What began as a light-hearted conversation with my good friend Scott regarding Arizona athletics quickly turned ugly Wednesday night, which left me dry heaving over the kitchen sink soon after I hung up the phone. Scott's a very knowledgeable and intuitive Arizona grad – aren't we all – who like me, always looks at sports under a magnifying glass. He duly pointed out that had Arizona beaten Stanford this season and if UCLA beats USC, Oregon beats Oregon State, and Arizona beats Arizona State this weekend, then Arizona, yes, ARIZONA, would be proclaimed Pac-10 champions and would be representing the conference in the 2008 Rose Bowl. I questioned him at first, then looked up the stats, then considered gauging my eyes with a nail filer before guzzling lighter fluid.
Here's the deal, if the above scenario actually did play out, Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon, UCLA and USC would all be tied atop the conference's final regular season standings with 6-3 records. Now, common sense would say Arizona beat the Sun Devils, the Ducks and the Bruins so all those teams are out. Similarly, the Trojans beat the Wildcats head-to-head so naturally USC would be the Rose Bowl representative. Well, who said common sense was always right? The official Rose Bowl Selection Procedure for Multiple-Tie Teams states the following:
"When three or more teams are tied in Conference play, if one has defeated all others, it shall be the Rose Bowl representative. If that is not the case, a comparison of the tied teams' records against the other tied teams shall be made and the team having the best record against the other tied teams shall be the Rose Bowl representative. If two or more teams are still tied after this comparison, the appropriate two-team or multiple-team tie-breaking procedures shall be repeated among those teams still under consideration." In adhering to this rule, here are the records:
Arizona State: 1-3 (Victories: UCLA. Losses: Oregon, USC, Arizona)
UCLA: 2-2 (Victories: USC, Oregon. Losses: Arizona, Arizona State)
Oregon: 2-2 (Victories: Arizona State, USC. Losses: Arizona, UCLA)
USC: 2-2 (Victories: Arizona, Arizona State. Losses: Oregon, UCLA)
Arizona: 3-1 (Victories: UCLA, Oregon, Arizona State. Losses: USC)
My goodness gracious I think I'm going to get sick again. To think that Stanford, 3-8 Stanford, could be the main reason that kept Arizona from the Rose Bowl is a troubling truth. Where oh where was the Stanford Band when we could've really used them? I don't suppose it would have been too much to ask to have a Cardinal Trombone player prance around the end zone during the waning seconds of that game. Unbelievable! I need a shot of Demerol and a drink. Make that several drinks.
You'd hate to claim that Sunday's Arizona basketball game against Texas A&M is a must win for the Wildcats this early in the season, especially considering that the Aggies are currently ranked No. 9 in the ESPN/USA Today and AP Top 25 Polls, but it kind of is. After Sunday's contest, Arizona most likely won't face another ranked opponent until Dec. 29 when they visit the No. 3 Memphis Tigers. Even if Arizona wins the remainder of their non-conference games, they'll have done so without beating a ranked opponent out of conference. This, traditionally, does not bode well with the NCAA Selection Committee in determining tournament seedings for the Big Dance. You hate to look so far ahead and if my alter ego, the so-called "Basketball Editor," were writing this he'd never dare, but fortunately he's not so let's press forward. Arizona's past tournament successes usually came in seasons where the Wildcats had strong non-conference performances. Last season was a bit of an aberration considering Arizona did beat Illinois, Louisville and Memphis, but they also got rolled by North Carolina in the middle of a conference tailspin that nearly ended their 23-straight NCAA Tournament streak. Hence, it was no surprise they got bounced by Purdue in last year's first round. This season, Arizona, even if they do fall against the Aggies, appear to be a team that will only get better as the season evolves so the loss may not have an overall negative affect. Still, Arizona is beginning to play much better right NOW and a win over Texas A&M would only propel them further ahead in their evolution after playing well this week in an overtime loss at Kansas and in a home-game thrashing of Cal State Fullerton.
The Aggies will be a difficult match up for Arizona and not simply because of their lofty ranking. Their entire team is long and athletic and they run the court very well. Their athletes favor an up-tempo game but, like Arizona this season, they're not afraid to get down and dirty in a defensive slugfest. The Aggies have beaten up nearly every opponent they've faced (they beat a good UTEP team 81-76), which includes double-digit victories over Washington, Alabama and an old-fashioned whooping of Ohio State in the championship game of the NIT Season Tip-Off. Arizona's at home so that should help. They've also played much better this week then they have in previous weeks so that should help to. How well they respond to Texas A&M's suffocating defense and how well they can disrupt the Aggies' transition game will go a long way in determining the outcome. If they continue to commit a high amount of turnovers then forget about it. If they limit the turnovers and can force the Aggies to score in their half court sets then I like Arizona's chances a lot.
Speaking of basketball, how ridiculous is King James. Apparently, single-handily carrying the Cavaliers to the Eastern Conference Finals last season wasn't good enough. Now, he's pretty much accepted the fact he's going to get little help from his current teammates so he's basically assumed the responsibility of trying to average half of his team's total points for the remainder of the season, or until the ‘Cavs ownership trades for some help.
The Los Angeles Lakers announced that they've come to terms on a two-year contract extension with Phil Jackson. The extension is reportedly worth $24 million. Unless the Lakers plan on retaining Kobe Bryant after next season and also making a monster trade for some All-Stars, retaining Phil at that salary seems like a serious waste of resources. Perhaps the Lakers are going to make another big push to return the team to championship glory. If they do, then it'd be the first time the Lakers and Celtics would be legitimate title contenders at the same time since the early 1990's.
Speaking of the Celtics, they beat the Knickerbockers on Thursday night 104-59. Former Washington Husky Nate Robinson wisely made a 37-footer at the buzzer to avoid the Knicks scoring their fewest points in the shot-clock era. How Isiah Thomas retains his job is simply amazing. Not only can he not properly control order off the court, on the court his team is only 4-10 and worse, a not-so-perfect 0-7 on the road. Isiah must have something on team owner James Dolan. He must, right?
My buddy Joe made a great point about USC's head coach Tim Floyd. Remember when Harry is teaching Cole Trickle a lesson about wear and tear on a cars tires during a training session when the team owner Tim walks up to them and Harry says, "His way, my way. I was six seconds faster." Well, replace Harry with Floyd and Cole with Mayo and I think that's how the film session went down the day after USC lost their season-opener to Mercer. Floyd has the same philosophy of Harry in that he let freshman sensation O.J. Mayo try things his own way for the first game of the season, before putting his foot down and showing Mayo how he could be an even more effective player and team contributor by doing things Floyd's way. In the game against Mercer, Mayo scored 32 points, making 12 of 27 from the floor. The Trojans lost 96-81. In their six games since, Mayo is still averaging more than 21 points a game but he's doing it while taking less shots. His efficiency is noticeable and the Trojans look like they could be serious Pac-10 contenders now. I guess we'll know even more after USC hosts No. 4 Kansas Sunday morning.
As for the Pac-10 overall, the conference, after some early stumbles, is really starting to show their force on the national scene. All 10 teams have winning records, while seven have only one loss. That list includes Arizona State. This weekend, the Pac-10 can make a real statement by playing well in multiple head-to-head games with the Big 12. Arizona hosts No. 9 Texas A&M, UCLA hosts No. 8 Texas, USC hosts Kansas, California hosts Missouri, Oregon State hosts Iowa State, Washington plays at Oklahoma State, ASU plays at Nebraska, Washington State plays at Baylor and Stanford plays at Colorado. The Pac-10 currently holds a 3-2 edge over the Big 12 this season. Kansas beat Arizona last Sunday. Last night, Oregon edged Kansas State in an overtime game in Manhattan while USC defeated Oklahoma at the Galen Center. Other games include UCLA over Michigan State, Stanford over Colorado State, and a Washington loss to Texas A&M (NIT Season Tip-Off).
Wow. That was a really boring paragraph. Sorry about that. Let's spice things up, and quickly!
HBO announced that they'll be adapting the controversial book, "Game of Shadows," into a movie that'll be directed by Ron Shelton. HBO has a phenomenal reputation for creating original content and what they and Shelton come up with to tell the Barry Bonds "alleged" steroids story should be great drama. I'm wondering who plays Bonds? If I were the casting director, I'd go with Nick Canon as Bonds during the "alleged" pre-steroid years when Bonds was with the Pittsburgh Pirates. In his time with the San Francisco Giants, maybe someone like Tommy ‘Tiny' Lister, who played Deebo in the hit movie Friday, would be a fitting choice.
Congratulations to the Patriot News daily newspaper in Harrisburg for producing a truly ground-breaking story by forcing the disclosure of Joe Paterno's salary. The paper was hoping for a scandal-like story that would reveal the legendary coach making some inordinate amount of money as Penn State's head coach. Well, guess what, after a five-year legal battle that resulted in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling in favor of releasing Paterno's salary, it turns out the coach is on schedule to make $512,664 by year's end. Last season Paterno was paid $490,638. Nice work Patriot News. I guess you better figure out another story to lead with this weekend. I have an idea. Maybe you can go after school teachers or social workers being overpaid. I hear they're making about a million a year in undisclosed earnings. Puh-leaze.
If you missed Wednesday night's Fox Sports Arizona telecast of the UA/CSUF basketball game, you missed a truly classic moment in what not to do if you're a sports journalist covering a halftime interview with a head coach who has like 50 other more important things to do than talk to you at the break. That's not to attack these journalists because they serve a valuable role but in doing so, they must realize that they have about five seconds to ask an intelligent question that produces a valuable response. FSA's reporter got blind-sided by Arizona interim coach Kevin O'Neill when instead of simply asking a question, he inflected his own personal opinion. After an uncomfortable three second pause that had a seemingly motionless, and perhaps stunned, O'Neill starring upwards into the stands, O'Neill nearly did a double-take before he responded, "What are you referring to?" To the reporter's credit he recovered quickly and clarified but oh, man, the original exchange was one worth remembering. Well, for everyone except the reporter that is.
Okay, enough fun for now. Let's get to what's really important, this weekend's battle for the Territorial Cup. Arizona leads the overall series 44-35-1 but Arizona State has won two in a row and six of the last eight. Arizona has a secret weapon this season though and it's my buddy Jeff. You see, he's currently sleeping with the enemy and gathering all the intel he can. Jeff's a suit-and-tie attorney by day but he's a smooth-talking, crafty secret agent by night doing covert work for the Wildcats. He's concocted a perfume that feels, looks, and smells exactly like the one his Sun Devil girlfriend Brooke wears. Except Gordo's Love Potion No. 9 will magically secrete an air-borne formula that will affect the mood of all Sun Devil fans in the stadium this Saturday. All they'll do is sit quietly in the stands and not know why, leaving the hooting and hollering to the 20,000 or so Wildcat fans who attend the game. Sun Devil fans won't be the wiser because they'll think they're not cheering because the Wildcats will be blowing them out on the field but the reality is that good old Jeff found an innovative way to take them out of the game before the opening kickoff.
Actually, let me re-think this. In my days on Earth, I've come to learn one undeniable truth which is: women are much smarter than men. So, oh, boy, perhaps it's Brooke who's the secret agent and is pulling the fast one on Jeff. My, oh my, Arizona could be in serious trouble. Thanks, Jeff. Thanks for letting this little Sun Devil into our Wildcat Den. If Arizona loses Saturday, this one just might be on you.
Actually, I'm kidding of course. A potential loss will be on me unless I can figure out a way to wear the right "winning" outfit, sit in the right spot, eat the right food, drink the right drink, and find the right volume setting on my television this Saturday.
Enjoy the big game everyone. Ours is regularly recognized as the most hated rivalry in college football, but please don't put that into practice by disrespecting others this weekend. Have fun, root passionately for your school, spew forth some good natured ribbing, but leave it at that once the game is over.
Bear Down, Everyone! And Bear Down, Arizona!