The State of College Basketball

Sorry, Carolina. Not quite, California. Nice try, Indiana. But Tennessee is the best state in college basketball right now. You can argue about the best team—a debate that will be resolved with the tournament—but the Volunteer State reigns supreme among the 50 in the world of college basketball.

On Saturday, the University of Tennessee traveled to Memphis and knocked off the previously undefeated Tigers to unseat Memphis as the number one ranked team in the nation. Tennessee didn’t have long to celebrate their big win and first number one ranking in school history, though, as they traveled in state to visit conference rival Vanderbilt on Tuesday.

The Volunteers were defeated 72-69, and the game wasn’t even as close as the final score. While the win may make Bruce Pearl’s stop atop the polls a short one, Vanderbilt should move up in the rankings. They are currently ranked 18th in the AP poll and 14th in the USA Today/ESPN poll. It’s not unthinkable that the Commodores could soon join Memphis and Tennessee to give the state three teams in the top 10 in the country. The shakeup in the Volunteer State has me wondering if Tennessee is college basketball’s best state today.

A closer look at the rankings shows that the state of Tennessee is among exclusive company. Only three states currently feature at least three teams in the top 25: California, Indiana and Tennessee. While Indiana leads the way with four teams in the top 25, none is ranked higher than 12th. California has two teams in the top 10, UCLA and Stanford. But it’s only other ranked team is St. Mary’s College at 25 in the AP poll.

Both Memphis and Tennessee have a viable shot at a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament. The state’s third team, Vanderbilt has a chance to earn as high as a number three seed with a strong finish in conference.

That’s enough for me to give Tennessee, the rocky top position among all the states playing college basketball today.

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How the West Will Be Won

Heading into Tuesday night’s action, nine teams in the Western Conference are separated by just 6 games with approximately one third of the season’s schedule left to play.

A look at the schedule shows that these teams will be doing a lot of beating up on each other down the stretch. Each of the nine teams in playoff contention plays at least 10 games against the other eight contenders.

The schedule is bad news for Dallas as they lead the way with 13 of their remaining 25 games against fellow Western Conference playoff contenders. The Lakers and Hornets have the lightest load, facing just 10 games against Western contenders down the stretch.

Meanwhile, the Houston Rockets, winners of 12 in a row, were dealt a major setback today when they learned that Yao Ming will miss the rest of the season with a stress fracture in his left foot. Forty-two percent of their remaining schedule is against their top competition in the West.

Here’s a snapshot of the Western Conference standings as they stand heading into Tuesday night’s games, along with the teams’ total games remaining and games remaining against other teams on the list. Also, check out John Hollinger’s Playoff Odds page at

Western Conference standings

1. L.A. Lakers, 39-17 (26 games remaining, 10 vs. the other 8)
San Antonio Spurs, 38-17 (27 games remaining, 12 vs. the other 8)
Phoenix Suns, 38-18 (26 games remaining, 11 vs. the other 8)
Utah Jazz, 36-20 (26 games remaining, 11 vs. the other 8)
New Orleans Hornets, 37-18 (27 games remaining, 10 vs. the other 8)
Dallas Mavericks, 38-19 (25 games remaining, 13 vs. the other 8)
Houston Rockets, 36-20 (26 games remaining, 11 vs. the other 8)
Golden State Warriors, 33-22 (27 games remaining, 11 vs. the other 8)
Denver Nuggets, 33-23 (26 games remaining, 12 vs. the other 8)

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March Madness A-Z

The buzz is in the air. March Madness is still several days away, but it’s never to early to prepare. What’s everybody talking about? Here are 65 people, places and things listed from A-Z to help even the most casual basketball fan get ready for the 2008 NCAA Tournament, the best event in sports today.



The Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas, will play host to the 2008 Final Four.

Lew Alcindor (now Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) is arguably the greatest college basketball player of all-time. In his three seasons at UCLA (freshmen were ineligible to play back then), his Bruins teams went 88-2 and won the national title each year. Alcindor also earned tournament Most Outstanding Player honors each year from 1967-69.

Anonymous players always seem to come out on the big stage. Some of the tournament’s greatest performances came from players who never went on to make a significant splash in the NBA. In the past 20 years alone, MOPs have included Anderson Hunt, Donald Williams, Miles Simon and Jeff Sheppard. The four players combined to play 23 games in the NBA.




Bands from the various colleges and universities provide the soundtrack for the tournament. Everyone wants to hear their school’s fight song as their team marches on through the bracket.

The Big Dance is one of the most prominent nicknames for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. Everyone wants an invite, but only 65 teams receive one. Thirty-one schools win automatic bids by winning their conference tournament (or Ivy League regular season championship). The other 34 spots are at-large selections determined by a special NCAA committee.

Jay Bilas is a basketball analyst who splits time between ESPN and CBS. His business approach to basketball and knowledge of the game has helped him become one of the college basketball’s most prominent voices in recent years.

Bracketology is defined by as the practice of predicting the field of the NCAA basketball tournament; by extension, parsing things into discrete one-on-one matchups to determine a winner.

Brackets turn into an art form this time of year. All the matchups weave together in a symmetrical pattern leading to the championship.

Bubble teams are teams on the fringe of being selected into the tournament. The bubble bursts for those teams that don’t quite make it. Those that are given at-large berths are then under scrutiny to vindicate their inclusion in the tourney.

Buzzer beaters are part of the thrill of March Madness. There are always a few fantastic finishes that come down to the buzzer. If you’re lucky enough to hit one of those shots, your highlight will be replayed every year at this time when they recap the most memorable moments of tournaments past.


CBS has covered the NCAA Tournament since 1982. Unless you have DirecTV, CBS is the place to watch the games on TV.

Cinderella stories provide hope for the little guy. Tales of Cinderella champions like the 1983 North Carolina State Wolfpack and 1985 Villanova Wildcats are told this time of year, as are the magical runs of small schools like Gonzaga in 1999 and George Mason in 2006.

Coaches are the faces of colleges and universities, where star players often leave after one or two years of school. Roaming the sidelines, these men all vie for a chance to reign supreme in their sport.

Conference supremacy is one of the subplots of the tournament. The power conferences are the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Southeastern Conference and Pac 10. They all want to have the most teams in the tournament as well as the most teams advancing through each round. Meanwhile, the other conferences, often referred to as mid-majors try to spoil the party for the big guys.

Cutting down the nets is a tradition that started back in 1947 by North Carolina State. Today, school’s advancing to the Final Four each cut down the nets. The coach usually goes first and the players follow, each clipping a piece as a keepsake of their tournament run.


Daytime games are rare in sports today when primetime TV ratings are heavily coveted, however, March Madness tips off on a Thursday shortly after noon Eastern Time.

Decreased productivity is a yearly consequence of the NCAA Tournament. Estimates suggest that the tournament costs employers than 1.4 billion dollars because workers spend time filling out brackets, watching and talking about tournament games.

Duke University is the New York Yankees of college basketball. They are traditionally one of the favorites to win it all, and have a devout fan base as well as a large segment of the population that loves to see them come up short.

Dunks were banned by the NCAA from 1967 to 1976, but expect plenty of above the rim action this year. Nothing electrifies a crowd more than a thunderous slam dunk.




The Elite Eight refers to the fourth round of the tournament. Eight teams vie for a chance to advance to the third and final weekend.

Emotions run high in March as coaches and players are put to the test under the national spotlight. Tears will fall, fists will pump and adrenaline will flow as teams battle against the inevitable fact that players on 64 teams will see their championship dreams fall short.




The Fab Five was the nickname for the University of Michigan’s recruiting class of Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Jalen Rose, Ray Jackson and Jimmy King that led the Wolverines to back-to-back Final Four appearances in 1992 and 1993, losing in the championship game each time. Webber turned pro after his sophomore season and Howard and Rose followed after their junior years. Michigan’s Final Four banners have since been forfeited due to violations.

The Final Four occurs on a Saturday. Four regional champions square off in semi-final matchups with the winners advancing to compete in the championship game on Monday.

Foul trouble will surely play a role in at least one big game. In football, a penalty can cost you 15 yards and a first down. In hockey, a penalty will get you a few minutes in the penalty box. But five fouls disqualifies you from a college basketball game, so star players have to avoid fouling out or they run the risk of watching the end of the game from the bench.

Free throws are either the easiest or most difficult shots to make in basketball, depending on the player. Pressure free throws late in a game often decide the fate of a team.




Guards may be the most important players in the tournament. While basketball is a big man’s game, point guards are the floor generals, directing traffic and controlling the ball most of the time. Strong guard play is an essential ingredient to success in March.




History is a big part of the lure of the tournament. Some interesting historical facts:

  • A 16-seed has never defeated a number one.
  • All four number one seeds have never made it to the Final Four in the same year.
  • As an eight seed in 1985, Villanova was the lowest seeded team to ever win the tournament.



Individual matchups are an essential part of the bracket system. Scouting comes to a forefront as coaches try to find the best matchup and use it to their benefit.




Gus Johnson is one of the best play-by-play announcers in sports today. His enthusiasm and excitement captivate audiences and he is a perfect fit for March Madness.




Mike Krzyzewski leads all active NCAA coaches with three national titles. Additionally, he has led Duke to 10 Final Four appearances in his 28 years there. He is also the all-time leader in NCAA Tournament victories with 68.




Joe Lundardi is ESPN’s resident bracketologist. His study of college basketball and the history of tournament seeding enables him to predict the field of 65 nearly perfectly each year.




Mascots ranging from the Stanford Tree to Syracuse’s Otto the Orange to The Blue Blob of Xavier do more than star in “This is SportsCenter” commercials. They’ll be out in full-fuzzy-bodied force come tournament time.

Most Outstanding Player is the NCAA Tournament’s award for the best player. Many sports name an MVP, but the MOP is the award given to the tournament’s standout performer.




The National Championship gold-plated plaque is not really a trophy, but in a world of glitz and glamour, it’s refreshing to have such a simple symbol of success.




Office pools galore make March Madness interesting to the serious and casual fan alike. Everyone wants bragging rights for having the most correct picks.

One Shining Moment” is the theme song played at the conclusion of the tournament by CBS. It is played over a montage of highlights from the tournament, ending with a shot of the newly crowned champions.

The Opening Round is a game played between the teams determined to be the 64th and 65th best in the tournament. On a Tuesday night before the first round begins, these teams play for a chance to advance and play a number one seed.




Billy Packer has been the color commentator for every Final Four since 1974. A polarizing figure, Packer has been involved in a number of controversies during his broadcasting career.

Bruce Pearl is the head coach the Tennessee Volunteers. In just his third season with the Vols, Pearl has taken his team to its first number one ranking in school history. The charismatic Pearl made waves in Tennessee when he showed up bare-chested with a V painted on his chest in support of legendary Tennessee women’s coach Pat Summitt and the Tennessee Lady Vols.

Predictions will start to fly fast and furiously as soon as the brackets are announced. Be weary of the “sleeper” pick that every “expert” is predicting to advance far in the tournament.




Quitting is not part of the NCAA tournament lexicon. “Don’t give up, don’t ever give up,” were the famous words of Jim Valvano at the ESPY awards in 1993. The legendary coach led the North Carolina State Wolfpack to the 1983 title. His memorable speech was given just months before he died of cancer. To date, the V Foundation, a cancer research foundation in his honor, has raised more than $70 million.




Bill Raftery is a college basketball color commentator known for his many catchphrases such as “Man-to-man!” and “With the kiss!”

Regionals in the NCAA Tournament are named East, Midwest, South and West. While I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before the regions will be named McDonald’s East, General Motors Midwest, Coca-Cola South and Starbucks West, it’s nice to have something non-corporate for the time being.

Rivalries permeate college basketball, especially within the conferences. When rivals meet during the tournament, the stakes are raised and wins become even more meaningful. The rivalry between North Carolina and Duke is widely regarded as the fiercest in college basketball. Despite the success of both programs, the teams have never met in the NCAA Tournament.




School colors are as diverse as the rainbow. Every arena hosting first-round action is filled with fans of the various teams competing.

Seeds are the way teams are ranked for the NCAA Tournament. Teams are seeded 1-16 with one being the best in four different regions. One plays 16, two plays 15 and so on down the line. It’s set up for the top-seeded teams to have the easiest path to the championship, but upsets inevitably alter the course of the tournament from round to round. The tournament is not re-seeded at any point.

Selection Sunday is one of the most events in sports that doesn’t involve any actual competition. The field of 65 is announced and everyone begins to break down the matchups.

Spring and March Madness go hand in hand as hope springs eternal, so it’s only fitting that the first round kicks off on the first day of spring in 2008.

The Sweet 16 refers to the third round of the tournament. Teams that win their first two games advance past the first weekend to play on in the Sweet 16.




Team nicknames in college are varied to say the least. There is the Stanford Cardinal and the Louisville Cardinals as well as everything from Golden Flashes (Kent State) to But you’ll likely have plenty of tournament teams to pick from if you like Wildcats (32 schools including Arizona, Kansas State, Kentucky and Villanova), Bulldogs (39 schools including Butler, Drake, Gonzaga and Mississippi State) or Tigers (45 schools including Auburn, Clemson, Memphis and Missouri).

Text messaging makes it easier than ever to relay score information during the tournament. It wasn’t long ago, that the only way to find scores was on TV or in the newspaper the next day.

Three points. Dunks may make highlight heels, but a shot from farther than 19’9” is good for an extra point. The 3-point shot has become such an integral part of the college game that it’s hard to believe it wasn’t introduced nationally until 1986. Beginning next season, the NCAA will move its 3-point line back a full foot to 20 feet, 9 inches. Expect plenty of 3-balls to fall during the final tournament at the current distance.

Three weeks is the duration of the tournament. Unlike the Super Bowl, which is two weeks of hype for one big game, March Madness delivers 64 games on eleven days spread over three weeks.

Tournament experience is a phrase you’re likely to hear often throughout the tournament. Teams with players who have played in the tournament before often feel they have a competitive advantage based upon their experience of years gone by.

Tradition is a big part of college sports, in general, and the tournament, specifically. Some “basketball schools” steeped in tradition include UCLA, Kentucky, Indiana, North Carolina and Duke.




UCLA has won an NCAA-record 11 national championships. Ten were won under coach John Wooden and the 11th came in 1995 under Jim Harrick. The Bruins made it back to the Final Four each of the past two seasons, losing to eventual champion Florida each time.

Undefeated seasons are rare in all team sports. The last college basketball team to do so was the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers. The UCLA Bruins had back-to-back undefeated seasons in 1972 and 1973.

An undisputed champion results from the grueling tournament that forces a team to win six games in three weeks against stiff competition. Unlike college football, there is no argument about who is number one at the end of tournament.

Upsets can be bracket busters as low-seeded teams knock off powerhouses predicted to play into the Sweet 16 or beyond.




Dick Vitale is the unofficial bald-headed spokesperson of college basketball. Working for ESPN, Vitale does not get to broadcast tournament games, however, Vitale represents college basketball more than any announcer represents any other sport.




John Wooden is the legendary former coach of UCLA. The 97-year-old “Wizard of Westwood,” Wooden is widely regarded as one of the smartest and most genuine men in the history of the game. He coached UCLA to a record 10 national championships, including seven in a row from 1967-1973.




X-factors are little things that make a big difference in a game or throughout the tournament. Turnovers are always a costly X-factor, especially late in the game.




Youth is on display in this tournament as players as young as 17 and 18 compete on a national stage. Freshmen were once not allowed to play varsity basketball in college. Today, many of the top rated players are in their first year of college. For some, this will be their only appearance in the tournament before turning pro.




Zags is the unofficial nickname of Gonzaga University. They are technically known as the Gonzaga Bulldogs, however they are popularly referred to as Zags and the school has become the poster-child of small school success in the NCAA Tournament. After making a shocking run to the Elite Eight in 1999, the Zags’ basketball program has regularly been ranked among the top 25 in college basketball.

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Revisiting the Lakers’ decision to trade Shaquille O’Neal

On a night when Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant are preparing to meet for the first time as division rivals, it’s hard to believe that it’s been just four years since one of Hollywood’s most tumultuous relationships (the Lakers’ Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant) ended in divorce.

After eight years, more than 400 wins and 3 NBA championships together, the Shaq and Kobe feud finally reached its breaking point during the summer of 2004 and O’Neal was traded to Miami for Lamar Odom, Caron Butler, Brian Grant and a first round draft choice.

In the immediate aftermath of the trade, many observers (myself included) and experts (Bill Simmons’ take) crushed the Lakers for making this move, and they appeared to be justified.

2004-05, the first season after the trade:

  • The Lakers finished 34-48 and out of the playoffs for the first time since 1994 when O’Neal was still in Orlando and Bryant was still a sophomore in high school.
  • The Heat finished 59-23, good enough for first place in the Eastern Conference and advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals where they lost in seven games to the Detroit Pistons.

2005 off-season

  • The Lakers drafted center Andrew Bynum, a 17-year old, 7-foot project straight out of high school with the 10th overall pick, the team’s first lottery selection in more than a decade.
  • The Lakers drafted forward Ronny Turiaf from Gonzaga in the second round with the 37th overall pick.
  • The Lakers sent Caron Butler, who was acquired in the O’Neal deal, along with Chucky Atkins to Washington for Kwame Brown and Laron Profit.

2005-06, the second season after the trade:

  • The team improved to 45-37, which was good for a seventh seed in the Western Conference playoffs. They then lost to Phoenix in seven games in the first round.
  • Miami went 52-30, a slight drop-off from the previous year, but they made everyone forget about their second place Eastern Conference regular season finish by avenging their loss against the Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals and then coming back from an 0-2 series deficit in the NBA Finals to win four straight and the championship against the Dallas Mavericks.

In a “what have you done for me lately?” society, the verdict on the Lakers’ trade of O’Neal was in, and the Lakers were the losers. General Manager Mitch Kupchak was heavily criticized. O’Neal was hoisting another championship trophy, and he was not wearing a Lakers uniform. While most people even didn’t bother weighing in on this trade anymore after O’Neal helped Miami win a championship, the story didn’t end with Miami’s championship.

2006 off-season

  • The Lakers drafted point guard Jordan Farmar from UCLA with the pick acquired from Miami in the O’Neal trade.

2006-07, the third season after the trade:

  • The Lakers finished 42-40, which is once again good for seventh in the West. Again they faced Phoenix in the first round, and again they lost, this time in just five games. Three less regular season wins, two less postseason wins and another first round exit were not welcomed by Lakers fans. Neither was the news that Caron Butler was named to the All-Star team as a member of the Washington Wizards while Kwame Brown played just 41 games and averages 8.4 points and 6.0 rebounds for the year.
  • Because of the Lakers inability to show progress, the regression of the Heat was overlooked. Miami won only two more games than the Lakers, going 44-38, before being swept in the first round of the playoffs by the Chicago Bulls. O’Neal played in only 40 games, averaging a career-low 17.3 points and 7.4 rebounds per game.

2007 off-season

  • Kobe Bryant demands a trade, then rescinds his demands. This pattern seemingly repeats a dozen times and rumors of Bryant’s imminent departure continued to swirl even after the 2007-08 season began.
  • The Lakers signed Derek Fisher, one of the mainstays from their championship seasons earlier in the decade, and someone to bring leadership into the locker room.

2007-08, the fourth season after the trade:

  • The Lakers exceeded everyone’s expectations by starting the season strong. They defeated the Memphis Grizzlies on Jan. 13 to improve to 25-11, but center Andrew Bynum, who was having an all-star caliber year injured his knee in the win. The Lakers went just 3-5 in their first eight games after losing Bynum, but then they acquired 2006 All-Star Pau Gasol in a deal that sent Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, Aaron McKie, the rights to Marc Gasol and two future first round picks to Memphis. Since they made the deal, the Lakers are 8-1, currently one game back of Phoenix and New Orleans atop the Western Conference standings.
  • Miami began the season 0-5, and things haven’t gotten much better. The Heat have lost 24 of their last 25 for a league worst record of 9-42. Aware that the playoffs were not in the cards this season and that their roster was not getting any younger, Miami traded O’Neal to Phoenix for four-time All-Star forward Shawn Marion and fifth-year guard Marcus Banks.

The fourth season is not yet complete. The Lakers are in the middle of a playoff push that currently has the top nine teams in the West separated by just five games. Adding to their difficulties, Bryant is attempting to play out the rest of the season with a torn ligament in his finger after doctors advised him to have surgery that would keep him out for six weeks. The Lakers are also waiting on the returns of injured players Bynum, which likely will not happen until late March, and Trevor Ariza, whom they acquired earlier this year by sending Brian Cook and Maurice Evans to Orlando.

Still, the Lakers are being picked by some to represent the West in the NBA Finals this season. Miami’s postseason highlight will be the NBA Draft Lottery. It’s taken four years—and patience is not something Lakers fans are known for—but the Lakers and Mitch Kupchak finally can make a legitimate argument that they got the better end of the O’Neal deal.

The trade resulted in just one season out of the playoffs. Most teams would die for that short of a “rebuilding period.” And for their troubles, the Lakers drafted Bynum, who appears to be on his way to becoming one of the best low-post threats in the league.

With the pick from Miami, they also drafted Farmar, who looks to be the Lakers’ point guard of the future.

Odom has led the team in rebounds each season since he’s been in L.A. while scoring between 13 and 15 points per game. And while the decision to deal Caron Butler may have been a mistake, the ability to deal Kwame Brown for Pau Gasol made amends.

Four years later, the trade looks something like this:

  • Los Angeles Lakers acquire: Andrew Bynum, Jordan Farmar, Lamar Odom, Pau GasolMiami Heat acquire: 2006 NBA Championship, Shawn Marrion, Marcus Banks

That championship is still hard to argue with. So if you go back to the summer of 2004 and you’re the Heat, I think you still make this deal. But I think the Lakers do it all again too. And when you factor in that only one player on the Lakers will be in his 30s during this year’s postseason—Derek Fisher is 33—this is a team that will contend for a title this year and for the next several years.

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Easter Basketball

When I looked at the calendar a month or so ago to find the start of the 2008 NCAA Tournament, I was surprised to find that it coincided with the Catholic Church’s Holy Week.

Being a Catholic myself that meant that I wouldn’t spend March 23 simply watching eight games determining the second half of the sweet 16. I’d spend it celebrating Easter, only the biggest day of the year in the church.

Schedule conflictions and religious convictions aside, March 23 seemed like a very early date for Easter to me, so I did some research and found that I was right. Dating back to 1875, March 23 is the earliest date that Easter has been celebrated. And 2008 will mark just the second time it’s happened. Easter also fell on March 23, 1913.

That means it’s been 95 years since Easter came this early! World War I hadn’t even happened yet, let alone March Madness. Back then, the NCAA didn’t have a tournament to crown its champion. In 1913, Navy was voted national champions by the Helms Foundation after posting a 9-0 record—for the entire season. Today it takes six games just to win the NCAA Tournament.

In the past, several Final Fours have been played on the Saturday before Easter with the championship following on Monday. But only twice in the past 30 years have teams played NCAA Tournament games on Easter Sunday.

In 1989, Illinois beat Syracuse 89-86 and Duke defeated Georgetown 85-77 in two regional final games held on Easter.

The most recent games played on Easter also came in the regional finals of the 2005 NCAA Tournament. Michigan State edged Kentucky 94-88 in two overtimes and North Carolina defeated Wisconsin 88-82.

With Easter coinciding with second round action in this year’s NCAA Tournament, a record 16 NCAA teams will be competing on Easter. So after church and a search for your Easter basket, basketball won’t be hard to find. Celebrate the holiday with friends and family and the most exciting event in sports.

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Dunk or Not a Dunk?

There’s no denying that Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard put on quite a show last night in New Orleans, winning the 2008 NBA Slam Dunk Contest. His creativity and freakish leaping ability, especially for a 7-footer made it one of the best all around performances in the history of the competition.

I don’t question that he was the best dunker, but I’m not sure that one of his dunks was actually a dunk at all. It was creative. It was exciting to watch. But Howard’s “Superman” dunk, which came complete with cape and Superman t-shirt, was really more of a throw into the basket than a traditional dunk. His hand was several inches away from making contact with the rim.

Judge for yourself. It’s easy to get caught up in the hysterics of TNT’s Kenny Smith and Magic Johnson, but it looks to me like Howard took off from about one step too far. The resulting play was still incredible to watch, and unlike anything anyone had seen in the dunk contest before, but I still don’t think that makes it a dunk.

Yes, he was above the rim, and yes he threw the ball downward, but it wasn’t like he was throwing it straight down. He was throwing it forward too. My reaction? Great play. But not a dunk. Not really a shot either. I don’t even know what you’d call it. Never seen that done to a basketball before. Howard’s athleticism is amazing and his other dunks made him championship worthy.

Plus, he got ripped off last year for the sticker dunk, so maybe Howard deserved a pass.

I still think he should have had to re-try this one, though. I’m pretty sure he would’ve made it, but this is not an all-time best dunk because if you watch the slow-motion replay, it doesn’t look like a dunk.

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Friday Notes and Links from the Association

  • The newest Hall of Fame class will be announced April 7. Hakeem Olajuwon and Patrick Ewing lead the list of candidates and appear locks to be voted in. Other finalists include Dennis Johnson, Adrian Dantley and Chris Mullin, all of whom were among my 40 finalists for inclusion among the 61 Greatest Players in NBA History.

  • The trade of Jason Kidd to the Dallas Mavericks now has two different snags that may keep it from happening. First, Devean George is refusing to be included. Second, Jerry Stackhouse may have said too much about his team’s plans to circumvent league rules.

  • Kobe Bryant is the latest in a long line of Los Angeles Lakers players to suffer an injury this season. Doctors said Bryant has a torn ligament in his finger. The team is already without Andrew Bynum (knee), Trevor Ariza (foot) and Chris Mihm (heel). Bryant has bowed out of this weekend’s 3-point shootout but is likely to play in the all-star game. He said he wants to put off surgery until after the season and the 2008 Summer Olympics in August. If he can get by with the pain and without causing further damage to his finger, this is a huge relief for the Lakers. Despite being third in the West, L.A. is just 3 games ahead of 9th place Denver in the loaded Western Conference. Any missed time from Bryant could see the Lakers fall out of the playoff race.

  • The rookies/sophomores game is tonight at 9 p.m. In the 8-year history of the game, the rookies have won only twice. The sophomores have won the last five games by an average score of 133-109. Expect that trend to continue this year.

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