Winter Olympics vs Summer Olympics

I recently posted a simple question on my Facebook profile: Which is better — Winter or Summer Olympics? Those who voted were very confident in their choice, making claims like “summer by a lot” and “winter for sure,” while others added colorful comments such as “figure skating is horrible” and “without the winter olympics we would never have been blessed with Cool Runnings.”

I figured summer would win in a landslide, but when the votes were tallied it was much closer than I thought. Summer had the edge, but barely. I didn’t scoff at those who voted for winter. I’m just jealous of them. I want to like the Winter Games more, I just find the Summer Olympics to be so much better. Here are four reasons why.

1. He won…I guess
For the most part, people like competitions in which there are clear-cut winners. Team A scored more points than Team B. Athlete X reached the finish line before Athlete Y. We don’t like our sports to include judges. Let them decide American Idol.

Unfortunately, a large number of Winter Olympic sports have judges, such as figure skating, snowboarding, and freestyle skiing. Subjectivity takes away from the viewing experience, because fans have to delay their excitement until the judges’ scores are posted. Unless a competitor does something that is obviously bad — i.e. fall — it’s hard for the average viewer to distinguish between two good performances.

2. You’ve never luged
Most everyone has ran, swam, played basketball, ridden a bike, and lifted weights. Perhaps not competitively, but you’ve done these activities. Raise your hand if you’ve ever been in a bobsled. Or if you’ve soared through the air, on skies, the length of a football field. Or if you’ve even thought about taking a broom with you to the ice rink to push around a chunk of granite. Yeah, didn’t think so.

Now, I’m not suggesting bobsledding, ski jumping, and curling aren’t worthy of being Olympic events, nor am I saying the athletes who compete aren’t incredibly skilled. But an overwhelming majority of people have no frame of reference for these events. What is a good score? A good time? A good distance? Even in the objective events, it’s hard to make much sense of what you’re watching.

3. Everyone can play
You don’t need wealth, or a particular climate, to compete in many of the summer events. All you need are shoes to train for track and field, water for swimming, fists for boxing. There’s a reason that 10 countries have more than 100 summer medals but fewer than 10 winter medals. If your country doesn’t get any snow, it’s sort of hard to train for most of the winter events.

The winter sports are also, generally speaking, more expensive. Renting ice time is very costly, and this likely prevents some of the poorer countries from participating in many events. The Olympic Games are supposed to be for all, right? The Summer Games promote this ideal; the Winter Games do not.

4. Big names left out in the cold
Make a list of your top five greatest Olympic champions of all time, using whatever criteria you choose. I’m only 23, but here are mine: Michael Phelps, Carl Lewis, Mark Spitz, Jesse Owens, and Usain Bolt. Of course I’m biased towards more recent competitors as well as American athletes, but I can’t imagine any list that includes a majority of winter athletes.

I’d be shocked if Lindsey Vonn, Shaun White, or Apolo Ohno generate the buzz that Phelps, Bolt, and Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh provided in the 2008 Summer Games. Simply put, the Winter Games lack the star power that the summer Games have.

I didn’t go with the more conventional five reasons because I’m leaving it up to you to either provide an additional reason why the Summer Games are better or to give a reason why I’ve got it all wrong, and that the Winter games are superior. Let me know in the comments.

Michigan Womens Basketball: Kevin Borseth Builds the Program

Late in a close game against an in-state rival, Kevin Borseth looked out on the court and saw he was putting the game in the hands of Dayeesha Hollins, Jenny Ryan, Nya Jordan, Rachel Sheffer, and Carmen Reynolds. The significance? These players don’t exactly have much big game experience. In fact, they don’t have much experience at all; four are freshmen and one is a sophomore.

But this young team is showing a great deal of promise and should capture more and more attention on a campus hungry for a winning program.

Of the “big four” sports at the University of Michigan, three of them feature head coaches in or entering their third season. The casual college sports fan is likely familiar with two, men’s basketball coach John Beilein and football coach Rich Rodriguez (who begins his third season in the fall), both from West Virginia University.

However, the recently hired Michigan coach who has made the greatest strides is Borseth, the women’s basketball head coach in the midst of his third season in Ann Arbor after nine seasons at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

Borseth is in his 23rd year as a head coach at the Division I and II levels, and he’s been a winner throughout his career. A native of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, he led Michigan Tech to four conference titles in 11 seasons, earning the league’s coach of the year award five times. Borseth’s UW-Green Bay teams won the league title all nine of his seasons, reaching 20 wins in all but his first year.

Winning has not come as easily to Borseth in Ann Arbor. Inheriting a program that had won only 21 games the previous three seasons, he took over the Wolverines and immediately returned them to respectability by going .500 in the Big Ten and 19-14 overall, winning two games in the NIT. But Michigan regressed last season, at least in the winning column, going 10-20 and a dismal 3-15 in conference.

Last year was especially disappointing because Michigan started 7-4 in the nonconference, beating No. 12 Vanderbilt and No. 8 Notre Dame. But two long losing streaks in the Big Ten, including dropping the last eight, doomed the Wolverines.

There were worries that this year’s squad might follow a similar script. Michigan had another impressive early season resume, knocking off two ACC schools and No. 8 Xavier, all on the road. The Wolverines won an early December game at Iowa as well, but then went 2-6 in their next eight Big Ten games, the last of which was a heart-breaking two-point home loss to Ohio State, and many fans had to be thinking, “here we go again.”

But entering Thursday night’s game with Michigan State, Michigan had won four of its last five and was 6-7 in conference and 14-9 overall. The young players Borseth put his faith in performed admirably (Hollins, a freshman, scored a game-high 19 points), but Michigan lost, 50-45. Even so, the Wolverines are only two games back of third place in a conference that, even with only four games left, could see the standings shift dramatically. Other than Ohio State, which is 13-2, the remaining seeds are up for grabs.

Michigan’s remaining schedule is difficult, with road games at Penn State and Minnesota and home contests against Wisconsin and Purdue. If the Wolverines were to go, say, 2-2, then win a game in the Big Ten Tournament, it would probably get them an NIT bid, but no more. To look at this as a disappointment, though, would be far too critical given the youth of this team. Michigan’s 13-player roster consists of six freshmen and three sophomores. Of the eight players averaging at least 10 minutes per game, five of them are underclassmen.

In Year Three under Borseth, it’s clear the program is making strides. Michigan has proven it can win on the road, notching seven victories away from Crisler. It has proven it can beat top-ranked teams (Xavier). And it has proven it can hang with the best in conference (the two losses to Ohio State were by a combined five points). The next step is not just hanging tough in those games, but winning them.

There’s still plenty of basketball to be played this season, but it’s hard not to get excited thinking about the future of Michigan women’s basketball.

Podcast: Michigan Basketball and Football Conversation

Last Wednesday I spoke with Chris Gaerig, a college friend of mine and author of Burgeoning Wolverine Star, about Michigan athletics. Michigan had lost a heartbreaker the previous night to Michigan State, making it very unlikely that the Wolverines will make the NCAA Tournament. We discuss the game, as well as the future of Michigan basketball under John Beilein. Chris argues that DeShawn Sims is a better college player (and a better pro prospect) than Manny Harris.

Later in the discussion, we talk about the struggles of Michigan football. This podcast isn’t all rainbows and butterflies, but then again, Michigan sports hasn’t exactly given its fans reasons to smile lately. If you love Manny, or think the Wolverines are really going to miss cornerback Donovan Warren, let us know in the comments. And be sure to check out Chris’ blog, too.

http://www.divshare.com/flash/playlist?myId=10429069-9d8

Iona vs. Siena: MAAC Game of the Year

The Iona Gaels (17-6, 8-3) travel to Albany’s Times Union Center to face the Siena Saints (19-4, 12-0) tomorrow night in a showdown of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference’s top two teams. Iona has won eight straight games, and Siena holds the nation’s longest streak at 13 games. The Saints won the first match-up on Dec. 7, 73-60.

Iona, like every other MAAC team this season, will be a big underdog against Siena. This is a different Iona team from when these two teams last met, however, so in anticipation of the game (which I’ll be covering) I’ll break down five keys for the Gaels to pull off the upset.

1. The Awe Factor
The Saints are the two-time MAAC champions and haven’t lost a conference game yet this season. They’ve won eight in a row against Iona, last losing in January of 2006. The Gaels can’t be intimidated by the Saints or their sold-out arena — a building, by the way, where Siena has won 32 straight. In fact, Iona, a full-court pressing team, can use the crowd energy to its advantage.

Jonathan Huffman, one of only two seniors on this Iona team, told me after the Gaels’ latest loss to Siena that, coming from the Big East (Huffman followed head coach Kevin Willard from Louisville), he looks at Siena like any other team. It’s reasonable to think that cool confidence has rubbed off on his teammates. After all, Iona won at Providence this year and took Florida State and Baylor down to the wire in Orlando.

2. Keep A-Rod on the Court
Willard said it himself after Iona’s most recent game: “He really is the backbone of our team.” He was speaking of junior Alejo Rodriguez. At 6’8,” 235 lbs., Rodriguez provides muscle for the Gaels’ thin frontcourt. Huffman is a seven footer, but he prefers to play on the perimeter, leaving freshman Mike McFadden as the only other Iona forward who logs substantial minutes.

Rodriguez enters the contest with Siena coming off two straight double-doubles. He leads the MAAC in field goal percentage by a fairly wide margin, but it’s on the defensive end that Rodriguez makes his mark, blocking and changing shots and pulling down boards. He can’t do any of these things, of course, if he’s not on the court. A-Rod fouled out of five of his first 14 games this season, but hasn’t fouled out in nine straight. He’ll go up against a Siena front line that includes three preseason first and second team All-Conference players.

3. Something’s Gotta Give
Siena is the highest-scoring team in the MAAC, averaging 75 points in conference games. Iona is the best defensive team, allowing only 56 points per game. After Monday’s game, Willard and his players spoke about how this Gaels squad is finally grasping the concept that defense wins games. But Siena’s starting five poses an entirely different challenge. Four starters score in double-digits, and the one who doesn’t, point guard Ronald Moore, leads the country in assists by a wide margin at a whopping 8.3 per game.

Edwin Ubiles is Siena’s most talented player, but “Ronald Moore is the key to that basketball team,” Willard said after Moore played 40 minutes against Iona in their last match-up. “If there’s a better point guard in the country, I’d like to find him. He makes everything go. He handles the ball, handles it against pressure, gets in the lane when he needs to, and makes all the right decisions…he is just terrific.”

Pretty high praise, huh? Well, Iona can counter with some great defensive guards, and if they can slow Moore down or force him into some turnovers, Iona’s chances at winning improve greatly.

4. Contain Ubiles
Easier said than done. The versatile small forward hit nine-of-16 shots for a game-high 19 points in the first match-up. When the game was still in single digits midway through the second half, he scored 10 points in a six-minute span to put the game away.

Ubiles is a match-up nightmare. At 6’6″ the senior can shoot over smaller guards, but he’s too quick for bigger forwards. He’s shooting over 50 percent from the field and, although he doesn’t take many threes, he’s over 40 percent from downtown. Ubiles has been hampered by a bad shoulder and has missed three of Siena’s past five games. But he played 23 minutes in Saturday’s win over Marist, scoring 15. He is expected to start tomorrow.

Not sure which player will draw Ubiles — whoever it is, he will have his hands full at the defensive end. Forcing Ubiles into some tough shots will help Iona limit the high-powered Saints offense.

5. Dig Deep
It’s often a key ingredient in any upset recipe: knock down some threes. Fortunately for the Gaels, they’re tops in the MAAC, shooting 37 percent from deep. They make an average of 7.6 threes per game, and I think 10 will be needed to beat Siena. Iona can spread the floor with as many as four shooters — Scott Machado, Kyle Smyth, Jermel Jenkins, Rashard McGill, Rashon Dwight, Milan Prodanovic, and Huffman can all hit from deep.

Stretching the defense by hitting outside shots will open the lane for Machado and others to penetrate. Deep bombs also tend to have the effect of quieting the crowd.

So there you have it. Pretty simple right? Five easy steps to victory. In all seriousness, Siena is going to be favored for a reason. This program has earned its position as the MAAC’s elite. But the Saints hear the footsteps of some of the other MAAC programs, with Iona’s likely being the loudest.

Willard has taken this team from a laughingstock (2-28 the year before he took over) to a legitimate conference force. Just hanging tough with the Saints would an improvement from years past, but a win would be perhaps Iona’s biggest in several seasons.

First Podcast: Marist vs. Iona, Halftime Radio Show

At TheSportsJournalists.com, today marks the inauguration of us podcasting from this blog. All of our podcasts can be found at podcasts.thesportsjournalists.com

Our first podcast was recorded by ICGAELS.COM during halftime of Iona’s 61-42 win over Marist on Thursday, January 28th. It includes Andrew Kahn fielding questions from Ed Ingles. This is Andrew’s first appearance on live radio so we’d love to hear your feedback regarding his performance. We would like to thank everyone at ICGAELS.COM for giving Andrew this opportunity.

Listen below.

http://www.divshare.com/flash/playlist?myId=12000349-314

2010 NCAA Tournament: National Championship Contenders

There are a lot of really good teams this year, but unlike last year there is not one that stands above the rest. North Carolina didn’t run the table last year as some foolishly predicted, but they were undoubtedly the best team from start to finish. Their closest NCAA Tournament game was 12 points.

This year, people thought Kansas was the clear-cut No. 1, but Kentucky’s resurgence has some people thinking otherwise. Below, you’ll see my rankings of the teams with the best shot to win the 2010 NCAA Tournament (along with the odds, courtesy of Superbook.com, for each team to do so). As you’ll see, at this point I believe there are only seven lucky teams that have a shot at hoisting the hardware in Indianapolis.

1. Kansas (odds: 7-4)
I don’t care if Kentucky has replaced Kansas as the “it” team of the moment (although that might change after the Wildcats were upset on Tuesday night), I still believe the Jayhawks are the best team in the country. Xavier Henry is undoubtedly the second best freshman in the nation, and the inside-outside combination of senior point guard Sherron Collins and junior center Cole Aldrich is second to none.

I stress the class standing of Kansas’ stars because that is what separates them from Kentucky. Experience is not something to dismiss come Tournament time. This is a Kansas team that has players who’ve been to two Final Fours and won a national title. Last year the Jayhawks won two tough games before falling to eventual runner-up Michigan State in a close game. My only concern is that KU’s younger players defer too much to Collins. Henry might have to assert himself a bit more offensively if this team wants to realize its full potential. Even so, if I were filling out my bracket today I’d write “Kansas” six times.

2. Kentucky (4-1)
Two syllables: John Wall. He is the player of the year frontrunner at this point in the season and clearly the most talented player in college basketball. But he is a freshman. So is teammate DeMarcus Cousins. And Eric Bledsoe. In fact, of the nine Wildcats averaging at least 10 minutes per game, four are freshman and two are sophomores. That leaves junior Patrick Patterson and senior Ramon Harris as the only upperclassmen who see the floor regularly.

But does age matter? Carmelo Anthony led Syracuse to a title as a freshman in 2003, but all the teams led by a freshman have come up short since. Kentucky handled the last few minutes of the loss to South Carolina pretty well in my opinion. Despite coming up short, they didn’t seem to panic or start pointing fingers. The real test will be how they respond after their first setback. With their next two games against ranked opponents (and upcoming trips to Vanderbilt and Tennessee), we’ll see what this very young Kentucky crew is made of. One thing is for sure: the Wildcats are going to be a tough out come March.

3. Purdue (25-1)
Just when you thought my picks were getting boring…

Please keep in mind that this ranking is based on the assumption that point guard Lewis Jackson will return from a foot injury that’s kept him out so far this season. If he decides to take a medical redshirt instead, Purdue is Elite 8, and maybe Final Four material, but I don’t think they can win it all. I don’t have any numbers in front of me but I imagine it’s hard to win the title without a true point guard.

If Jackson does return though, I think he is the final piece to the puzzle and the Boilermakers — much like fellow Big Ten school Michigan State last year — will play in the Final Four in their home state. Of course that is a very big “if” considering it is Jan. 28th and Jackson hasn’t played yet. The reports are optimistic though, or else I wouldn’t even consider ranking Purdue so high.

4. Villanova (12-1)
‘Nova reached the Final Four last year and the ‘Cats brought mostly everyone back this year. Dante Cunningham graduated, however, and I think he will be missed more than people realize. Sure Villanova is undefeated in the Big East, 18-1 overall, and ranked third in the country. But Cunningham was a huge part of this team, and he brought an element that I’m not sure Taylor King, or anyone else, can replace.

I think ‘Nova has a great shot at making the Final Four; guard play is so important in the Big Dance and ‘Nova’s backcourt is as good as any. But I don’t think this team has an inside presence that warrants them being higher on this list.

5. Michigan State (12-1)
The second Big Ten team on my list, I like the Spartans because of their ability to close out tight games (see their last two wins against Michigan and Minnesota), their experience (they’re led by upperclassmen who’ve been to multiple NCAA Tournaments, including the Final Four last year), and their balance (they can score in a variety of ways).

Michigan State has a go-to guy in reigning conference player of the year Kalin Lucas, as well as a mastermind in coach Tom Izzo. It was a surprise run last year, even though MSU was a two seed. This year, it shouldn’t surprise anyone if the Spartans are back in the Final Four.

6. Texas (12-1)
The Longhorns earned their first ever No. 1 ranking earlier this year, though it didn’t last long, as they promptly dropped two straight. But they righted the ship last night with a victory over Texas Tech. Texas beat Pittsburgh, North Carolina, and Michigan State, all by double digits, and two of those teams were ranked in the top-10 at the time.

Losing Varez Ward for the season hurt, but the key to this team will be the development of freshman star Avery Bradley. If he grows into a true superstar, he will be the perfect complement to Damion James. The ‘Horns have experience, and the key will be seeding. If they can win the Big 12 and earn a one seed, that will be huge.

7. Syracuse (4-1)
Given their odds, perhaps I should have the Orange higher on my list. ‘Cuse has some impressive wins, too, including a rout of California that I witnessed in person. Even so, I’m not 100% sold, though I’m not exactly sure why.

Syracuse has a great coach, a nice balance of upper and lowerclassmen, and a true star in Wesley Johnson. This team is also a classic case of “addition by subtraction,” as it was no secret to anyone watching ‘Cuse that Eric Devendorf was more trouble than he was worth. Two other starters — Paul Harris, who was overrated to begin with, and Jonny Flynn — were also apparently not all that coachable.

So there’s reason to believe the Orange may go deeper in this year’s Tournament than they have since the ’03 title I mentioned earlier. I like Syracuse; I just like the other teams a little bit more.

Notables and Notes

  • I didn’t include Duke (15-1), Georgetown (25-1), or West Virginia (25-1), simply because I don’t see any of them winning it all. That goes triple for Duke. If you think the Blue Devils have the weapons to bring a title back to Durham, well, you probably thought they did last year, too.
  • Defending champ North Carolina is now 40-1, because everyone is starting to realize what Roy Williams knew months ago: this Tar Heels squad is too young and inexperienced to have such lofty expectations.
  • There’s great value with tenth-ranked BYU at 40-1. Yes, the Cougars did drop their first MWC game last night at New Mexico, but that’s nothing to be ashamed about. BYU (20-2 overall) is still an experienced Tournament team, with a bonafide star in Jimmer Fredette. The Cougs just hope they don’t have to face Texas A&M in the opening round, at the Aggies have ousted them the past two years.
  • Ohio State (30-1) has an All-American so they’re worth a look, though it’s hard to imagine the third best team in a conference winning it all. Gonzaga and (somehow) Cal are the biggest favorites of any west coast teams at 60-1, which speaks to the decline of the teams out west. UCLA, for example, is 200-1, which is a joke because I don’t think they’ll even make the Tournament.
  • Siena and Temple, both 100-1, have bracket buster potential, though it’s unlikely either of these programs will ever win it all.

Agree? Disagree? Feel your favorite school was snubbed? As always, let me know in the comments section.

One man's writing in one place.