THE PALLILOG

Charlie Pallilo: On Rockets-Warriors, college hoops and the curious case of Bill O'Brien's contract

Rob Gray and the Cougars missed a chance at a signature win. Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Imagine having shelled out for Beatles concert tickets in their heyday, the show went on, just without John Lennon and Ringo Starr. That was pretty much the Rockets and Warriors at Toyota Center Thursday night with no James Harden for the Rockets and no Kevin Durant for the Warriors. Bummer. You still had Paul and George (though no Paul George), a couple of surefire future Hall of Famers playing in Stephen Curry and Chris Paul, but the concert just couldn’t be the same with neither the Beard nor K-D taking part. Oh well. The teams meet again, in Houston again, in a couple of weeks. Perhaps Harden’s recovery froma hamstring tear is more rapid than expected and peak marquis value will be fulfilled.

As for the game the better team won, that is Golden State. The reigning champs forged a three game lead over the Rockets atop the Western Conference. With Harden sidelined for at least another couple of weeks, the Rockets chances of finishing atop the heap are slim and soon seemingly drifting closer to none.

A look at college hoops in the city

For college basketball, Houston has long been a wasteland. There is no worse major market in the country in terms of college hoop interest. In major league sports towns the pros almost always come  first, but here the colleges need upgrades to become afterthoughts. Nevertheless, let’s cover some college hoops!

The University of Houston basically being in a quarter century basketball coma is of course part of Houston’s rampant disinterest in college hoops. There are parents of current UH students with little to no recollection of the Cougars winning an NCAA game. They’ve even been in the NCAA tournament once in the last 25 years. They last won a tourney game in 1984, beating Virginia ahead of losing to Georgetown in the National Championship game. Five of the eight Ivy League schools have won NCAA games more recently. As have Hampton, Lehigh, Coppin St., Vermont, and more than 150 other schools.

It’s been more than 12 years since the Cougars appeared in the Top 25. A win at 9th ranked Wichita State Thursday night would have done the trick, but the game went about as well for UH as Waterloo did for Napoleon. Kelvin Sampson is a very good coach, the American is a very good basketball conference made better with the Shockers joining this season. The Cougars non-conference resume is weak beyond a rout of Arkansas (go Hogs in SEC play!). Short of winning the AAC Tournament, UH will need multiple signature wins over the likes of Wichita State, Cincinnati, and SMU.

Meanwhile, the best NCAA Tourney bet in town is again Texas Southern. The Tigers play in the SWAC,  which is one of the weakest D-1 leagues in the country. But someone has to make the tournament and Head Coach Mike Davis has things where someone is usually TSU (three of the last four years). The Tigers began this season playing 13 straight road games. 13! The Tigers went 0-13 including losses by 28 at 18th ranked Gonzaga, by 31 at 21st ranked Baylor, and by 43 at 3rd ranked Kansas. But there is method to the madness. The program picks up some decent paychecks along the way, and by playing against a bunch of opponents better than anything TSU will face in conference play the Tigers are toughened up.

It's O'Brien's world now

It’s Bob McNair’s money but a multi-year contract extension for Texans Head Coach Bill O’Brien is silly. His four year win-loss record is 31-33, his worst season the most recent and much worse than his best season was good. I think O’Brien is a better bet to at some point to excel in his job than was Rick Smith as General Manager but that’s not exactly choosing between Margot Robbie and Jennifer Lawrence. If O’Brien rides a healthy Deshaun Watson to a fruitful 2018 and then has leverage for a fatter contract or even chooses to walk, so be it. A good Texans team in 2018 would make the job attractive. A bad Texans 2018 season, and, well, why would you still want O’Brien? Smith is done as GM. Taking a year’s leave of absence as his wife works to conquer breast cancer is commendable. Replaced as GM it also sets up Smith to keep the sinecure post of Executive Vice President of Football Operations, or to move on. Smith the GM has been a mediocrity (86-90 over the 11 seasons he’s been a major factor in roster construction). The Texans hiring a one year temp GM would be laughable. Who of quality would even take the job with that scenario?

Buzzer Beaters

1. Central Florida makes itself look small and silly claiming its football team is the real National Champion    2. I’ll take Georgia plus the points vs. Alabama Monday night   3. Best sandwich meats:  Bronze-roast beef  Silver-pastrami  Gold-corned beef

 

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THE LEFT TURN

NASCAR: Coca-Cola 600 preview, picks

Watch out for Ryan Blaney this weekend. Photo via: Wiki Commons

It’s a Memorial Day Tradition; The NASCAR Cup Series heads home to Charlotte for the annual Coca-Cola 600. This race is probably the third most crucial race all season, behind the Daytona 500 and the Season Finale at Phoenix. Anyone who wins this race will always be able to say that they were Coke 600 champions. No race on the schedule is as long as this one, because of this there will be a 4th stage added to the race. Teams will be provided 13 sets of tires, and if the last few weeks have been any indication, they will need all the tires they can get. With the race being as long as it is, there is a good possibility this could be an attrition race and the driver that survives will more than likely win. The record for the most cautions in NASCAR history was 22 cautions, at this same race in 2005. Come Sunday, I bet we get close to that number.

What's the deal with all of these tire failures? Last week in the All-Star race we saw drivers like Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson, and Erik Jones all crash out because they had a flat. There are many factors that could be contributing to this, for one the tires are much wider and the sidewalls are much more narrow. Because of this, the tire falloff is much shorter, so now instead of going maybe 40-45 laps on one set of tires, drivers can now only go 25-30 laps. The other major facet is that a lot of teams are running much lower air pressures to get the car to handle better by being closer to the ground. Goodyear and NASCAR usually require the right side tires to run around 51-52 PSI, the rule however isn’t enforced for the left side tires, so drivers will push the limits to see how much they can take out to make the car faster. The fact that we were seeing such tire ware on smooth surfaces like Texas and Atlanta is a clear sign that there is a problem, but not all of it is on Goodyear. Only time will tell how this develops on tracks with old abrasive surfaces, like when they go back to Bristol in the fall.

One of NASCAR’s newest teams, Trackhouse racing, made a bit of a surprise announcement this week. Starting at Watkins Glenn in August, the team will run a third car with a series of international drivers, starting with 2007 Formula 1 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen. This is something that I think is interesting for the sport. I am a bit surprised that another team hasn’t already done this before. Having drivers like Kimi, one of the more world renowned racers in F1, can really bring a whole new audience to NASCAR. There have been rumors on whom some of the other drivers might be, from Daniel Riccardo to even Lewis Hamilton. There will be a lot of intrigue about who will be the next driver.

The driver that I have winning this weekend is Ryan Blaney. After winning the All-Star race, it seems like Roger Penske and the rest of the Ford camp are picking up steam. Overall, Blaney tends to struggle at this track with an 18.8 average finish, but if last week is any indication of how his car will run on mile and halves like Charlotte, he will be a fierce contender for the win.

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