Saturday, January 29, 2011

Hubba, hubba, Czisny back as America's best in skating

Alissa Czisny, reason enough for red-blooded American males to watch figure skating, is back as America's best female skater after taking the U.S. Figure Skating Championship tonight in the sold-out Greensboro Coliseum.

"It's pretty exciting to come back after thinking about quitting," Czisny said, "and being able to find my love for the sport again. I love to skate and I want to share it with everybody."

Third after Friday's short program, Czisny skated a near-perfect, fluid, energetic long program routine to hold off last year's champion Rachel Flatt, who made two minor errors in her long program.

Czisny, who has struggled with confidence in the past, appears to be back after finishing 10th in the U.S. championships last year. She also won the U.S. title in 2009 but had struggled until beating the world's best recently at the Grand Prix final.

"She has so many things you can't teach," former men's champion Scott Hamilton said. "She has a beautiful presence on the ice. You can develop it but what she brings with her spinning and her artistic sense is really amazing."

Even before the end of her long program, Czisny was smiling as she knew she had nailed it. "What else could you want in a woman figure skater?" Hamilton asked. "Alissa Czisny has it all and she just delivered it. What a comeback."

Mirai Nagasu, on the other hand, faltered in the long program after leading going into Saturday night. Small errors throughout dropped her to third.

Flatt, competing last, was third after the short program and couldn't overtake Czisny. "She put together a good routine but two mistakes are too many to hold off a performance like the one delivered by Alissa Czisny," Hamilton said.

Czisny, who leads the U.S. team to the world championships in Toyko in March, finished with 191.24 points, while Flatt had 183.38 and Nagasu had 177.26.

The men's champion, with favorites Ryan Bradley and Jeremy Abbott fighting it out, will be determined Sunday. The event closes with a skating spectacular performance Sunday night.

Hometown paper really playing up the NHL All-Star weekend in Raleigh

The News & Observer, which has taken some shots from critics as newspapers have struggled economically, is doing an admirable job covering the NHL All-Star activities being held in its hometown of Raleigh.

The city has been partying downtown since Friday night and the N&O has been there to cover many angles of the story as well as the events themselves which include a Fan Fair, an all-star draft and a skills competition.

Team Staal, as in the Carolina Hurricanes' Eric Staal, defeated Team Lindstrom, as in Detroit Redwings' Nicklas Lindstrom, in the SuperSkills competition at the RBC Center tonight.

For complete coverage of the skills competition as well as the entire NHL All-Star weekend, including a preview of Sunday's All-Star game, go to the N&O's website at www.newsobserver.com/allstars

ESPN's TV audience misses Harrison Barnes' coming out party

In North Carolina's 84-64 win over N.C. State, Harrison Barnes had a coming-out party of sorts, especially in the first few minutes. Too bad ESPN didn't show it.

Barnes, who scored 25 points, hit his first four shots of the game to lead Carolina out to a 13-2 advantage. Barnes has had some clutch shooting at the end of games but he hasn't started (and maintained) solid play until this game.

Unfortunately, ESPN decided that people who tuned in to watch the North Carolina vs. N.C. State game would rather be treated to a portion - A LIVE LOOK-IN they call it - of an overtime game between Louisville and UConn.

The Tar Heels game was already in progress thanks to an overtime game between Georgetown and Villanova, which one or the other eventually won. The Heels were up 7-2, two minutes into the game when the Georgetown-Villanova game ended.

ESPN decided they would do a full one-minute wrap-up of that game and then send viewers to the LIVE LOOK-IN of Louisville and UConn instead of immediately switching to the Carolina game which they had advertised to viewers as coming on at 2 p.m. If you tuned in to watch the Carolina-State game right at 2 p.m., you got to start watching it more than 16 minutes later.

By the way, when ESPN decided to switch to the Carolina game, not only was the score 13-2 and Barnes had his best start this season, but the game they had given us a LIVE LOOK-IN of was tied at 69 - nothing had been determined. So, we watched nothing be determined in a game we weren't supposed to be watching while certainly the tone for the game we were supposed to be watching was determined.

Was there one Louisville or UConn fan in the country - or even basketball fan in the country - tuning in to the UNC-N.C. State game with hopes of getting a sliver of the Louisville-UConn game?

ESPN has gotten too big for its britches. They have too much power with no consequences for their foolish decisions. I've said it a dozen times but if you are scheduling two games back-to-back, you've got to give more than two hours for the first game to be completed. If you have a 12 noon game, your next game should not be scheduled to start before 2:30.

Further, if you advertise that you are showing the Carolina-N.C. State game, then by God you should show the Carolina-N.C. State game. If I wanted to watch Big East basketball, I would buy the Big East package or I would go to a sports bar or I'd friggin' move out of ACC country.

If ESPN doesn't have the technology to allow people in the ACC viewing area to actually watch entire ACC basketball games, then they should allow the ACC Network to also air ACC matchups. In other words, the Carolina-State game would have also been on WRAL in Raleigh for instance.

It's really past time for someone to reign in the influence and power ESPN has - they aren't good stewards of it.

For more on the N.C. State game itself and more commentary on ESPN, please click here.

No excuse for lazy effort by N.C. State

The North Carolina game is always a crucible for N.C. State, a test that football coach Tom O’Brien has embraced. But the men’s basketball team produced an embarrassing effort Saturday that highlighted the deficiencies of this Wolfpack team.

State has talent, but that’s not enough. Whether Ryan Harrow is on the bench or not with the flu, there is no excuse, none at all, for lazy play. College basketball players, whether playing their rival in the Smith Center on ESPN or playing Delaware State before a small crowd, should give their all. UNC did that Saturday, and great coaches like Roy Williams and Mike Krzyzewski get maximum effort from their teams.

That’s not the case with N.C. State. Carolina roared out to a 19-6 lead early in the game thanks to a 15-2 rebounding advantage. That’s simply an outrageous imbalance. One of the rare mistakes the Tar Heels made in the game is they once had six players on the floor, which was comical given that UNC seemed capable of winning this game with only four.

But there were little moments that were telling. Carolina’s Kendall Marshall zoomed right down the middle of the NCSU defense untouched, missed a shot and there were two Tar Heels to rebound. Richard Howell got caught in a double-team, and as ESPN astutely pointed out, not a single Wolfpacker rushed to get the ball. You could see it clearly on the replay – with Howell in trouble, his four teammates just stood there.

State never moved with crisp efficiency on offense, preferring to hope a player could beat his man and get a basket.

And as for overall hustle, you just didn’t see that from State. Harrison Barnes once beat two Wolfpack players to a loose ball. Late in the game, C.J. Leslie made almost no effort for a loose ball as two Carolina players went after it.

The only conclusion you can draw is N.C. State is simply a lazy team. They have some guys who play hard – Tracy Smith, Lorenzo Brown, Ryan Harrow – but not enough. By game’s end, UNC fans were chanting, “Not our rival!” Right now, that’s the case.

This was a ridiculous performance from N.C. State, and it’s school, and fan base, deserve better.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

When will these younguns learn not to yell "overrated" at Harrison Barnes

You think that might be the last time that idjit students yell "over-rated, over-rated" at Harrison Barnes?

It's the most foolish chant in college basketball. Nothing good can come from it. Do they really think it will do anything but inspire the player, especially one that is used to being the center of attention.

The Hurricane fans yelled "over-rated" at Barnes over and over again as he stood at the free throw stripe with 5:57 to go. He calmly hit two free throws in a one-and-one situation to put the Heels up 63-62.

Then with just 1:04 left, Barnes, who went just four of 11 on the night, swished in a pressure-filled 18 footer from the left side to tie the game at 71-all.

Then with time running down in the shot clock and the game clock, Barnes knocked in a three from right corner to give Carolina a 74-71 victory tonight.

While not living up to the All-America hype, Barnes has consistently come through in late-game situations.

"He's not afraid to take it," UNC coach Roy Williams said of the clutch shooting. "He thinks he's going to make it every time."

By the way, the "over-rated, over-rated" chat is even more foolish when it is used against an opposing team. If you win the game, you have minimized your team's victory by simply winning a game against an overrated team.

For more on the Miami game, please click here.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

State gets a big win, will go as far as Harrow can take them

There are big games and biggest games and games you simply have to have. Sunday's contest with Miami was just that for N.C. State at an RBC Center where the disgruntled nature of Wolfpack fans was evident in the swath of open seats downstairs.

State won 72-70 but had to hang on after coughing up a 17-point lead in the second half. Coach Sidney Lowe is hardly having an impressive effort this year, and a loss Sunday would have been disastrous for Lowe's tenure. To his credit, his team hung on and played with toughness in the final two minutes.

Miami actually had a 70-69 lead when freshman Ryan Harrow took a tough driving shot that missed badly. But Tracy Smith tipped the ball so hard it ricocheted off the backboard. Then Smith grabbed it, leaned to his right and scooped in a shot with 43.9 seconds left.

Harrow stole the ball at the other end, and C.J. Williams hit one free throw for State with 15.9 seconds left.

State made an impressive defensive stand on the other end. Lowe wisely put Scott Wood on the Canes' Malcolm Grant, who had hit all five of his three-pointers and had 23 points in the game. Grant tried to shoot but Wood cut him off, so Grant made a wild drive and Smith stepped in. Grant's only chance was a tough pass inside a teammate could not handle, and the horn went off with the ball loose.

What was interesting about this game was who did play, and who did not. The debate over point guard, where Lowe had stubbornly clung to Javier Gonzalez, is over. Gonzalez, a scrappy kid with marginal skills, got only nine minutes and Harrow played the critical minutes in the stretch. C.J. Leslie, the talented but erratic freshman, played just 14 minutes against the rugged Canes front. And freshman Lorenzo Brown, who had started most of the season, gave way to Williams in the starting five but still played 22 minutes.

The team that finished the game - Smith, Harrow, Williams, Wood, Richard Howell - is probably State's core five going forward. If the long injury to Smith helped in any way, it is probably that Howell gained critical experience and State saw what Leslie can, and cannot, do.

The official attendance was 15,222, but empty seats are a sure sign of a fan base that is losing faith. N.C. State got a win it coveted against a Miami team that is better than some might think. Harrow learned some hard lessons - like the wild shot he took toward the end - but State has to keep the ball in his hands. He was just 2 of 10 from the floor Saturday but had seven assists. Heck, when Gonzalez played, it seemed like months would go by without him getting seven assists.

When you watch N.C. State, you get the sense that Smith is one of the league's best players, but that this team will go as far as Harrow can take them, and no further.