a defensive lapse by Slovenia to make a run down the right flank of the field. Facing what looked like an impossible angle, Donovan fired a shot hard and high into the top corner of the goal to bring the U.S. back to within one goal. In the video, Slovene goalie Samir Handanovic appears to turn away at the last second from Donovan's shot, which is an early candidate for Goal of the Tournament.
About eight minutes before the end of the match, Michael Bradley (son of U.S. coach Bob Bradley) tied the game on a difficult half-volley on a pass from Jozy Altidore.
The Americans appeared to take the lead in the 87th minute, when Maurice Edu put in a shot after a free kick from Donovan. But, referee Koman Coulibaly from Mali ruled that the Americans (either Edu or Carlos Bocanegra) had committed a foul. Pretty much anyone who wasn't from Slovenia (and that's all but around two million people in the world), is still trying to figure out what the call was.
Earlier in the match, Coulibaly had given a yellow card to Robbie Findley for a deliberate hand ball. Except the ball actually hit Findley in the face. The face, according to all anatomy sources I could consult, is not a hand.
Nevertheless, the game was a draw. The U.S. had but two points after two games and Slovenia had four.
Later in the day, the Americans got a gift from Algeria. Group favorite England was expected to easily handle the Algerians in a match in Cape Town. However, the game ended in a scoreless draw.
The fate of all the teams in Group C will be decided Wednesday. There will be two matches, contested simultaneously, starting at 7 am PT. The U.S. will play Algeria and England will face Slovenia. The U.S. will advance to the next round with a win over Algeria. If the Americans tie, they can still advance if Slovenia beats England or if Slovenia and England play a tie that
does doesn't push England ahead of the U.S. in total goals. Presently, the U.S. has three goals and England has one, so if the U.S. and Algeria tied 1-1 and England tied 2-2, the U.S. would still advance. (Or read this guy, I've been told he knows more about such stuff. The same guy's details an scarier scenario.)
Don't count on the Americans playing a scoreless draw with Algeria. After Slovenia's first goal, ESPN came up with a stat that the U.S. had given up at least one goal in 18 consecutive World Cup matches. The last U.S. shutout came in 1950, a 1-0 win over England.
Mexico, which may have more total supporters in Southern California than the U.S., has a much simpler path to the second round. Thursday night in Polokwane, Mexico shut out a dispirited and disorganized French team, 2-0. Mexico finishes up group play on Tuesday in Rustenburg against Uruguay. Mexico and Uruguay would both advance with a tie.
Another team with a considerable following in Los Angeles, South Korea, is 1-1 after two matches, with a 2-0 win over Greece, followed by a 4-1 pasting by Argentina. South Korea can still advance with a win over Nigeria on Tuesday in Durban, as long as Greece doesn't beat Argentina by a bigger margin. If South Korea and Nigeria draw, the South Koreans will move on as long as Greece either loses or draws with Argentina. A South Korea-Mexico matchup in the second round is quite possible.
The second set of matches at the World Cup have had far more action than the opening round. Teams are much more willing to go on the attack. The U.S.-Slovenia match was probably the most exciting one so far in the tournament. And not many soccer observers anywhere in the world would be going out of their way to look forward to that matchup.
By the time most of you have read this, Japan and the Netherlands would have already finished their match in Group E. (The Dutch won 1-0.) If you get up around 7 am on a Saturday, you are ready to watch Ghana play Australia in Group D. If Ghana wins, they would be atop the group. Serbia upset Germany 1-0 on Thursday in the other match. Teams from Group C and Group D face each other in the second round.
So, the United States could likely face Ghana, Germany, or Serbia in the second round. That is, if the United States can beat Algeria.
In the last couple of years, the U.S. team has shown that it has the ability to make its fans ooh and aah mixed with several bouts of pounding their heads against a wall in frustration and/or anger. If you get the chance to watch on Wednesday, prepare yourself for a roller coaster ride.
Finally, if you are so interested, there is a contest where you can win a free trip to Rio de Janeiro for a week if you can correctly name who will score the 54th overall goal of the tournament. It is sponsored by the Brazilian Sugarcane Association and it picked the number 54 because that is the cents per gallon tariff that the U.S. charges on imported ethanol. (There have been 43 goals scored so far as I type this.) This is apparently a legitimate contest. And I've always been waiting for the perfect opportunity to mix tariff reform with my soccer viewing.
Excuse me, I've got a Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States to go study up on.
As most of L.A. awaits Game 7 of the NBA Finals, the World Cup has buzzed along (thanks to the omnipresent vuvuzelas) through its first set of matches in South Africa. The first 16 matches might not have done much to make a potential soccer convert want to come up in front of the congregation and testify, but there have been some interesting stories.
The U.S. team scored a 1-1 tie in its opening match against England. After conceding an early goal to England's Steven Gerrard on a defensive lapse, the Americans tied the score thanks to a blunder of epic proportions by English keeper Robert Green on an easy shot by Clint Dempsey. Dempsey, who had a goal in the 2006 tournament, now stands two goals off the U.S. record for total goals in World Cup play. That record is four, held by Bert Patenaude, who scored all of them in 1930, including a (disputed) hat trick against Paraguay. (The U.S. finished third in that World Cup, its best ever showing.)
Next up for the U.S. will be Slovenia, on Friday at 7 am PT in Johannesburg. Slovenia leads Group C, after defeating Algeria 1-0 in their opener. The U.S. would be in good shape with a win over Slovenia, but a tie would be troublesome and a loss would likely have the Americans checking to see when the next flight home is.
While the LAPD is ready for postgame revelry after the Lakers-Celtics game, I think that there needs to be a strong police presence in the Little Ljubljana neighborhood on Friday in case that Slovenia dashes the American team's hopes. If you're there and you run into trouble, yell "Poklici policijo!"
On Thursday, Mexico tries to keep up with Uruguay in Group A. The Mexican team will take on France at 11:30 am in Polokwane. Uruguay leads that group with four points after crushing the spirits of the South Africans, beating the home team by a 3-0 margin, making it nearly impossible for South Africa to advance.
France's team seems to be in disarray as the players hate the coach, the coach hates the players, and the French fans hate both the players and the coach. Mexico didn't look too impressive in a 1-1 draw in the tournament opener against South Africa, but the Tricolores at least pretend to get along with each other.
The first 16 matches had an average of just 1.56 goals per game. Nine of the first 16 matches were scoreless at halftime. Teams have shown, in Homeland Security terms, "an abundance of caution" in their style of play.
Only a couple of squads have showed that they want to go on the attack. One was Germany, which routed Australia, 4-0, in its opener. The other was Chile, which still managed just one goal against an overmatched Honduras squad. (I'm taking the word of others about Chile. That match started at 4:30 am Wednesday. I did not see it. I have discovered that I enjoy sleep.)
The biggest upset in the tournament happened Wednesday in Durban when tournament favorite Spain was upset 1-0 by an uninspiring Swiss team. Spain could never figure out how to get through the Swiss defense and the Spanish defense made one mistake that cost them the match. Spain will need wins over Chile and Honduras to advance, and will probably try to pour it on against Honduras to help out with the goal difference tiebreaker.
Another tournament favorite, Brazil, won its opening match, 2-1, against the lowest ranked team in the tournament, North Korea. The North Koreans held Brazil to a 0-0 tie at halftime, but Brazil prevailed in a match played in frigid weather(36 degrees at kickoff) in Johannesburg.
Defending champion Italy tied Paraguay 1-1 in its first match. The Italians did not look like they were primed to make another run at the Cup. But, they are in an easy group. Their remaining opponents are Slovakia and New Zealand, who also played a 1-1 tie.
The best hope for the African continent for a team to advance seems to be Ghana, which beat Serbia 1-0 in a Group D match. If Ghana can pick up a win on Saturday against Australia, they will most likely be through to the second round. And potentially play the United States.
Argentina and South Korea meet up Thursday in Johannesburg in a match that starts at 4:30 am PT. Don't be surprised to see a large group of fans gathering in Koreatown to watch the match together. If you're in the area, it's worth spending a couple predawn hours with some of the most enthusiastic, and well-behaved, soccer fans in the world. (As for me, I'll be asleep, see above.) * The fans were likely bummed out too as Argentina hammered South Korea by a 4-1 margin, thanks to a hat trick by Gonzalo Higuain.
As the tournament progresses, expect a bit more offense. The players will be more accustomed to the locations and their teammates. Also, more teams will know that they have to win a match or two to advance. In their first matches, most teams played not to lose. That only goes so far as history has shown in the World Cup. There will be some plays to remember.
And a lot of droning vuvuzelas.
As predicted on this page many months ago, the Pac-10 will officially add Utah as its 12th school. Colorado could join Utah as early as 2011. While this addition isn't as sexy as Texas or Oklahoma, Utah provides a quality market to the conference and can be competitive with the other schools.
This is actually a great victory for the Utes, who could very well be the only university that moves up to a BCS conference. It's a real tribute to the great work of Utah's athletic program.
We've discussed how Utah's addition will lead to a new TV network and a conference championship game. We've also mentioned that the name of the conference will likely change to the "Pac-12," although I still like "Pac-West" better. But reports are coming out about the structure of the new conference which will have an impact on USC and UCLA.
According to reports, the "Pac-12" will split into a Northern and a Southern Division. Colorado was apparently promised a spot in the Southern Division, meaning it will join Utah, USC, UCLA, Arizona, and Arizona State. The remaining Northern California schools will join with the Oregons and Washingtons for the Northern Division.
This means USC and UCLA are not guaranteed the chance to play Stanford and Cal every year. For decades, the California schools forced Pac-10 schedules to ensure that all four in-state teams would play each other. This will have quite an effect on undergrads who travel on the annual "weekender" up north.
The divisional split could also adversely affect the Northern Division schools in recruiting. The Oregon and Washington schools have always been able to promise recruits that they will play one football game in Southern California annually. That can no longer be promised.
It remains to be seen whether "Pac-12" schools will continue playing nine conference games, or if they'll go down to eight like all other 12-team conferences that a have a championship game. With nine conference games, Northern Division teams would theoretically have a two in three chance of playing a game in Southern California each year. In the meantime, this realignment is great news for the Arizona schools, which nearly had to shift their recruiting efforts to Texas after decades of being strong players over here.
Regardless, Utah's addition will mean considerably more money for all "Pac-12" member institutions, and in these trying economic times with budget cuts and such, that will be music to athletic director's ears.
Last month, I reviewed the ESPN "30 for 30" documentary "Straight Outta LA" about the LA Raiders connection to local gangs, which was directed by Ice Cube. I was sent a press screener of the next ESPN documentary entitled "June 17, 1994" directed by Brett Morgen. I also had the opportunity to interview Morgen.
June 17, 1994 is a day that will live in infamy in Los Angeles, as it had the famous OJ slow speed chase. But it was also one of the busier sports days in recent memories, as it included Game 5 of the 1994 NBA Finals, the New York Rangers Stanley Cup parade, the Opening Ceremonies for the World Cup (held in the US), Arnold Palmer's last US Open, and Ken Griffey, Jr. hitting his 30th home run (3 weeks before the All-Star Break).
Like most of the ESPN "30 for 30" documentaries, this one is excellent. But this documentary strikes a particular nerve for LA residents, as it reminds all of us who lived here about a day when our entire city was essentially besieged by OJ Simpson.
Instead of conducting interviews, like most documentaries, Morgen simply shows all of the live footage from that day and lets the video speak for itself. It's a style that he calls "experiential cinema." The result is a trip back to some uncomfortable memories that many of us have tried to forget. We get to witness this incredible scene where OJ's Ford Bronco is slowly driving along the 405. The freeway is completely shut down in one direction. In the other direction, people have stopped their cars on the 405 and on overpasses above and cheering for OJ, many chanting "Free the Juice!"
Amidst the frenzy and the widescale outcry of support for Simpson, Morgen shows a KCAL 9 interview with a PhD named Rex Beaber who offers some tough advice for viewers: "Most people have to realize, an innocent person doesn't behave this way..." referring of course to Simpson's decision to flee his home on the day he was supposed to be arrested and leave behind a letter that sounded like a suicide note.
"Sixteen years removed, everyone's opinions of OJ are defined by the trial and the murder," Morgan said when I spoke with him. "We brought the audience back in time to when he was a hero, when people were in disbelief about what had happened."
"Here is this guy who's life is falling apart, but you don't want to sympathize with him because you know the outcome," he added.
Morgen chooses to edit the documentary from the perspective of a viewer watching TV that day. So we feel like someone flipping the channels from the World Cup Opening Ceremonies to the Rangers Stanley Cup parade to Arnold Palmer's performance to the ongoing news that day which started with OJ Simpson's disappearance. We see press conferences featuring former DA Gil Garcetti and OJ's lawyer team of Robert Schapiro and Robert Kardashian.
Throughout all of it, we get shots of a truly flummoxed media that has no idea how to cover this event. News directors from local LA TV stations will be embarrassed to see these clips again. The state of confusion is best evidenced from footage we see of Bob Costas at Madison Square Garden, debating with producers as to when NBC should cut away from the NBA Finals and switch to Tom Brokaw covering the Ford Bronco chase. Much to the consternation of New York Knicks and Houston Rockets fans, NBC did switch away from the game.
"Despite having the best basketball players in the world competing for the championship, the audience decides 'we don't want to see the Knicks. We just want to see a white Bronco go down the freeway,'" Morgen says. "You just didn't know what was going to happen next."
Beyond the news footage of the day, Morgen also produces cell phone conversations between Al Cowlings and Simpson in the Bronco and a LAPD detective. The phone conversations seemingly bring the viewer inside the van and add a whole new perspective to the slow speed chase.
If you want to relive one of the wildest days in the history of this city, then you should probably check this documentary out. It airs tomorrow (Wednesday) at 7 PM on ESPN and replays several times throughout the next few weeks.
Texas has declined an invitation from the Pac-10, and thus its neighbors Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, and Texas A&M will stay put. This nixes the vaunted Pac-16 super-conference that we had heard so much about. Apparently, the Big 12 kept Texas by promising a greater share of revenue to more prominent schools and allowing Texas to create its own TV network.
I can't say I'm completely disappointed with this decision. While Pac-10 schools will lose out on millions that it could have earned with the Texas and Oklahoma teams, a 16-team super-conference seemed unwieldy. There was also a concern that the power in the Pac-10 would shift to Texas, which is exactly what happened in the Big-12, where the six southern schools control most of the policy decisions. That's one of the reasons why Nebraska left for the Big Ten.
Plus, I don't know too many West Coasters who were thrilled about the possibility of Texas and Oklahoma becoming Rose Bowl regulars. Does anyone really want to see a Nebraska-Oklahoma Rose Bowl? This isn't Big-8 country. Colorado was a good fit culturally, but the other schools weren't really.
With the addition of Colorado to the Pac-10, the conference now has a foothold in the Denver market. A Pac-10 TV network on cable providers in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Phoenix, Portland, Denver, and most other West Coast markets is still extremely lucrative, and it will lead to a dramatic boost in revenue for Pac-10 schools.
So what's next for the Pac-10? Right now the conference has 11 schools, with Colorado set to join in 2012. The conference wants to get to 12 in order to host a conference championship game. With the Texas and Oklahoma schools out, that essentially leaves Utah as the most likely university to receive an invitation. The Salt Lake City market isn't enormous, but it's the No. 36 DMA in the nation with over 1 million people, and it will add more cable subscribers to the Pac-10 Network.
We've gone over expansion candidates before, and Utah makes the most sense from an academic and athletic perspective. The Utes have been a very competitive team in football and basketball in recent years, and Utah has an academic profile that works with the other Pac-10 schools. San Diego State and UNLV aren't good enough in football, and those markets would probably get the Pac-10 Network anyways. BYU is just as good athletically as Utah, but it doesn't fit academically. Boise State just joined the Mountain West, and I just don't see enough excitement for TCU.
With two new teams, the Pac-10 will likely change its name to the Pac-12 Conference. Although, I still prefer the name "Pac-West". A conference championship game would be played every year, likely rotating between Seattle and Phoenix until new football stadiums are built in Northern and Southern California. Also, the Big-12's new promises to Texas pretty much nix the idea of a Pac-10/Big-12 TV network, which I discussed a few weeks ago.
Overall, the Pac-10 is in much better shape today than it's ever been. Fifteen years ago, Colorado and Texas declined invitations to join the conference. Today, Colorado is a member of the conference, and a proud Texas program came extremely close to shaking the foundations of college football to play in it too. Pac-10 fans have to be pleased with the work new commissioner Larry Scott has done, and I look forward to seeing his next move.
As predicted on this site several months back, Colorado is officially becoming a member of the Pac-10. The move gives the Pac-10 a place in the Denver market, which will help with starting a new network.
The real question though is whether the Pac-10 will add Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State. I have reason to believe that those invitations have been issued. Tomorrow, Nebraska will likely announce that it's joining the Big Ten. It's possible Missouri could join them soon thereafter. At that point, Texas will have to decide whether it's in their interests to join the Pac-10 as part of a super-conference, stay in a reconstituted Big-12, or move to the SEC or Big Ten.
Right now, there's major confusion in the Lone Star State as everyone from state legislators to T. Boone Pickens to Baylor President Kenneth Starr (yes, that Ken Starr) is wheeling and dealing. I've heard all kinds of rumors as the Big-12 fights for survival. It's possible that Texas legislators won't let any of their schools leave without Baylor coming along too. It's possible that Texas A&M will sneak away to the SEC. It's also possible that Kansas will join the Big East or SEC.
But the hot topic right now is the proposed "Pac-16" so let's discuss that. (Personally, I think the Pac-West would be a better name, with a "Pacific" and "Western" division, but that's a column for a different day.) A Pac-16 would put Arizona and Arizona State in an "Eastern Division" with the Texas and Oklahoma schools, while the old Pac-8 would constitute a "Western Division."
In football, it's likely that a school would play the 7 other teams in its division, plus one additional game outside the division for 8 conference games. Right now, Pac-10 teams plays 9 conference games, so this would actually make USC's and UCLA's schedule slightly easier. It also would not dramatically alter their football schedule either.
One report claimed that the new Pac-16 would request to have two BCS bids, and then not play a football championship game. In that case, this expansion is basically creating two conferences under one umbrella. If there is a championship game, then it would likely rotate between Arizona, Dallas, a new stadium in Santa Clara, or a new NFL stadium in LA/Industry. Seattle could even get thrown in the mix.
Most of the past decade, that game would have been between USC and either Texas or Oklahoma, with a trip to the Rose Bowl and/or BCS Title game on the line. Last year, that game would have theoretically been between Oregon and Texas, and don't ask me who would have been in the Rose Bowl had Oregon lost.
Most of this sounds relatively fine to current Pac-10 fans, unless you live in Arizona. The Arizona schools have made a living off recruiting in Southern California, and could always guarantee their players an LA trip every year. Now both Arizona schools could potentially go a full decade without playing a game in the state of California. Arizona and Arizona State would likely have to shift their recruiting base to Texas, where they currently have few ties. If I was an Arizona fan, then I wouldn't be thrilled about this idea.
It remains to be seen how this will impact basketball and other sports. Western and Eastern division teams would probably play some games against each other, but there would likely be an emphasis on inter-division games. Again, that's a major disadvantage for the Arizona schools from a recruiting standpoint. It could also create some logistical issues, as the Texas schools and Pacific Northwest schools will have to deal with long commutes.
Right now Pac-10 schools make around $8-10 million a year in TV revenue. A Pac-16 could provide each school well over $20 million. At a time when public universities are facing serious budget cuts, that money would be welcome.
I'm not completely convinced that the Texas and Oklahoma schools all want to move west though. I still think it's possible that the Pac-10 adds Utah, becomes the Pac-12, and then aligns with the remaining Big-12 schools on a TV network. But the Pac-10 would love to add Texas, and it will take Texas' neighbors and rivals to make the move more palatable for them. The Texas and Oklahoma schools are panicked enough with Colorado and Nebraska committed to leaving (and Missouri possible too) that they could up and leave for the West. It will be fascinating to see how this turns out.
USC was officially sanctioned by the NCAA today, and it's now clear what their main issues were. Their report claims that running backs coach Todd McNair both knew about Reggie Bush's dealings with an agent, and then lied to NCAA investigators.
It appears to me that the ultimate sin was lying to investigators, because otherwise the sanctions against USC are considerably harsher than punishments for similar violations. In fact, these sanctions are probably the harshest since SMU received the "Death Penalty" in 1986, when one combines the 31 lost scholarships with a 2-year postseason ban. There are schools that have knowingly paid players and received less harsh punishments.
There were several other minor violations cited as well, but I think the NCAA is flexing its muscle and making a loud and clear statement to other programs: "Don't lie to us." Now whether Todd McNair lied on his own volition, or whether he was asked to by someone within the USC program is a question that may never be answered. But regardless, USC should fire McNair if he doesn't resign first. The sanctions included a one-year recruiting ban for McNair.
I've also said that Mike Garrett should resign too, and USC needs to completely rebuild its athletic department with competent administrators who understand NCAA rules. While the sanctions were exceedingly harsh, that doesn't excuse USC for being completely blindsided by them. For several years, USC has acted as if it's done nothing wrong, and continued business as usual. Better cooperation with the NCAA might have resulted in a lesser penalty, along with better awareness of its own misdeeds. Ultimately, Garrett allowed his own student athletes to be punished for what seems like a shoddy handling of the investigation.
In the meantime, I wrote last night that it could take years for USC to recover from this. I still believe that. With a sharp reduction in scholarships, Lane Kiffin will have no margin for error in recruiting, and fewer prospects will want to play for the school until it is able to move past this cloud. But it's also possible that USC could potentially have a good year on the field in 2010. Auburn football received a 2-year postseason ban and went 11-0 in 1993 and 9-1-1 in 1994 (they only lost 14 scholarships, but did get a TV ban). USC's current group of players is the most talented in the Pac-10, and they might play with an "us vs. the world" mentality. They might be ineligible for the Rose Bowl, but they can still win just about all their games. It's 2011-14 that USC will have to worry about, particularly as young players decide to transfer.
For now though, USC has to clean up its house, and reexamine the conduct of its athletic department
USC will receive a 2-year postseason ban and lose over 20 scholarships if early reports are true. This news is absolutely devastating for Trojan fans.
These are the types of sanctions that can take years to recover from. And when I say "years", it could take until the end of this decade for USC to be an elite program again. A 2-year postseason ban will cripple recruiting for 2011 and 2012, and the reduction in scholarships will further deplete the Trojan talent base. Furthermore, it will be extremely difficult for Lane Kiffin to recruit quality players again in 2013 and 2014, when the program will likely have fallen on hard times.
The best recent comparables for USC are the University of Miami and the University of Alabama. Miami received a 1-year postseason ban in 1996 and lost 31 scholarships over a 3-year period. As a result, Miami was a college football also-ran for about 4 years until Butch Davis finally brought them back to elite status. Alabama had a two-year bowl ban in 2002-03 and lost 21 scholarships over 3 years. Nick Saban eventually returned them to prominence recently. Lonnie White has an interesting article on FanHouse, noting the eerily similar comparisons between these sanctions and those levied against USC in 1982.
Now are these new sanctions fair? Until I read the report, I can't say. It always seemed that it would be difficult to prove USC had any knowledge of Reggie Bush's dealings with various marketing representatives. But perhaps that evidence came to light in the investigation. It would be fair to say that after Reggie Bush, OJ Mayo, and the recent Joe McKnight allegations that USC could be cited for a loss of institutional control. Still, a 2-year ban for loss of institutional control seems exceedingly harsh, so one would have to believe there's something else in the report.
Reportedly, USC can appeal these sanctions, but it remains to be seen how that process will unfold. Typically, these appeals are not successful. Regardless, I've never felt it right to punish kids who have nothing to do with the original indiscretion.
Aside from UCLA fans, the happiest college football fans today are in Knoxville, Tennessee. I could understand that Lane Kiffin would want to leave Tennessee for his "dream job" at USC, but he put the Volunteers in a horrible position after he took considerable risks with that program through bold comments in the press. Now Kiffin will have to clean up a horrible mess. I would feel somewhat sympathetic toward his plight, but he was a top assistant when Bush played at USC, so he might be partially responsible for these sanctions. These sanctions also cast a dark shadow over Pete Carroll's legacy.
In the meantime, I would be shocked if Mike Garrett remained athletic director at USC for more than a few weeks. The school's two premier athletic programs have been hit with major sanctions under his watch, so it's only appropriate for Garrett to resign. USC needs to hire an athletic director who can make the football and basketball programs successful without running amok of NCAA rules.
It's an unusual time for all of this to happen, especially since Pac-10 expansion into Texas is looking more likely each day. It will take a long time for USC to recover from these sanctions in a more competitive conference.
Summer fund raising intensifies with upcoming benefits focusing on the welfare of the environment, public libraries, senior citizens, abused children, civil liberties, epilepsy and stray cats...
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
Thursday, June 10, 2010
Friday, June 11, 2010
Sunday, June 13, 2010
Monday, June 14, 2010
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Every four years, a sporting event far more popular worldwide than any Olympics takes place. It's the World Cup. (You know the soccer thing. We had one here in 1994. Remember? It was in Pasadena. It was really hot.) And on June 11 at 7 am Pacific Time, the host nation, South Africa takes on Mexico in the tournament opener in Johannesburg. (It's about a 21 hour flight from LAX to Johannesburg, but you've got to change planes in Atlanta. Enjoy!)
Thirty-two nations send teams to South Africa. Only a handful of the teams have a realistic chance of winning. There have been only seven different winners of the World Cup: Brazil, Italy, Germany, Uruguay, Argentina, France, and England. There might be a new member of that exclusive club this year, although don't bet much money that it will be the United States.
The big media outlets have embraced the World Cup as an event of Olympian proportions, although you can bet on reading more than a few "This game is so boring" columns from sportswriters throughout the United States. The question of why someone watches something that they dislike so much is never answered.
ESPN is advertising the event relentlessly and Sports Illustrated is augmenting its regular soccer coverage by Grant Wahl with the likes of Joe Posnanski and Peter King. And Nike's commercial for the World Cup is a work of art that no Super Bowl commercial can hold a candle to.
ESPN and ABC will be handling the English language coverage for the United States. Univision and Telefutura will be the Spanish language outlets. Matches will start at 4:30 am, 7 am, or 11:30 am in the Pacific Time Zone (South Africa is nine hours ahead of Los Angeles.) ESPN is opting to use British announcers for its coverage, which will give the matches even more of a foreign edge to them. In the past, ESPN has tried the jingoistic Jack Edwards in 2002, known for screaming "Mine eyes have seen the glory!" after the U.S. win over Mexico in the second round, and a baseball announcer, Dave O'Brien, in 2006. Presumably, ESPN feels that we'll take English accents more seriously.
(I'm just wondering if Derek Rae and company will be using plural verbs with the names of teams. In the UK, you would say "England are playing well." Over here, it's "England is playing well.")
As for me, I like to switch over to Univision to watch some of the action. (Also if you don't have cable, you can still watch the matches on Channel 34) I fell in love with the World Cup in the summer of 1982, when the tournament was held in Spain. During my summer vacation from school, I would watch all the matches I could with a blurry UHF signal. It certainly did improve my Spanish. Perhaps not in a practical way, but I still am tempted to yell "fuera de lugar" instead of "offsides."
There are countless places online where you can find a sophisticated analysis of the World Cup. Each team has been dissected thoroughly by soccer experts. I will give my extraordinarily unsophisticated preview of each of the 32 teams arranged by their eight groups. The top seven teams in the world (by FIFA's BCS-like ratings) and the host nation, South Africa, are the top seeds in each group. The remaining 24 teams are then placed (with some randomness) to even out the geography and quality of each group.
All four teams in each group play each other once and get three points for a win and one point for a draw. The top teams in each group advance to the second round, which then becomes a 16-team knockout tournament. Matches tied after 90 minutes will have 30 minutes of extra time (don't call it overtime and it's not sudden death) and if it's still tied, then there will be a penalty kick tiebreaker, like the one that decided the 1994 final (won by Brazil) and the 2006 final (won by Italy.)
South Africa is the top seed in this group because they are the host. However, South Africa will be lucky to avoid the ignominy of being the first host country not to make it out of the first round. The Bafana Bafana (which you have to admit is a pretty good nickname) have not impressed against top flight competition. In the 2009 Confederations Cup played at home, South Africa beat New Zealand, tied Iraq, and lost to Spain.
The best, or worst, part of any South African match is listening to the vuvuzela, a plastic horn played constantly through matches. It can be beautiful or incredibly annoying. You decide.
France was the runnerup in 2006 to Italy, losing on penalties after star Zinedine Zidane was sent off for headbutting an Italian player. Zidane is retired and what was left of the French side barely qualified for the tournament, scoring a controversial goal against Ireland set up by a hand ball by Thierry Henry that wasn't called. France is an old team with an unpopular coach. But, I still think they will get through to the second round in a very ugly way.
Mexico had a rough road in qualifying, although current coach Javier Aguirre seemed to get better results toward the end. Mexico's players have become less popular in Europe, which hasn't helped the national team gain experience. Mexico usually makes the second round of the World Cup, but then loses in a variety of heartbreaking ways. (It's a brisk 23 hour journey from Mexico City to Johannesburg if you go through Atlanta.)
Uruguay won the first World Cup in 1930, when it was the host, and then won again in 1950 in Brazil (where the 2014 tournament will take place). It's been downhill since then for Uruguay. If Uruguay can get a win in its opener against France on June 11, then they should move on. That match should be one where the yellow and red cards are flying as both teams like to play rough.
Predicted teams to move on: France, Mexico
Argentina is the class of this group. They have the best player in the world in Lionel Messi. Argentina was all over the place in qualifying, losing to Bolivia by a 6-1 margin at one point. However, Argentina is coached by Diego Maradona, who is so outspoken that there is no appropriate English adjective to describe him. Maradona had almost no coaching experience before taking on this job, but he's Maradona and he can pretty much do what he wants. If the coach can rein himself in and let the players take over, Argentina should go far. (It's a 17 hour journey from Buenos Aires to Johannesburg, but you have to go through Frankfurt. It's one of those routes that make sense only to airlines.)
Did you know that Nigeria has about 1/6th of the African continent's population? Shouldn't they be able to field a really good squad? Sadly, Nigeria seems to live up to its expectations. The Nigerians have made the second round twice and never gone any further. There is a lot of talent on the team, but it never seems to be quite enough to get the Nigerians too far into the tournament.
South Korea is playing in its eighth World Cup. With the exception of 2002, when they were playing at home, the South Koreans have never made it out of the first round. They probably won't get far this time either.
Greece won the European championship in 2004. Never figured that one out. The Greeks are not an overly talented squad. Nor are they particularly exciting to watch. Greece plays South Korea in Port Elizabeth in a match that will start at 4:30 am PT. I would advise sleeping in.
Predicted to move on: Argentina, Nigeria
The group that most people will be paying attention to features the USA, England, Algeria, and Slovenia.
The USA and England will meet in the World Cup on June 12 at 11 am PT. It will be their first meeting in this stage since the historic 1-0 upset by the Americans over the English in Belo Horizonte, Brazil in 1950. This time, Rustenburg, a city with an altitude around 5000 feet, will be the site. The Americans will be happy with a tie and so would the English, although not openly.
England is the favorite to win the group. The English have not played in a World Cup that was held in the winter (i.e., a Southern Hemisphere site) since 1962. The English are known for wilting in the heat. Their only World Cup win came in England in 1966. Team captain Rio Ferdinand will miss the tournament with a leg injury (as will David Beckham, but he wasn't going to be much of a factor anyway), but as long as Wayne Rooney stays healthy, the English will have one of the most potent players in the world on their side. The English coach is an Italian, Fabio Capello, and, by most accounts, is one of the most beloved figures in the game. Unless the English lose.
Team USA will probably give its fans several gray hairs. (Coach Bob Bradley is going for both gray hair and no hair.) The team is shaky on defense, which means that no lead is safe. During most World Cup matches played by the U.S., you keep waiting for something bad to happen. As my mother once advised, "Always expect the worst, that way if something good happens, you'll be pleasantly surprised." Mom had a unique way of being encouraging at times.
The Americans did beat Spain in South Africa last year and led Brazil late in the Confederations Cup, so there is some hope. Three local MLS players are on the team: Landon Donovan and Edson Buddle of the Galaxy and Jonathan Bornstein of Chivas USA. Most of the US team plays for overseas clubs. Donovan played for Everton during the MLS offseason.
Algeria made the World Cup after winning a heated playoff against Egypt (if you understand "heated" to mean widescale rioting that forced the match to be played in the more peaceful location of Khartoum.) Algeria has not played very well since making the World Cup and has some starters suspended for their first two matches for receiving red cards in the African Cup of Nations.
Slovenia is the smallest country in the World Cup. It has a population smaller than Los Angeles, just a little over 2 million people. Slovenia beat Russia (which has 72 times as many people) in a playoff to make the World Cup. Slovenia is not Slovakia. Good grief!
Predicted to advance: England, USA
Normally, Germany would be the favorite in this group. But the Germans lost their best player, Michael Ballack, to an injury, and they will find goals much harder to come by without him. I would advise watching all German matches on Spanish TV. Why? Because it is really cool to hear "Bastian Schweinsteiger" in Spanish.
Serbia is technically playing in its first World Cup. The Serbs played in 2006 as Serbia and Montenegro, but they are finally a solo act. Serbia is gaining popularity among prognosticators (although not among former Yugoslav republics) as the team to win the group after Ballack's injury. (It seems to take about 20 hours to fly from Belgrade to Johannesburg because you have to change planes twice, once in Turkey, and again in Dubai. Belgrade's airport is named for Nikola Tesla, in case you ever find yourself there.)
Ghana made the second round in 2006, but will be without their star, Michael Essien in 2010. Ghana's team went from "Wow!" to "Meh!" without Essien.
Australia qualified as a team out of Asia. This may confuse you if you look at a map. Australia used to play other teams in the Pacific, like New Zealand, Fiji, and American Samoa, and beat them so badly so they picked up their continent and moved it.
Expected to move on: Serbia, Germany.
Nobody beat the Netherlands in qualifying. In fact, nobody even tied them. The Dutch are always among the best teams in the world, but they've never won the World Cup. They finished in second in 1974 to Germany and in 1978 to Argentina. A semifinal appearance in 1998 in France is the best the Dutch have mustered since then. This year's team looks like it has enough to get to the semifinal again, but the Dutch may not have Arjen Robben, who hurt a hamstring in training.
Japan is appearing in its fourth straight World Cup. The Japanese have only made it out of the first round once, back in 2002 when they played at home. Japan usually has a lot of fan support overseas, but they don't play well away from home.
Denmark is a solid, but not flashy team. Denmark's biggest moment in soccer was winning the European championship in 1992. This is not 1992, however. The Danes are not going to overwhelm the opposition with dynamic play. They have to hope they screw up less than other teams, which only gets you so far.
Cameroon made a big splash in the 1990 World Cup making it to the quarterfinals. They eliminated Argentina in the opening round and upset Colombia in the second round before falling to England. Cameroon has made three more World Cups, but hasn't been much of a factor. Samuel Eto'o is one of the top players in Europe, playing for European club champ Inter of Milan. Cameroon's teams go by the nickname of the Indomitable Lions, which really should be worth at least one extra point in group play.
Predicted to advance: Netherlands, Cameroon
Defending champion Italy is the top seed in this group. The Italians aren't considered to be much of a factor in this year's tournament, but they should win this group, which is pretty weak. The Italians are seldom artful, but they are always organized.
Paraguay lost star Salvador Cabañas to a bullet in the head in a bar in Mexico City. (Just how it happened is still a matter for the authorities to decide.) Cabañas has survived and is out of the hospital and doing pretty well, but he won't be playing in South Africa. The rest of Paraguay's team has been uninspiring in preparations for the World Cup.
Slovakia surprisingly qualified for the World Cup, upsetting its old roommate the Czech Republic. This will be Slovakia's first trip to the World Cup finals. They have a pretty good shot at moving on from this weak group if they beat Paraguay. Remember Slovakia is not Slovenia.
New Zealand is the fourth team in this group and the one team everybody wanted to get paired with. The Kiwis are considered to be the weakest team in the field. New Zealand won the Oceania group and then a playoff against Bahrain to make the field. Now they get to figure out how to get from Auckland to Johannesburg. (You connect through Perth it seems.)
Predicted to advance: Italy, Slovakia
Group G aka "the Group of Death"
Five-time champion Brazil is the main attraction here. However, the Brazilians long known for playing an artful and attacking game, have switched over to the philosophy of defense first under unpopular coach Dunga.
Brazil was knocked out in the quarter-finals in 2006 by France and the fans of Brazil demand a better showing. But, they also want the game to look nice. Dunga is offering Brazil the choice between winning ugly or living fast, dying young, and leaving a beautiful corpse. This is a very tough choice for the average Brazilian fan.
Portugal will be one of the challengers to its former colony (and the place where the Portuguese royal family fled to in the 19th Century, establishing the last monarchy in the Americas.) Portugal features Cristiano Ronaldo (or sometimes just Ronaldo, don't confuse him with the Brazilian star), the highest paid player in the world (just how much he makes is not exactly known, but supposedly he has a buyout clause from his contract with Real Madrid for one billion Euros.) However, the team has had trouble jelling under coach Carlos Queiroz. Portugal finished in fourth place in 2006 and has the talent to win it all. Or flame out early.
Ivory Coast, aka Cote d'Ivoire, was Africa's best hope for a run at the title. Didier Drogba is the best player among his country's so called "Golden Generation." Unfortunately, the Chelsea star broke his arm last week. But, he claims he may still play in the World Cup.
Ivory Coast has little to show in the way of championships. The Ivorians were eliminated in the first round in 2006. And this group is brutal. The team may benefit from playing relatively close to home. Or they may realize that they are playing Brazil and Portugal and make enough mistakes to get them eliminated. If Drogba is able to play, Ivory Coast has a chance, but it looks dicey now. I'd short your Ivory Coast stock. Except everybody else already did. So you're stuck with it.
Everybody's unsentimental underdog, North Korea, rounds out this group. Unsurprisingly, not too much is known about the team. Not too much was known about North Korea when they made it to the World Cup in 1966 and upset Italy and almost beat Portugal. North Korea is expected to go 0-3 and head back home.
Since it's hard enough to travel from North Korea to South Korea now, there won't be many, if any, North Korean fans in South Africa. North Korea reportedly has hired troupes of Chinese actors to fill in as fans for them. Presumably, the actors will get paid in Chinese currency.
South Korea and North Korea are on opposite sides of the draw and could not meet until the finals. They played each other in qualifying. South Korea won 1-0 in Seoul and the other match was a 1-1 draw in Shanghai.
Predicted to advance: Brazil, Portugal
The tournament favorite, Spain, is the class of this group. La Furia Roja have lost only once since 2006, a 2-0 loss to the U.S. in the Confederations Cup last year. The Spanish start world class players at every position. They will possess the ball for most of each match they play.
Although Spain has one of the strongest domestic leagues in the world (La Liga) and features two of the sports most famous clubs in Barcelona and Real Madrid, the Spanish have generally been flops on the international stage. However, the Spanish did win the European championship in 2008, the nation's first big international trophy. If Spain cannot win the World Cup this year, it's time to start dressing them in blue and white and making them wear a blue cap with a red C on it.
Chile is the likely second place team from this group. The Chileans score a lot. They also give up a lot of goals. So, if you want to watch a game with a lot of up and down action, Chile is your team.
Switzerland makes the World Cup fairly frequently. It's their ninth trip. The Swiss have not made it past the second round since 1954. The Swiss won a rather easy qualifying group in Europe, so they haven't been challenged much. Swiss fans are surprisingly partisan. And they have cowbells.
Honduras, beset with political strife at home, made the World Cup thanks to a miraculous last minute goal by Jonathan Bornstein of the U.S. in a qualifier against Costa Rica in Washington. That forced a draw and kept Costa Rica out of the tournament. Honduras made the World Cup in 1970 and 1982. Like those two years, Honduras will just be happy to be here. In 1982, Honduras did tie host country Spain in their first match. If that happens in 2010, then someone will have someone explaining to do.
Predicted to advance: Spain, Chile.
Predicting the knockout rounds would be even more guesswork. Spain remains the favorite of oddsmakers with Brazil the second choice. Spain and Brazil are on opposite sides of the draw so they could meet in a dream final. Spain versus England is another highly anticipated final.
Recent history shows that the final four teams usually have one dark horse. In 2006, not many expected France and Portugal to meet in the semis. In 2002, South Korea and Turkey were unexpected interlopers. In 1998, it was Croatia. In 1994, Sweden and Bulgaria made unexpected runs to the semis.
However, the final almost always features two traditional powers. Spain is looking to join one of the most exclusive of international clubs. Barring an unexpected major injury, the Spanish should become the first European team to win a World Cup held outside Europe.
As the Pac-10's spring meetings begin this weekend in San Francisco, rumors are swirling about the conference's potential expansion. Colorado AD Mike Bohn told the Boulder Daily Camera that the Pac-10 is on the verge of issuing invitations to Colorado, Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State. This comes after several smaller media outlets had similar reports.
In the meantime, the Big-12 Conference is holding its meetings in Kansas City this week, which have devolved into a complete frenzy. With news that Missouri and Nebraska could be headed to the Big-10, the Big-12 could wind up dissolving.
A proposed Pac-16 could put USC, UCLA, Cal, Stanford, the Oregon schools and the Washington schools in an 8-team western division. The six new schools would likely join Arizona and Arizona State in an eastern division, and an annual conference championship game would take place in football.
Can you imagine USC in the same conference as Texas and Oklahoma? That could make for some intense regular season football games, depending on how the schedule is structured.
All of this underscores what a desirable position the Pac-10 is in right now. For a conference that is often ignored in the East and in the South, it's refreshing to see the Pac-10 in a place of power. With college athletics on the verge of a virtual Armageddon, it appears that the Pac-10, Big-10, and SEC are the only three conferences that are both assured of the right to survive and the opportunity to expand.
This is largely because of geography. With schools in major markets like Los Angeles, San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, and Phoenix, the Pac-10 has the ability to create a quality TV network that universities want to be a part of.
So will this actually happen? While it's incredibly fun to talk about, I wouldn't bet on it. Expanding to 16 teams poses a slew of logistical problems, and there are serious questions from Pac-10 presidents about the academic credentials of some of the schools being considered.
A more probable scenario is that the Pac-10 will add two teams, with Colorado and Utah being the most likely new members. The Big-10 will probably add Missouri, Nebraska, and 1-2 schools from the Big East, with Rutgers, UConn, and Syracuse being among those discussed. At that point, the Big-12 will have lost three members, and will seek to replace them among a group of schools that could include TCU, SMU, BYU, UNLV, Houston, New Mexico, and Memphis.
At that point, rather than adding six Big-12 schools, the Pac-10 and Big-12 will enter into an alliance, and create some sort of western regional TV cable network. The alliance could also include some scheduling partnerships. While it's possible the Pac-10 is actually issuing the invitations to those six Big-12 schools, my guess is that only Colorado will accept right away. The Texas and Oklahoma schools will hold out until they are assured that the Big-12 will survive.
It's a week for delicious pairings. On Saturday, you can feast on eye-candy at the West Adams Heritage Art in Historic Places architecture tour or pig out at this year's Taste of a Nation food fair in Culver City on Sunday. On Tuesday, things heat up in Beverly Hills with the Backdraft Ball to raise funds for the Beverly Hills Firemen's Association. If you need to cool down, head over to the Autry Museum for a lecture on how Hoover Dam made America. Or you could just sit back and let laughter wash over you if you are lucky enough to score a ticket to John Waters's gig at ALOUD as he discusses role models with Carrie Fisher.
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
Friday, June 4, 2010
Saturday, June 5, 2010
Sunday, June 6, 2010
Monday, June 7, 2010
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
It's funny how the NBA works. Basketball is a game that's all about matchups and if you had asked me before the playoffs who could knock off the Lakers, then I would have said Cleveland, Orlando, and Dallas. As it happens, the Lakers faced none of those teams and now find themselves in the NBA Finals against the Boston Celtics.
Not long ago, both of these teams seemed like they were headed nowhere. The Lakers were unimpressive for the last month and a half of the season, and the Celtics started struggling well before then. Yet, both teams showed that momentum means little entering the playoffs, and here they are in the Finals.
So who will win this matchup of two classic rivals? I like the Lakers in 7. It's going to be a grind-it-out, drag 'em out kind of a series. But in the end, I think the Lakers' home court advantage is a big deal. Only two teams have ever swept the middle three games at home in a Finals (Detroit in '04 and Miami in '06), and I would be surprised if Boston can do that here. Even if the teams split the first two games in LA, I think the Lakers can win a game in Boston. Having Game 7 of the NBA Finals on your home floor is a major advantage.
But the Lakers strengths go beyond just home court advantage. The 2008 Lakers were out-muscled by the Celtics in the Finals. They also had no answer defensively for Paul Pierce, who won the Finals MVP Award with Vladimir Radmanovic guarding him much of the way. Enter Ron Artest, who was seemingly acquired just for this series. Artest's superior defensive skills will, at worst, contain Pierce, and certainly prevent him from looking like the best player on the court.
Additionally, Andrew Bynum's presence in the middle will be key for the Lakers. After getting his knee drained, Bynum should play better than he did against Phoenix. Bynum missed the '08 Finals, which led to Kendrick Perkins solidifying the post and pounding Pau Gasol. Bynum is physical enough to compete with Perkins, and that will only benefit Gasol.
Still, Gasol will have the key matchup of the series, as he goes against Kevin Garnett. While Garnett is a step slower than he used to be, he still plays the game with great intensity, and his long reach could cause problems.
Rajon Rondo is the one Celtic who is much improved from 2008. The Celtics offense runs through him, and the Lakers will probably use Kobe Bryant on him defensively. It will be interesting to see how that affects the Celtics offense. That could open up some shots for Ray Allen, who remains a great shooter, but Allen doesn't have the quickness that he used to have.
Offensively, the Lakers may need Bryant to take over several games on his own. Rondo might be too small and Allen might be too slow to stop him. The Celtics might look to double-team Bryant, so he'll have to do a good job of starting the triangle offense to rotate the ball to the open man.
Neither team has a great bench, but x-factors do exist there. Lamar Odom expects to receive significant minutes and when he plays well, it's extremely difficult to beat the Lakers. Unfortunately, Odom usually has a great game just once or twice a series. Sasha Vujacic could be an interesting option off the bench for the Lakers if they feel like they need a shooter. While Sasha can be a pretty frustrating player to watch some times, it's easy to forget that he was the difference-maker in the Lakers' Game 3 win over Boston in '08.
The Celtics have an interesting bench with Nate Robinson who could prove a valuable spark plug. Rasheed Wallace is playing hurt, but he's capable of having a big game. Glen Davis is hurt for Boston, and I'm not sure how effective he'll be.
It seems like these teams match up pretty evenly for the most part. The Lakers might look slightly better on paper, but the Celtics seem to play with a tad more intensity. In the end though, the home court advantage will play a significant role, and the Lakers should win their second straight title.
In the meantime, I will be on The Filter with Fred Roggin tonight at 7:30 PM on NBC Plus (Time Warner Cable Channel 225) to discuss the Finals.