Vanderbilt Commodores as the Toronto Raptors
There weren't many expectations for Vandy prior to last season, but there was a great deal of promise. The program was on the rise, having shown real promise and a fighting spirit in recent seasons, and despite James Franklin leaving for Penn State, Derek Mason was determined to be more than capable enough to take over the team, having been the assistant head coach and defensive coordinator at Stanford. Now Vandy has returned to their cellar status once again, as incompetent and untalented as ever. That's what you get for having hope, I suppose.
You could say the same thing to the Toronto Raptors. After having a very good season, finishing at the top of their division and securing home court advantage for the first round, they lost four in a row to the Washington Wizards, getting swept clean. They were favored in the series, and yet the team's fight just wasn't good enough. Game four was a blowout, as All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry had three fouls in the first quarter and six total turnovers, getting almost no help from his teammates. The Wizards ended up winning by 31 points, and that's a Vanderbilt-level blowout if I've ever heard one.
Texas A&M Aggies as the Houston Rockets
In my opinion, sports are supposed to be fun, both to play and to watch. Well, these two teams are clearly having fun playing the game, and I'm having a ton of fun watching them play. Between (now former Aggie) Kenny Hill's fantastic start to Kyle Allen's incredible potential, and amazing wide receivers in-between, there was a point last season where Texas A&M was must-watch TV for me. They were enjoyable to watch, but the Rockets take that to the next level.
The team’s GM, Daryl Morey, has their minor league team employing the crazy-yet-sound strategy of taking nothing but three-pointers and layups or dunks. That’s it. No mid-range shots, though it makes sense as to why: they’re the least efficient shot you can take. They’re very rarely made and often contested, so why not try to drive to the basket and get the easy layup or draw the foul, or take a couple steps back and try for the three to get an extra point. The Rockets don’t play strictly that way, but they play with a high energy, high-scoring style that’s just so (and I know I’m overusing the word) fun. Also, they have a serious MVP candidate on their team in James Harden, and his beard alone is a joy to look at.
Georgia Bulldogs as the Los Angeles Clippers
On paper, there’s no reason the Clippers shouldn’t be as fun to watch or as well-liked as the Rockets. They take a lot of three-pointers, they have one of the league’s most exciting players in Blake Griffin, they have the league’s leading rebounder in DeAndre Jordan, and they have an MVP candidate in Chris Paul. Yet, everybody hates the Clippers, and actually watching them, it’s easy to see why: they’re cold. They aren’t taking joy in their wins or their athletic ability, or even playing with each other. It’s like there’s a clash of styles, yet everything is going relatively smooth. They’re not nice, and I don’t like teams aren’t nice.
Similarly, Georgia is a team that people should like a lot more than they do, at least on paper. They always have great players, they win a lot of games, and they have great jerseys, which is a critical factor in me determining whether or not I like your team. Yet, they just rub me the wrong way, and not because they’re a rival team. They have no real personality as a program, unless you count someone who loves bulldogs as a personality (in which case, I’d like them a lot more). They’re just a good team that never wins championships and annoys everybody by winning in the regular season. It is very fun when they lose, though. So that’s a positive.
Memphis Grizzlies as the Arkansas Razorbacks
Yeah, speed is not the top factor for either of these teams. There’s no flash to their style of play, but there are more than a few wins. The ground-and-pound method the Razorbacks employ on offense is basically what the Grizzlies do with their big men, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. Hilariously enough, the Grizzlies may make longer passes than Arkansas does, especially since Gasol is very gifted with his hands. The Grizzlies’ motto is simple: grit ’n’ grind. While many say their playoff window is closing as the age of their players continues to rise as their roster remains stagnant, they remain close to their motto and their belief in the system. They may not be the best team in these playoffs, but they certainly believe they are, and they’re willing to grind it out to prove it.
Bret Bielema certainly thinks highly of his Arkansas team, and has gotten the fanbase as excited as they have in years. The memories of Bobby Petrino’s moped and John L. Smith’s corpse are long gone. Now, Razorback fans can remember the time Arkansas ran the ball in that one game. Or the time they ran the ball in the other game. Remember that time they ran the ball up the middle against that other team? All joking aside, their defense is the real power of the team, ranking first last season in points against. To have arguably the best defense in a conference full of teams that could claim to have the best defense (Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Missouri) is extremely impressive, and Bret Bielema can tout that all day. Yes, he can tout that while also wearing his sandals.