Ten Questions: Mid-November Intrigue

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on November 16th, 2018

While this weekend’s schedule is a little light as teams prepare for the nonstop action of Feast Week, here are 10 questions to consider as the season settles in.

Is Michigan Due For a Letdown? (USA Today Images)

  1. How will St. John’s fare in its only road non-conference game? (St. John’s at Rutgers, Friday 7 PM EST, BTN) St. John’s only road non-conference game takes place just down the road in New Jersey against local rival Rutgers. In Mustapha Heron‘s  first two games as a member of the Red Storm, he is averaging over 20 points per game.
  2. Will Arizona State avoid an upset in a potential trap game? (ed. note: this game was canceled last night because of smoke issues related to wildfires) (Arizona State @ San Francisco, Friday 10 PM EST, Pac-12 Network) Before Arizona State heads to Las Vegas to take on a ranked Mississippi State team, they will take on the Dons in San Francisco. After falling behind by 15 points early, San Francisco was only outscored by three points in the final 30 minutes of last season’s match-up in the desert.
  3. Has Stanford found Reid Travis 2.0 in KZ Okpala? (Wofford at Stanford, Friday 10 PM EST, Pac-12 Network) When Reid Travis decided to transfer to Kentucky, Stanford had to fill a large gap in its offense. Sophomore KZ Okpala has seen his scoring average explode from 10.0 as a freshman to 22.7 PPG through the first three games of the season.
  4. Will early season turnover woes be the deciding factor? (South Carolina vs. Providence, Saturday 2:30 PM EST, ESPN 3) Through three games South Carolina has committed 44 turnovers while Providence has committed 46 turnovers. Both the Gamecocks and Friars are forcing turnovers at a rate better than the national average, so winning the turnover battle will be crucial in this game.
  5. Can Charleston stay perfect with a win in Stillwater? (Charleston @ Oklahoma State, Sunday 4 PM EST) Coming off a 26-8 record last season, Charleston was picked second in the preseason CAA media poll. The Cougars feature two of the conference’s best players in Jarrell Brantley and Grant Riller. Meanwhile, Oklahoma State is struggling, having lost to #299 Charlotte already this season. Read the rest of this entry »
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Ten Questions to Consider: Weekend Hoops Are Back

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on November 9th, 2018

Move over college football, make room for the first weekend of college basketball! Here are 10 questions to consider heading into this weekend’s slate of games from Friday through Sunday.

Arkansas vs. Texas in the Armed Forces Classic is the Best Game of the Weekend (USA Today Images)

  1. Can Arkansas start another season with a win? (Armed Forces Classic, Arkansas vs. Texas, Friday 7 PM EST, ESPN) The Razorbacks have won 23 consecutive season openers, with their last loss coming against a top-five UMass team coached by none other than John Calipari to start the 1994-95 season. Mike Anderson’s squad will have to find a way to replace the 34.7 points per game left behind by Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon.
  2. After a disappointing 2017-18 season, will the Pac-12 pick up an early impressive road win for the conference resume? (Washington @ Auburn, Friday 9:30 PM EST, SEC Network) In their season-opening win against Western Kentucky, the Huskies shot 29.7 percent in the first half and trailed by nine points before getting it together in the second stanza. Washington will need to avoid a slow start against an Auburn team that shot 18-of-38 beyond the arc in its season opener.
  3. How will West Virginia look without Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles? (Buffalo at West Virginia, Friday 9 PM EST, ESPNU) While West Virginia returns a defensive stalwart in the form of shot-blocking machine Sagaba Konate, the Mountaineers will of course no longer have Jevon Carter around to pester opposing ball-handlers. Bob Huggins’ team opens against a Buffalo squad that returns four of five starters from a 26-win squad that took out Arizona in the NCAA Tournament last season.
  4. What will Kentucky look like against a team with less talent than Duke? (Southern Illinois @ Kentucky, Friday 7 PM EST, SEC Network) While a 34-point loss is never a good thing, Kentucky can at least take away the offensive successes of Reid Travis (22 points) and Keldon Johnson (23 points) against the Blue Devils. It’s also worth remembering that the Wildcats struggled to put away both Utah Valley and Vermont at Rupp Arena to start last season.
  5. Just how good will Carsen Edwards be for Purdue? (Ball State @ Purdue, Saturday 8 PM EST, Big Ten Network) Carsen Edwards began this season by scoring 30 points and making 7-of-11 shots from distance against Fairfield. Edwards, the Big Ten preseason Player of the Year, will be up against a Ball State team that won at Notre Dame a season ago and returns its top four scorers. Read the rest of this entry »
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Where 2018-19 Happens: Reason #2 We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on November 5th, 2018

As RTC heads into its 12th season covering college hoops, it’s time to begin releasing our annual compendium of YouTube clips that we like to call Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball. These 30 snippets from last season’s action are completely guaranteed to make you wish the games were starting tonight rather than 30 days from now. Over the next month you’ll get one reason per day until we reach the new season on Tuesday, November 6. You can find all of this year’s released posts here.

#2 – Where Surgical Efficiency Happens.

We also encourage you to re-visit the entire archive of this feature from the 2008-092009-10, 2010-112011-122012-132013-142014-15, 2015-16, 2016-17  and 2017-18 preseasons.

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Where 2018-19 Happens: Reason #3 We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on November 4th, 2018

As RTC heads into its 12th season covering college hoops, it’s time to begin releasing our annual compendium of YouTube clips that we like to call Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball. These 30 snippets from last season’s action are completely guaranteed to make you wish the games were starting tonight rather than 30 days from now. Over the next month you’ll get one reason per day until we reach the new season on Tuesday, November 6. You can find all of this year’s released posts here.

#3 – Where Splayed Out Happens.

We also encourage you to re-visit the entire archive of this feature from the 2008-092009-10, 2010-112011-122012-132013-142014-15, 2015-16, 2016-17  and 2017-18 preseasons.

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Big Ten Wrap-Up: Lasting Impressions and an Early Top Five

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on April 6th, 2018

Has Donte DiVincenzo stop hitting shots yet? Okay, good. Now that Monday is behind us, let’s take a moment to reflect on the season that was and look ahead to 2018-19.

Michigan had another year to remember. (PHOTO BY AP/DAVID J. PHILLIP)

  • Michigan is an elite basketball program. Before John Beilein took over in Ann Arbor in 2007, Michigan hadn’t reached the NCAA Tournament since 1998, a nine-year drought that made the historically great football school seem like just that — a football school. But that’s changed. Since the drought ended in 2009, Beilein has led the Wolverines to eight NCAA Tournaments, including finishes in the Sweet Sixteen (2017), Elite Eight (2016), and twice in the National Championship game (2013, 2018). After years of mediocrity, Michigan basketball now represents offensive efficiency, outstanding player development and clutch play in March. This season, Beilein — always considered an offensive mastermind — took an unproven collection of talent and won big with his defense, suggesting that the 65-year old coach is still evolving both as a tactician (he recently moved away from the 1-3-1 zone) and manager: His hiring of Illinois State assistant Luke Yaklich as “defensive coordinator” was crucial to the Wolverines’ run. With a decade of excellence under its belt and plenty of talent returning next season, Michigan has firmly established itself among the Big Ten’s elite programs.
  • This season will forever sting for Michigan State and Purdue fans. Michigan State went 30-5 and won the outright regular season Big Ten championship. Purdue finished at 30-7, at one point winning 19 straight games. And yet, this season will probably leave a bad taste in both programs’ mouths for some time. For the Spartans, 2017-18 was a Final-Four-or-bust kind of year, with the return of Miles Bridges alongside future NBA lottery pick Jaren Jackson ostensibly giving Tom Izzo his best chance at a National Championship from a talent perspective since 2000. Instead, a season of offensive inconsistency led to an offensively-inept loss to Syracuse in the Round of 32. For the Boilermakers, bad luck prevailed when 7’2″ center Isaac Haas fractured his elbow in the First Round against Cal State Fullerton, his absence proving too much for Purdue to overcome against Texas Tech in the Sweet Sixteen. On paper, both seasons appear successful. In actuality, postseason disappointment will likely overshadow their 60 combined wins.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Villanova 79, #3 Michigan 62

Posted by rtmsf on April 3rd, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish.

Five Key Takeaways.

Villanova Won Its Second National Title in Three Years (USA Today Images)

  1. Villanova Won the National Title Without All-American Performances From Its All-Americans. NPOY Jalen Brunson and All-American Mikal Bridges have been outstanding all season long, but Michigan managed to give both of them trouble during the key stretches of tonight’s game — essentially, the first half. As Michigan came out swinging haymakers led by the early charge of Moritz Wagner, Brunson and Bridges’ shots that normally drop were rimming out. The pair combined for just 11 first half points on 5-of-14 shooting that included only one three-pointer in six attempts. Luckily for Villanova, a secret weapon came off Jay Wright‘s bench to pick up the slack (more on Donte DiVincenzo below). That gave the Wildcats the cushion they needed heading into the break, allowing for Bridges to join DiVincenzo’s coming-out party in the second half to the tune of 15 points on 5-of-6 shooting. Brunson finished with nine points and two assists on the evening, but that shows just how balanced Villanova was this year — The NPOY had a rough night and his team still won a title game by 17 points.
  2. Rather, the Michael Jordan of Delaware Stepped Up. To most of America watching tonight, the rise of Donte DiVincenzo to log 31 points and five rebounds on 10-of-15 shooting (5-of-7 3FG) must have seemed like another Grayson Allen moment, where a talented but relatively unknown bench player came out of nowhere to lead his team to the National Championship. The truth, however, is a little more nuanced this time around. Despite being an unheralded recruit out of Wilmington, Delaware (where else?), three years ago, Wright admitted after the game that DiVincenzo was plenty good enough to be his starter on the wing. The wrinkle in the redshirt sophomore coming off the bench is that he still played starter’s minutes (72.5%) this season and logged five games of 20 or more points. He was obviously a key cog all year long, and given Michigan’s defense was so keyed on stopping Brunson and Bridges, DiVincenzo had his chance to step up and he met the call with full throttle.
  3. Jay Wright Joins Select Company. Not even the most optimistic Villanova fan could have seen this coming a little over two years ago. Jay Wright had experienced so many disappointing NCAA Tournaments since his last run to the Final Four in 2009 that there were some grumblings in Philadelphia about him keeping his job. Two years forward and now Wright is one of only 15 coaches in NCAA history (and two active) to hold more than one National Championship. That he did it with two distinct teams with some overlap perhaps makes it even more impressive. Wright’s 2016 team was certainly outstanding, but it wasn’t a #1 seed nor did it win the Big East Tournament. This group won everything possible — Big East regular season; Big East Tournament; NCAA Tournament — and it did so by demolishing every team in its path during the postseason. Over nine games in the Big East and NCAA Tournaments, the Wildcats won each by an average of 17.7 points per game. Wright is a wonderful narrative in what can happen if a school gives the right coach time to find his own niche and growth curve after some early disappointments.
  4. Historical Perspective. Not many schools can lay claim to winning two National Championships in a three-year window, and most of those schools won back-to-back titles with largely the same cores. The Kentucky teams of 1996-98 won a pair of titles with vastly different teams (and head coaches). UCLA bookended its 10-in-12 years run of the 1960s and 1970s with similar 2-in-3 successes. Kentucky’s original dynasty had a similar in the early 1950s. But that’s it. What Wright has done at a school that was often considered a second-class Big East citizen behind the likes of Syracuse, UConn and Georgetown is simply phenomenal. Villanova now has more championships than the Orange and Hoyas combined, and is only one behind the Huskies. Conference realignment has hurt a lot of programs in varying ways (hey, Pitt), but perhaps the biggest basketball success story has as a result of all the league movement has occurred right on the Main Line in Philadelphia.
  5. Basketball Schools Doing Basketball Things. People can quibble about which schools are most closely defined as basketball schools or football schools (and they do), but it’s really not that hard to determine in almost every case. The key question is which sport the fan base tends to most identify with, which in part fuels support and expectations for success in that sport, working in a continuous feedback loop. Villanova defines itself by its basketball program. Michigan — while very successful in both major collegiate sports — most assuredly defines itself on the gridiron. With Villanova’s second title in the last three years tonight, basketball schools have won the last 11 championships and 22 of the last 24 titles. The lone exception during that period was Florida’s back-to-back run in 2006-07. There are plenty of reasons for this kind of run that involves resources, coaching, motivation and luck, but the fact remains that the football schools as a general rule haven’t been able to break through the plexiglass ceiling just yet.

Player of the Game. Donte DiVincenzo, Villanova. DiVincenzo produced one of the best championship game performances in modern college basketball history tonight, dropping 31 points, five rebounds and three assists on 10-of-15 shooting. He also nailed five back-breaking threes (in seven attempts), two of which came in succession when Villanova earned the lead for good and wrested control of the game away from Michigan. Per the NCAA, DiVincenzo’s effort represented just the sixth time in the last 40 years when a player in the title game has topped the 30-point barrier. That he did so from the bench makes it even more impressive.

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Rushed Reactions: #3 Michigan 69, #11 Loyola (Chicago) 57

Posted by rtmsf on March 31st, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish.

Three Key Takeaways.

Michigan Heads to the National Championship Game for the Second Time in John Beilein’s Career (USA Today Images)

  1. Loyola’s First Half Was a Microcosm of Its Run. Neither team came out of the gates hot, but Michigan at least was able to get a few things going well enough to jump out to an early 12-4 lead. It was fool’s gold. The Wolverines were being baited into three-pointers from the wrong players (e.g., Zavier Simpson) and they were depending too much on Moe Wagner to bail them out with offensive putbacks (typically not a strength of his). Needless to say, it didn’t last. Loyola started chipping away at the lead and eventually found its groove to make a 25-10 run throughout the rest of the first half, building a seven-point lead that the Ramblers took with them into the break. John Beilein noted after the game that it was the Ramblers’ defense — keyed by ball-screen switching and interesting looks — that really bothered the Wolverines in the first half. Just like the previous four teams that Loyola had vanquished.
  2. Michigan Eventually Responded in Kind. When Loyola hit a layup with 12 minutes remaining to go back up by nine points while Michigan continued to look flummoxed on the other end, it seemed as if this actually might happen. Then a pair of threes sandwiching a layup led to an 8-2 run for the Wolverines, but that was only the precursor to the much larger tidal wave 24-10 run that was coming. By the time Loyola recovered from a Michigan barrage fueled by tired legs, turnovers and even more putbacks (led by Wagner), Sister Jean’s Easter goose was cooked. The Wolverines have won several different ways through this tournament — three-point shooting, defense, offensive rebounding, turnovers — but the point is that they keep on winning. John Beilein is probably the most underrated coach in college basketball, and he has his team poised to win a championship that nobody saw coming a month ago.
  3. What a Run It Was. A #11 seed that beat an ACC team, an SEC team, the Mountain West regular season champion and a Big 12 team in succession doesn’t come around very often. Throwing in a certifiable national sensation like Sister Jean and her uplifting messages (and fandom!) couldn’t have made for a better story in these otherwise trying times. Porter Moser has had a middling career to this point but sometimes all it takes is a special team to lift a coach up and give him the opportunity he deserves. And while Loyola may have to regroup for another 50 years before its next trip to the sports final weekend, college basketball remains better for the chance it provides schools like the urban Jesuit school from Chicago to achieve its own One Shining Moment.

Player of the Game. Moe Wagner, Michigan. The German import had the game of his life on the sport’s biggest stage, going for 24 points and 15 rebounds in a diverse floor game that often propped up the Wolverines when they needed something to go in the basket. His production in the Final Four has only been equaled by Hall of Famers Larry Bird and Hakeem Olajuwon.

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What a National Championship Would Mean For Each Final Four Team…

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on March 31st, 2018

With the Final Four set to begin this evening in San Antonio, the college basketball world is getting close to crowning its 2018 National Champion. With the ultimate goal of standing atop a Werner ladder cutting down the nets now in sight, the question becomes what would a title mean for each of the remaining four programs. Let’s examine each in more detail.

Kansas Slayed Mighty Duke to Get to the Final Four (USA Today Images)

A National Championship for Kansas would… be the program’s fourth NCAA title overall, putting the Jayhawks in the same company as Connecticut, Duke, Florida and North Carolina as programs with multiple championships since 2000. A second ring would make Bill Self the 14th head coach with multiple titles and just the third active coach with at least two. It would also further erase the memory of first round exits at the hands of Bradley and Bucknell early in Self’s tenure at Kansas, as well as the no-shows against VCU, Northern Iowa and Oregon in recent years.

A win would also further elevate Devonte’ Graham in Jayhawks’ lore. The Big 12 Player of the Year, a consensus All-American, a four-year player, and the possibility of a National Championship could combine to getting Graham’s jersey lifted into the Allen Fieldhouse rafters some day.

A National Championship for Loyola would… be historic for the “little guy.” While a pair of wins in San Antonio would produce the program’s second National Championship, the shift of the college basketball landscape over the last several decades has put all but a few mid-major programs like Loyola in a large and difficult hole. The annual margin of error is minuscule come conference tournament time and NCAA Tournament paths are rarely advantageous as a result. A win by a mid-major program would remind everyone that these teams deserve not only inclusion in the tournament, but they help make the tournament as great as it is.

By cutting down the nets on Monday night, Porter Moser would become the immediate “it” coach at any number of interested programs. While leaving Loyola immediately after a National Championship might be unlikely, a new contract at Loyola is a certainty. If Moser is able to guide Loyola to a championship this year followed by another strong season in 2018-19, he will have plenty of opportunities to vault himself into a power conference coaching position as soon as he likes.

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Final Four Fact Sheet: Michigan Wolverines

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 29th, 2018

Now that the Final Four is set, our writers have put together a fact sheet on each of the four teams still remaining. Next, #3 Michigan,  from the West Region.

How Michigan Got Here

John Beilein is Headed to His Second Final Four (USA Today Images)

West Region Champions. It’s been something of a mixed bag for the Wolverines in the NCAA Tournament to date. Their Sweet Sixteen win over Texas A&M was a sight to behold, a truly impressive performance that balanced explosive and beautiful offense with tight, frustrating defense. But wrapped around that performance have been three other wins highlighted mostly by their defense, with more misses than makes on the offensive end. But really, Michigan’s run to the Final Four began following an ugly 61-52 loss at Northwestern on February 6. Since that night, the Wolverines have reeled off 14 straight victories, including a romp through the Big Ten Tournament in Madison Square Garden. Their run through this tournament began with a tough win over Montana in which they held the Grizzlies to just two points in the first 10 minutes of the second half to break open a tight contest. In the Round of 32, their goose was more or less cooked, down 63-61 to Houston with just 3.6 seconds remaining — at which point they had a 3.4 percent chance of winning the game. But a buzzer-beating miracle by freshman Jordan Poole gave them the single extra point they needed to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. After doing a number to the Aggies in the regional semifinal, they withstood a gritty performance from Florida State last Saturday to advance to the program’s eighth Final Four in its history.

The Coach

John Beilein. John Beilein graduated from Wheeling College in 1975. Since then, he has never spent a basketball season as anything other than a head coach — he’s never been an assistant, nor has he taken a year away from the game. He worked his way through Newfane High School to Erie Community College to Division III Nazareth College to Divison II Le Moyne before finally getting a crack at a Division I job in 1992 with Canisius. He spent five years there, winning a regular season and tournament title to earn a crack at the Richmond job. In eastern Virginia, he again won a regular season and tournament title once each in five years, earning another upgrade to the job at West Virginia. He again spent five seasons there, making the NCAA Tournament twice including two runs to the Sweet Sixteen and an excruciating Elite Eight loss in overtime to Louisville in 2005. In 2007, Michigan hired Beilein to replace Tommy Amaker, and since then the well-traveled head coach has won two Big Ten regular season titles, consecutive Big Ten tournament titles, logged eight NCAA Tournament appearances in 11 years, advanced to four Sweet Sixteens and is now attending his second Final Four as a participant on the floor. By any measure, Beilein is considered one of the best coaches in all of college basketball.

Style

Beilein’s history at the Division I level has always been based around scoring. Since the beginning of the KenPom era in his final season at Richmond, his defensive efficiency has ranked higher than his offensive efficiency only five times. And his style has typically been associated with high utilization of the three-point shot. Only once in his 11 years at Michigan have the Wolverines attempted fewer than 40 percent of their field goals from three-point range, and this year is no exception. But, while this Michigan team attempts 43.1 percent of its shots from deep, they’re not quite as effective as some of Beilein’s other groups at just 36.1 percent. As always, however, Beilein is capable of adjusting. Over the past two seasons, Michigan has ranked among the top 10 teams nationally in taking away their opponents’ threes, holding them to fewer than 30 percent of their shots from distance. This year, under the assistance of defensive-minded assistant coach Luke Yaklich, the Wolverines have ramped up their defensive pressure, limiting opponents to a 47.6% eFG (35th in the nation) while also placing a priority on cleaning the defensive glass (24.7% offensive rebounding rate, 31st in the nation). While Michigan still runs many of the same offensive sets you’ve seen throughout Beilein’s career in Ann Arbor, it is an improved defense that sets this squad apart and gives it some necessary breathing room on nights that the shots aren’t falling.

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Rushed Reactions: #3 Michigan 58, #9 Florida State 54

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 24th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) is in Los Angeles for the West Regional this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Michigan is Headed to Its Second Final Four Under John Beilein (USA Today Images)

  1. A Game of Runs. After a first half that was like a tired slog through thick mud, Michigan followed up a Seminoles’ hoop on the first possession with an 11-0 run that spanned two Florida State timeouts and a media timeout and gave the Wolverines 10 points worth of breathing room. The Seminoles then spent most of the rest of the half digging out from that hole, finally getting back within three at the six-minute mark. But just a couple minutes later, a gorgeous hoop by Charles Matthews was followed by a Zavier Simpson layup and a Duncan Robinson three, making a 7-0 run that put the Wolverines back up 10 with just over two minutes remaining. Michigan had to withstand a late Florida State run fueled by their problems at the free throw line, but barring those two runs, the Wolverines would be headed back to Ann Arbor instead of on to San Antonio.
  2. Defense Doesn’t Lose Championships. Michigan’s Sweet Sixteen win on Thursday night was highlighted by beautiful offensive basketball. Tonight? Well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. In a much punchier game, both teams sold out on the defensive end and made things difficult for their opponents. Florida State’s defense forced 11 turnovers, swatted seven shots and forced Michigan into just 31.4 percent shooting from the field, including just 4-of-17 on shots from deep. But as good as Florida State was defensively, the Wolverines were even better. The Seminoles earned seven second chance points and eight points off turnovers. But when forced into the half-court, the Wolverines made them earn every point, forcing drawn-out possessions that often ended in poor looks. And while all this defense may sound like the recipe for a terribly ugly game, it was a hard-fought and high-wire contest that ultimately delivered.
  3. Foul Shooting Issues. Michigan is headed to the Final Four behind a great defense and an offense capable of exploding. But if they have a possible Achilles’ Heel, it was on display in the final two minutes when they struggled to put the game away due to missed free throws. Simpson, in particular, struggles mightily from the line to the tune of 51.8 percent on the season, a serious issue from a guy who handles the ball so often and well. He missed the front-end of a one-and-one and went just 1-of-3 down the stretch. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman also missed a front-end and it took Robinson knocking down a pair with 21 seconds left to finally put away the Seminoles for good. But, as the stakes increase again next weekend, Michigan’s free throw challenges could be a looming problem.

Star of the Game.  Charles Matthews. While I’m torn about putting anyone’s name other than Michigan catalyst Zavier Simpson here, Matthews had a truly incredible game. Against the long and athletic Seminoles, he stood toe-to-toe with them, playing above the rim when needed, pulling down seven boards and even swatting away a couple of shots. He was a force in transition, both on the offensive break and in helping to slow down Florida State’s manys advances. And his beautiful jump-stop and fadeaway jumper in the lane with 3:51 remaining put the Wolverines up 49-44 and sparked a 7-0 run that just about put the game away.

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