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Saturday, November 29, 2008

Fifteen Yr Big Ten All-Stars

Ryan and I have decided to create an all-star lineup for each of the Big Ten teams over the past fifteen seasons.  After talking it through, we also decided that we should have a tournament with the teams.  The voters will choose which team advances to the next round.  Seeding is determined by the number of Big Ten titles each team won over the time frame.  The teams that didn't win any titles were just assigned a seed based on our view of how talented the roster is.  The tournament theoretically takes place in Chicago's United Center.

Without further ado, the first game of the Big Ten tournament features a play-in game with 11th seeded Northwestern against 10th seeded Penn State.

Northwestern Pts RB Assts Stls Fg% 3pt% FT%
PG Geno Carlisle 15.8 2.7 3.3 0.8 0.393 0.368 0.766
SG Jitim Young 13.0 4.6 2.0 1.8 0.471 0.305 0.626
SF Vedran Vukusic 14.1 3.5 2.1 1.1 0.478 0.375 0.755
PF Kevin Coble 14.2 5.3 1.7 1.5 0.484 0.390 0.778
C Evan Eschmeyer 18.4   9.6   2.2   0.8   0.601   0.000   0.675
Bench G Cedric Neloms 14.1 4.7 0.9 0.7 0.461 0.231 0.731
F/C  Tavaras Hardy 9.5 5.4 1.9 0.8 0.448 0.208 0.579
G TJ Parker 10.0 2.5 3.0 1.3 0.428 0.333 0.708

Carlisle: Lightening in a bottle, knows how to get to the basket. Transferred to Cal after 2 yrs.
Honors: 1st team All-Big Ten 1996
Young: The best player NWU has had in recent memory.  Guard that knows how to rebound.
Honors: 1st team All-Big Ten 2004
Vukusic: Solid outside shooter, but like most Euro players is a little soft.
Coble: Currently starting for the Wildcats.  This is a guy to keep your eye on b/c he can score from anywhere.
Eschmeyer: The only NBA talent on this team.  Dominated down low but his teams were unsuccessful due to atrocious guard play.  Honors: 1st team All-Big Ten 1997, 1998, 1999
Bench: Parker is super quick and plays sneaky good defense but his shooting was never good, Cedric Neloms led the Big Ten in FTs his Senior year, and Tavares Hardy is another solid big man.

Strengths: Post presence, quickness on the perimeter.  
With Kevin O'Neill running the show, the Wildcats will push the pace and hope for some easy opportunities.  When those opportunities don't present themselves the Wildcats have Eschmeyer to lean on in half court sets.

Weaknesses: Outside shooting. Overall athleticism.
Coble and Vukusic are both good outside shooters but the guards are not.  This may seem a little backwards in that the little guys prefer to shoot from the lane whereas the big guys want the ball outside.  This will cause a problem in creating 2nd opportunities--something the Wildcats need to be successful.

Penn St. Pts RB Assts Stls Fg% 3pt% FT%
G Dan Earl 12.6 2.7 4.1 1.6 0.467 0.383 0.788
G Joe Crispin 15.6 2.9 3.8 1.0 0.381 0.348 0.885
G/F Geary Claxton 15.1 7.4 1.6 1.0 0.443 0.330 0.650
F John Amaechi 15.6 8.9 1.3 0.518 0.694
F Calvin Booth 11.9   6.7   0.8   0.6   0.497 0.100 0.729
Bench G Titus Ivory 15.9 3.8 3.4 1.7 0.441 0.358 0.836
G Pete Lisicky 15.9 2.9 2.9 1.0 0.408 0.374 0.888
F Jan Jagla 10.2 6.9 1.1 0.8 0.414 0.257 0.699

Earl: Solid PG skills.  Good passer, good defender, good shooter.  Nothing outstanding, just solid all-around.
Crispin: Don't let his FG% fool you.  This guy is a shooter.  His numbers suffered from being the best player on a bad team. Honors: 1st Team All-Big Ten 2001
Claxton: Very good rebounder for a guard. Matchup nightmare.  Would have been all 1st team Big Ten if not for a knee injury halfway through his senior season.
Amaechi: A giant on the boards.  Solid shooter from medium range and a solid defensive player. Honors: 1st Team All-Big Ten 1995
Booth: Another NBA bound big man.  Who knew?  Big, round body that other teams will have trouble pushing around.  Not that great of an athlete but good rebounder and FT shooter.  Honors: Defensive POY 1998.
Bench: Ivory and Lisicky are two more little guards that can shoot the lights out when they're hot.  Jagla is a solid bench contributor.

Strengths:  Penn State will definitely light up some scoreboards with their phalanx of distance shooting guards.  Geary Claxton will prove to be a formidable matchup problem for any Big 10 team with his unique size and skills; Claxton sports a true NBA guard body.  The Big Men create a formidable tag team.

Weaknesses:  Penn State basketball has been the weakest program by far since the Nittany Lions entered the Big 10 in 1993.  The team may have a horde of shooters but gaining rebounds and second chances will be highly difficult with their small bench.  An early exit seems inevitable, yet will anybody really care in Happy Valley?


Monday, November 24, 2008

Should the Twins trade Delmon Young?

I know it's a bit early to be thinking fantasy baseball, so as the Winter Meetings near think of this as a topic of discussion for the GMs.  The Minnesota Twins are supposedly willing to listen to offers on Delmon Young.  The Twins are in a tough spot because Young is still only 23.  He's got a rocket arm and makes great contact (hits for a good average).  However he still hasn't learned that he doesn't have to swing at every pitch, his power hasn't developed, and he has a bit of an attitude.  Further complicating the issue is the fact that the Twins traded Matt Garza to get him.  Sure there are holes to fill but they can't give up on him now can they?

The Hardball Times examines this issue and concludes that being a candidate for a breakout and having the skill set to actually breakout are two different things.

Me? I think it's time to give up on him being the next Vladimir Guerrero and instead hope he turns into Al Oliver.

Where have you gone Michael Jordan? Our Nation turns it's lonely eyes to you.

I have lost all desire to follow the NBA at this current moment in my lifetime and I'm not alone. The American male aged 18 to 34 so coveted by businesses and advertisers has lost all interest in professional basketball. No longer are kids and young adults badgering their parents for the latest new sneaker that is worn by their favorite roundballer. In popular culture, basketball jerseys and commercials promoting clever nicknames of NBA stars are mere relics of the past. Attendance and television ratings have also begun to lag for the NBA. I can't help but notice how many winter evenings ESPN's program lineup throughout the week is dominated by college basketball encounters, with the professional game finally getting the spotlight on Friday, the worst night of the week for T.V. viewership. The fact that college basketball and its insanely popular post-season tournament remain in the collective mind of white males, makes me shun the theory of racism being the reason why Caucasians no longer follow the NBA so intently. African-American players are prominent in football, the most popular sport in America by leaps and bounds.
One theory thrown at me before regarding football and its ability to overcome the thug/racism mantra compared to basketball was its use of helmets, that allows the league to have a shroud over its supposed gangbanger employee base. I'm not buying it. If this is true, couldn't the NBA just make their players sport golf visors or more professional looking uniforms (collared polos instead of A-Shirts). Speaking of golf, its rise in popularity is due to the rise of a minority (Tiger Woods) amongst its player base. Not the elimination of people of color from it's ranks.
There are three reasons why I find the NBA struggling in America. One is the prevalent "dogging" of play among players with guaranteed contracts. Second, the league itself has suffered from over expansion. Third, the NBA's theater (basketball arenas) have no crowd excitement.
With contracts guaranteed, NBA players have become aficionados at "mailing in" their seasons statistically and then only playing hard for one season during a contract year. This situation is evident in baseball also, but hasn't seemed to have lessened the charisma within the overall play of the game. I still feel loyalty and a respect for the game of baseball among it's overall players is still increasingly present for which I fail to uncover the same passion around the NBA. Another reason that "dogging" or "mailing it in" is more evident in basketball, is the fact that the game's pace is meant to be so much quicker than baseball. Baseball can hide or avoid having its sluggish players being so announced for the fact they are not always involved on every play during a game. A basketball team, with its five players, is unable to mask a deficient player or players to onlookers. Football as we know, forces players to show up at peak physical shape or face the consequences of being exposed and unemployed the following season.
Along with overpaid loafing players, the NBA has seen its product diminish through the watering down of rosters via team expansion. No longer are the world's great basketball players jumbled together on 22 teams like in the 1980s. Today, the league has expanded to 30 teams with some residing in cities that other sports leagues wouldn't even think about setting foot. For every Sacramento, the NBA has faced a Charlotte, Atlanta, Miami, and New Jersey where fan bases are non-existent. 30 franchises has caused benches to be thinner and ended the ability for teams to have a high-tempo offense with the lack of competent player depth. Now, teams that risk or desire to return to the fast-break days of 20 years ago (that remaining NBA fans love) face the threat of constant injury to their players from logging too many minutes hustling up and down the court. The reason the powerhouse teams of the 80s could constantly fast-break, was they had quite an assortment of capable bench players allowing the starter's legs to remain fresh and keep the quick pace of the games going.
Finally, the NBA has failed to offer the raucous crowds that are commonplace around the nation's college campuses. The NBA has also said goodbye to the old mad-houses that were once on par to college gyms for noise level in the Boston Garden, Chicago Stadium, and the Philadelphia Spectrum. With the loss of the crowd, the league has also lost institutions or traditional venues that fans adore. Baseball has uncovered this little secret and has now reaped the rewards of maintaining old shrines like Fenway Park and Wrigley Field.
Personally, I find watching an NBA game in the new sterile arena settings to be the main culprit for decreased popularity. New basketball venues lack any semblance of energy needed to add excitement in watching a sport where momentum constantly swings in a contest between the two competitors. Crowd volume adds to the level of suction power towards TV viewers. Intense crowd excitement increases the magnitude of a basketball game and the interest of short attention span television viewers. As a kid, I remember getting so excited to watch Chicago Stadium go pitch black with only the simple Bulls logo flashing on the videoboard and Bulls fans going ape over this highly original player introduction. That type of passion has long disappeared around the league.
There are bound to be other arguments for reasons attributed to the leagues declining status among major American sports and I'm all for feedback on those other possibilities. Through all the different theories on the NBA's demise, the fact remains that the NBA is a shadow of its former self.

Bonds, HGH, and the Consequences

Did he or didn't he?  Most of this stuff appears to be true.

Typically I'm under the "innocent until proven guilty" umbrella but the circumstantial indicators appear much too damning.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

NCAA Div I Cross Country Championship

Tomorrow in Terre Haute one individual and one team will realize the goal they have been training for since high school. Unfortunately I'll be at work so I won't be able to attend or watch on tv. Fox Sports typically shows the race so if you have a free hour tune in.

Here's a list of the teams that qualified:

Great Lakes: Wisconsin, Michigan
Mid-Atlantic: Georgetown, Penn St.
Midwest: Oklahoma St., Minnesota
Mountain: Colorado, N. Arizona
Northeast: Iona, Providence
South: Alabama, Auburn
South Central: Texas A&M, Arkansas
Southeast Region: William & Mary, Virginia
West: Oregon, Stanford

At large bids:
BYU, Butler, Cal Poly, California, Fresno St., Florida St., Iowa St., North Carolina St., Notre Dame, Portland, Tulsa, UCLA, Villanova, Washington

For a better preview than I could ever give go to this page on LetsRun.

My quick picks:
1. Oregon
2. Oklahoma St.
3. Stanford
4. Wisconsin
5. Portland
6. Michigan
7. Iona
8. Colorado
9. Georgetown
10. Alabama

1. Galen Rupp (Oregon) Senior
2. Sam Chelanga (Liberty) Sophomore
3. Shadrack Kiptoo-Biwott (Oregon) Senior
4. Mark Korir (Wyoming) Senior
5. Shadrack Songok (Texas A&M) Senior
6. German Fernandez (Oklahoma St.) Freshman!
7. Samuel Kosgei (Lamar) Senior
8. David McNeill (N. Arizona) Sophomore
9. Hassan Mead (Minnesota) Sophomore
10. Patrick Smyth (Notre Dame) Senior

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Big Ten predictions for this Saturday's slate of games.

Indiana at Purdue

With Indiana traveling to West Lafayette for Purdue head coach Joe Tiller's last game, I see an emotional effort from the Boilermakers in the battle for the Old Oaken Bucket. Curtis Painter and Kory Sheets will be playing their last game sporting the train with no bowl on the horizon. This combination will prove insurmountable for the Hoosiers. It doesn't hurt that Indiana is the most pathetic squad in the conference and Hoosier head coach Bill Lynch's leadership is on borrowed time. That guy is a lame-duck coach next year.

Spread: Purdue by 11 1/2
Anderson's prediction: Purdue over Indiana 23-13
My pick: Purdue over Indiana 34-17


Michigan State at Penn State

Michigan State is 0-7 when traveling to Happy Valley since the Nittany Lions joined the Big 10 in 1993 and will be playing in one of the toughest environments in America. Penn State showed the ill effects of their upset in Iowa City by struggling in the first half last week at home against Indiana. The Lions eventually re-grouped in the second half and put themselves in position for their first Rose Bowl trip since 1994.
The Spartans are also in contention for vacation plans to Pasadena if they can have Penn State submit and have the Wolverines make mince-meat of Ohio State. Penn State will be fired up this week with a trip to the greatest bowl in the land up for grabs and will put a beat down on Michigan State.

Spread: Penn State by 15 1/2
Anderson's pick: Penn State over Michigan State 20-13
My pick: Penn State over Michigan State 30-9

Illinois at Northwestern

Northwestern Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald has done a masterful job building a solid team in Evanston. He also knows how to coach, which is an opinion still up in the air with Illini coach Ron Zook. Yet, Ryan Field holds no home field advantage and Illinois is battling for bowl eligibility. The Illini are also coming off an embarrassing loss to Western Michigan last Saturday. Even with the Illini's stomping of the Wildcats last year, this rivalry has tipped towards Northwestern this past decade. In the end, I see Fitzgerald's Wildcats improving upon an impressive football season.

Spread: Illinois by 3
Anderson's pick: Northwestern over Illinois 30-20
My pick: Northwestern over Illinois 24-19

Iowa at Minnesota

Tim Brewster's Gophers are coming off a tough loss to their arch-rival Wisconsin and have star wide-receiver Eric Decker playing banged up. Historically, this game, when played in Minneapolis has been 50/50 Gopher and Hawkeye fans. With no home field advantage, the fact that this is Minnesota's last game at the Metrodome is a non-factor for this football contest. While the Gopher's defensive line is stout, they will be going up against a first-round NFL draft pick (Shonn Greene) who is a man among boys in the Big 10. Shonn Greene is also 106 yards short of setting an Iowa single-season record for rushing yards. The bronze pig (Floyd of Rosedale) stays in Iowa city.

Spread: Iowa by 6
Anderson's pick: Minnesota over Iowa 17-14
My pick: Iowa over Minnesota 26-20 OT

Michigan at Ohio State

In 2001, first year coach Jim Tressel guaranteed a victory in this rivalry and delivered. Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez has made no such bold predictions, but will no doubt feel the pressure to end the losing skid against the Buckeyes. Rodriguez hasn't helped the situation much by labeling some Michigan fans as idiots. This is a game that Michigan will want more and the Wolverine's underrated defense will make its appearance this Saturday morning in Columbus. I call for the upset.

Spread: Ohio State by 20 1/2
Anderson's pick: Ohio State over Michigan 38-10
My pick: Michigan over Ohio State 17-16

Bonus pick: Oklahoma over Texas Tech 35-31

Friday, November 21, 2008

Alex Gordon = bust?

Today at work my co-author and I were discussing Alex Gordon and whether or not it's time to abandon ship. I thought it was too early to do so considering he's only been in the league for two seasons but I couldn't help but think that he has been a massive disappointment. So I figured "why not write today's blog about it in order to form a conclustion instead of relying on my gut?" Well, here we go:

Drafted second overall in the 2005 draft, Alex Gordon was seen as the second coming of George Brett for the franchise. Now that he's played two seasons, the word "bust" is being used quite frequently to describe him by fans and analysts alike. Is he really a bust or just a victim of unrealistic expectations?

Coming out of Nebraska in 2005, Gordon went immediately to AA Wichita. In 486 plate appearances Gordon hit .325/.427/.588 showing good plate discipline, power, and proving that he was adequate enough defensively to man the hot corner in the bigs. Needless to say his performance did little to temper expectations but instead raised them by showing the organization that he was probably MLB ready from the get-go.

As a rookie in 2007, Gordon struggled. Badly. He hit .247/.314/.411 and struck out three times as much he walked. The one bright spot was his baserunning where he went 14-18 on SBs. Even his defense slipped. The organization wasn't worried though and even left him on the major league roster for the whole season, confident that he'd right himself.

This past season Gordon improved but not as much as everyone thought he would. His struggles were compounded by his awful defense at third. Towards the end of the season there were rumblings coming out of the front office that he would have to be moved to 1b sooner than later adding to the organizational logjam at 1b/dh.

Last season wasn't a total waste as Gordon did improve in several areas. Gordon's raised his percentages across the board to .260/.351/.432. Additionally he was 9-11 on SBs and his K:BB ratio not only went down to 2:1 but his walk rate (PA's/BB's) stood at 11.6%. all respectable numbers. His OPS+* might tell the best story. After posting an 87 as a rookie, Gordon ended last season with a 110 mark. Where 100 is average (or replacment level), this shows us that Gordon was actually above average with the bat. Not All-Star caliber but a massive improvement from his first season. His real team value drops when taking his bad defense into consideration, probably leaving him as a league average player (this does not take positional value into effect).

*OPS+ takes park effects into consideration


So what's he going to be? Baseball-prospectus says Gordon's best comparables are Joey Foy (who?), Howard Johnson, and Tim Wallach. However, when discussing Alex Gordon with Ryan, I immediately drew the comparison to Curtis Granderson.

Curtis Granderson has played about 3.5 seasons and has steadily improved to the point where he is considered a borderline superstar. Here's his %'s his first 3 seasons:

2005: .272/.314/.494
2006: .260/.335/.438
2007: .302/.361/.552

Notice the breakout in 2007? If you look at the OBP and SLG you can see we have a similar player to Gordon. Sure the skill set is slightly different but the results are compelling. Granderson and Gordon also have one other thing holding them back--their inability to hit left-handed pitching.

Here's Gordon's and Granderson's career splits:
Gordon vs RHP: .264/.349/.445 and vs LHP: .226/.291/.365
Granderson vs RHP: .297/.369/.524 and vs LHP: .221/.280/.387

These numbers aren't doing Gordon any favors here. I guess what I'm saying is, with Gordon I see a similarity to Granderson. Granderson exploded in year 3, showing improved ability to make contact resulting in much more power. Gordon made small steps last year which make me a optimistic that he is also ready for a similar growth in his game.

Two seasons is too soon to write off a player but it's not too soon to get a glimpse of what that player is most likely to become. With Gordon he could go either way. If he improves the way Granderson did his offense will mask his defensive deficiencies and he will be a perennial All-Star. If his offense doesn't improve he will be a mediocre hitting, poor fielding 3b with nowhere to go; poor fielding third basemen don't become utility players, they move to 1b. But in an organization that has lots of players at 1b, none of whom Gordon has proved he's substantially better than, it appears the time has come for Gordon to put up or move on.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Royals go Cuckoo for Coco Crisp

Earlier this week the Red Sox traded Coco Crisp to the Royals for RP Ramon Ramirez.  Kansas City, who had one of the best bullpens in all of baseball, has now traded two relievers this offseason.  Crisp was rumored to have been on the block all through last season but apparently was never traded because the Red Sox felt that they  needed safeguard in case Jacoby Ellsbury faltered and weren't being offered equal value for 2+ years of Crisp.  Now that he was finally moved let's see what each team is getting in the deal.

Boston
Ramirez is a right-handed relief pitcher who posted a 2.64 ERA in 71.1 IP last season.  Ramirez struck out 70 batters and walked 31.  Now these numbers look like Ramirez should be a closer candidate, but let's take a closer look to see if this still holds true.
Ramirez vs RHP .153/.244/.212 and vs LHP .300/.370/.375
This is an extreme split which shows us that last year's performance is not really sustainable unless used as  a ROOGY (righty one out guy).  His failure to neutralize lefties relegates him to a career as a middle reliever.

Kansas City
It turns out Coco Crisp is not the star many thought he would be while playing in Cleveland. What Crisp has developed into is someone who is likely to put up an OBP in the .340s with very good defense.  Two years ago he led the league in +/- whereas last year he was +3 (although he did battle leg injuries all season).  His true ability probably lies somewhere in between.   Either way he automatically becomes the best defensive player on the Royals and improves team OBP.  

Recap: Boston will maximize their team value if the acquisition of Ramirez does not push Justin Masterson to the rotation.  Leaving Masterson in the pen--who absolutely has the ability to pitch multiple innings-- will further enable the BoSox to use Ramirez correctly due to his extreme platoon split.  This trade also proves that Ellsbury is the man in center.  For a team like Boston these are good gambles to take.  A fourth outfielder is easy enough to find and solidifying their bullpen is something that could make the difference in an always tough AL East.

For Kansas City the need for everyday players was urgent.  Mark Teahen and Jose Guillen were not getting it done in the outfield corners.  Now one of them is on the trade block (I'm guessing for a relief pitcher) with DeJesus moving from center to take their spot.   Fans need to realize that Crisp is not a savior and will not make this team a contender by himself.  What he does do is improve the team in some of the smaller areas that needed definite improvement: defense, baserunning, and getting on base.
In each of his years as GM,  Dayton Moore has been able to build solid bullpens.  By making this trade he is admitting that he needs help in finding the every day guys.  
Realizing that dominant bullpens are luxuries contenders should enjoy, this is a trade the Royals needed to make.  
   
Verdict: Assuming Crisp's option for 2010 is picked up, I think the Royals win this trade.   

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Big Ten Preview cont.

Minnesota
Coach: Long gone are Tubby Smith's glory days at Kentucky.  However, this year's recruiting class will try to regain the past.  Tubby may even be a tad underrated thanks to the cries of failure from disillusioned Kentucky fans.   If one aspect is constant it's that Minnesota will defend.  They may be the most improved squad in the conference.
Lineup: PG Al Nolen, G Lawrence Westbrook, G/F Jamal Abu-Shamala, F Paul Carter, C Colton Iverson
Bench:  Ralph Sampson III, Blake Hoffarber, Devoe Joseph
Star: This team doesn't have a true star but transfer Paul Carter may be the leader while the freshmen develop.
Top Freshman:  Ralph Sampson III.  That's right, he's the son of the former NBA star.
Predicted finish: 7th in the Big Ten. NIT bound.

Northwestern
Coach: Bill Carmody finally got a recruiting class.  I believe he is a good coach but never has been much of a recruiter.  Now that he finally has a class he can brag about, the fans expect results.
Lineup: G Michael Thompson, G Craig Moore, G Sterling Williams, G/F Jeff Ryan, F Kevin Coble
Bench: John Shurma, Davide Curletti, Kyle Rowley, Luka Murkovic
Star: Kevin Coble can light it up.  He could be a solid European player.
Top Freshman:  Davide Curletti turned down Michigan St. for NWU.  When was the last time that happened?
Predicted finish:  10th in the Big Ten.

Ohio State
Coach: Thad Matta keeps losing his big men to the NBA.  It's a good thing he found another one, but he too may end up being the first pick in the 2009 draft.  But this team's strength lies in the perimeter and Matta will work to that strength.  Expect a team that shoots a lot of threes and defends the perimeter well.
Lineup: G Anthony Crater, G Jeremie Simmons, G/F David Lighty, F Evan Turner, C BJ Mullens
Bench: Dallas Lauderdale, Nikola Kecman (eligible after 12 games), PJ Hill, William Buford
Star: BJ Mullens is a unique player that should dominate much like Greg Oden did his freshman year.
Top Freshman: BJ Mullens
Predicted finish:  4th in the big ten and a bubble spot in the NCAA tournament.

Penn State
Coach: Ed DeChellis finds himself on the hotseat to start the year.  The administration has made it clear that immediate improvement is needed.  He might have gotten the axe last year if not for an injury to the team's best player, Geary Claxton.  Expect DeChellis to give his best coaching effort in an effort to save his job.
Lineup: PG Talor Battle, G Stanley Pringle, F Jamelle Cornley, F David Jackson, F Andrew Jones III
Bench: Cammeron Woodyard, Danny Morrissey, Chris Babb, Andrew Ott
Star: Jamelle Cornley is an overpowering force in the paint whose downfall is at the line.
Top Freshman: Chris Babb was ranked the #34 shooting guard in the nation last season averaging 31.2 pts, 8.0 rbs, and 7.0 assists as a senior.
Predicted finish:  The team thinks they can finish in the top six but I'm just not seeing it.  Poor shooting will doom them to 9th place.

Wisconsin
Coach: Wisconsin has a unique style of basketball; slow tempo, solid defense, strong rebounding.  These are all characteristics Bo Ryan's theory of how basketball should be played. Personally, I hate it.  But it gets results.  No one can argue with his success and no one can say they enjoy playing the Badgers.
Lineup: G Trevon Hughes, G Jason Bohannon, F Joe Krabbenhoft, F Marcus Landry, F Keaton Nankivil
Bench: Jordan Taylor, Rob Wilson, Jon Leuer, Tim Jarmusz
Star: The box score doesn't show how good Marcus Landry really is.  Wisconsin's style deflates his numbers but with the game is on the line this guy delivers.
Top Freshman: Jordan Taylor
Predicted finish: 3rd place and a top 6 seed on the NCAA tournament.

Musings on Iowa Basketball and Dempster's Riches

Iowa's 73-67 victory over Texas-San Antonio was almost an upset from what I gathered from readings at Hawkmania.com. It took a valiant comeback to overtake the Roadrunners (yes, the Roadrunners) who had a 57-54 lead with seven minutes left in the second half. The Hawkeyes showed the flashes of their omnipotent 2007 play by turning over the ball 19 times, which the Roadrunners quickly turned into 27 points in its near upset. I'm becoming a little worried that Lickliter is rushing to put out a competitive team on the floor, while possibly sacrificing the construction of chemistry within his program. I just feel like the players in this program have no pride in wearing the Iowa uniform.
Hopefully the arrival of Iowa City product Matt Gatens will spring a new found passion down the Iowa bench. His 10 points Monday night followed his 15 point debut (second highest point total for Iowa freshman in his first game) against Charleston-Southern. Hawk fans can only pray that his strong early season performances are not a product of the schedule, but Lickliter finally bringing in solid talent. Further good news is the transition of Cyrus Tate from resident big man thrown out into games to take up space by the previous tenure to a full fledged dominating inside presence.
If this team is going to break .500 and enter the NIT, they must get productivity from Jarryd Cole. Aaron Fuller's 2.0 ppg is not going to keep Big 10 teams from focusing on Cyrus Tate. I know Cole tore his ACL, but that was last November. He needs to quickly heal or Iowa is in for certain domination on the boards. Lickliter moved 6-5 Gatens to power forward Monday night to help generate rebounds, but this can't be a long-term solution. Gatens belongs out on the wing using his height to generate open shots over smaller defenders. The freshman will also get more mileage by avoiding the pounding that playing in the interior for his first Big 10 season will generate.

Ryan Dempster signed a 4 year $52 million contract this week. I don't understand the direction Cubs' GM Jim Hendry is trying to forge with this signing? He just told one of the nastiest pitchers (Kerry Wood) in the league to take a hike and then gives a bloated contract to a pitcher who was originally brought in to be the Cubs closer. If the Cubs can throw this much money on an average pitcher coming off a career year, how much can we toss at C.C. Sabathia? Sure, Dempster is coming off a 17 win season and 2.96 E.R.A., but $52 million? My problem with the contract is the fact that I can't see Dempster staying in the phenomenal shape he sported in 2008. His previous four years in Chicago were marred in injury and 4.70 E.R.As. In 2005, Dempster had 33 saves and a 3.13 E.R.A. to originally validate Hendry's belief that he could be a
dominant closer in MLB. The next two seasons would be a different story with Dempster's performance almost leading to a team release.
The Dempster signing is just too risky. Money could have been better invested for more proven pitching products in C.C. Sabathia and Jake Peavy. No matter what Jim Hendry will say, this signing was a panic move from doubt about not signing Kerry Wood, conceding the Sabathia stakes to the AL East, and fears of not completing a trade with San Diego for Jake Peavy.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Giants clash with Titans

As the NFL regular season enters its final months, the Tennessee Titans (10-0) and New York Giants (9-1) have established themselves as the hegemons of the gridiron empire. Beyond their sterling records and suffocating defense, I find the Titans to be severely handicapped going up against the Giants in a possible future Super Bowl matchup. With Jeff Fisher's conservative defense/solid running game style being most damaging to their success in this anticipated dream match up. When I look at this Titans team, I cant help but see the Bill Cowher coached Steeler teams of the mid-90s. With the mediocre quarterback in Kerry Collins representing Neil O'Donnell (both have beards), above-average running backs (Lendale White filling in for Bam Morris), and a superb defense. The problem with this comparison is that those Steeler teams were masters of the close playoff loss. I just feel the conservative football mantra, though successful, always fails when used in an evenly matched contest come playoff time.
New York on the other hand, keeps mimicking the 2001 New England Patriots with there upset of the heavily favored team in the Super Bowl, powerhouse defense, no-name running game, and habitually clutch quarterback play. Though Coughlin comes from an offensive background, its his defense that has established the Giants as a force to be reckoned with this season. Below is a more detailed breakdown between the two teams and proof that the Titans have a lot to handle come this winter.

Coaching: Edge to the Giants

Though Fisher has been the head coach for the Titans/Oilers since 1994 and has never been pink slipped like Tom Coughlin, I can't overlook the fact that Coughlin has led a team to Super Bowl victory. Fisher on the other hand is 0-1 in the Super Bowl, 1-2 in AFC championship games, and has lost twice in the divisional playoffs while being the #1 seed in the playoffs (D-Coordinator for 93-94 Oilers). Yes, Coughlin's record with the Jaguars in the playoffs was abysmal, but his ring erases those Jacksonville blemishes.

Quarterback: Edge to the Giants

When you have a guy from Penn State quarterbacking your team, most football fans cry themselves to sleep at night. Yet, here is Mr. Kerry Collins leading the Titans to an undefeated record 12 weeks into the NFL season. Personally, I find his success being determined by great offensive line play coupled with a new found desire to accept the serviceable quarterback role. That said, seeing Eli Manning carve up the vaunted #1 ranked Steeler defense this year and converting third down after third down since January 2008 has become extremely impressive. I hate to say it, but this temperamental kid who pulled and Elway at the NFL draft has shown true brilliance in his play. His accuracy and crunch time performances continue to remind me of the great Tom Brady.

Backfield: Edge to Giants

With Lendale White in the Tennessee backfield, I almost thought this category would swing towards the Titans. Then I looked at the statistics. The battering Lendale White may have 11 touchdowns, but he also has a paltry 3.9 yards per carry average (ypc). His partner Chris Johnson, is doing a little better with a 4.4 ypc sprinkled with 5 touchdowns. For the Titans, a total of 1,327 yards has been gained so far this year on 335 carries. Comparing these stats to the Giants, you quickly appreciate how awesome their running back by committee is. Starter Brandon Jacobs is averaging 5.4 ypc, backup Derrick Ward is running for 5.3 yards a carry, while third down back Ahmad Bradshaw is chewing up an amazing 6.7 ypc. In total, the Giants have amassed 400 more yards on the ground this year with fewer carries (328 total) than the Titans.

Receiving Corp: Edge to the Giants

Plaxico Burress could outperform the Titans receivers single-handily if given the chance. When Justin Gage is your number two receiver and he couldn't even crack the two deep for the Chicago Bears, you know you have issues. Though, in research of the Tennessee tight ends, I find Bo Scaife having superior stats compared to Kevin Boss and added depth with Alge Crumpler. Still, with sage veteran Amani Toomer teaming up with the gargantuan Burress, its no surprise that this receiving corp has doubled the touchdown output of its possible Super Bowl foe.

Offensive Line: Even

I give Tennessee's line a lot of credit for giving Collins an eternity to find open receivers. They have given a once pathetic quarterback a career rebirth. Though, the Giants counter with sick running production from their hog mollies which also happened to completely stonewall Pittsburgh's vaunted blitzing 3-4. Therefore, I say both sides deserve recognition for being instrumental in their teams winning records.

Defensive Line: Even

Again, at first glance I figured the Titans would finally win a category. Then I looked at the statistics and quickly declared both D-lines even. Tennessee's Albert Haynesworth has emerged as a premier defensive tackle (7 sacks) and will surely end up in Honolulu this year. His teammate Tony Brown is chipping in with 3.5 sacks to help with the cause. Where the tackles dominate for the Titans, they are quickly over matched on the defensive end. Yes, on paper Jevon Kearse and Kyle Vanden Bosch look like an awesome duo, but this isn't 2001. Both ends have their stats dwarfed by the sacking machine that is Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka. Together the Giant twosome have 15 sacks to the Titan's 5.5. Their tackle production is also half of the Giant's D-ends. With the Titans having the better tackles and the Giant displaying dominant end play, each team cancels out each others strength and creates a stalemate on the defensive front.

Linebackers: Edge to Titans

Keith Bulluck's 62 tackles are above and beyond everyone else from either team. His outstanding play alone has placed shame to the remaining mediocrity on both squad's linebackers. Both linebacking corps represent filler between their elite secondaries and defensive lines.

Secondary: Even

Very hard to find a dominant side. Each position is manned by a stud on both teams. Chris Hope is having a career year and each secondary has two ex-Longhorns pulling their weight. The interception category is dead even with Tennessee having one more at 15. The Titans have more tackles and bigger names at each position, but the Giants counter with R.W. McQuarters and Sam Madison for more quality depth in their nickel and dime packages.

Special Teams: Edge to Giants

Statistically, New York edges out the Titans in field goal efficiency and punt average. This stat is amazing even more, in that the two players doing it, are in their forties! Its hard to go against two sure Hall of Famers in John Carney and Jeff Feagles.

Intangibles: Edge to Giants

Withstanding the tribulations of their 2008 Super Bowl run as the wild-card last year has placed quite a few feathers in the Giants cap. This seasoning comes in handy during hard fought close games. Having this aura of defending champs doesn't hurt for intimidation purposes either in a contest. Fisher's men on the other hand can't match the makeup or success that the Giants have gained from their Super Bowl success. Another reason Tennesse lacks the intangibles compared to the Giants is their failure to incorporate the athletically gifted Vince Young into the mid-90s Kordell Stewart/Slash role. Here is a guy who is on par with anybody in your receiving corp and could be a fantastic reverse runner. Just give him the ball in space and hope for large gains. Yet, he is wasted on the sidelines losing confidence by the day. It just seems a valuable weapon is gathering dust instead of being unleashed upon the enemy.

Totals: Giants win categories by score of 6-1-3

Final Score in Super Bowl: Giants win 24-21.

Big Ten Basketball Preview

Friday the real basketball season began and there were a few interesting results, most notably Duke only winning by three over Rhode Island.  Anytime Duke loses it's a good thing as far as I'm concerned.

But, no, I'm here to write about the Big Ten plus one with a bonus preview for Creighton University--my favorite mid-major.

Illinois
Coach: After last year's disappointing performance Bruce Weber's has more critics than supporters.  The knock on him is that he can coach well enough to win the big game but he can't recruit the players necessary to get him there.  If he can hang on one more year I think he'll erase that criticism because next year's recruiting class looks GOOD.  With only one true freshman on this year's roster, U of I will benefit from some transfers like Alex Legion.
Lineup: PG Chester Frazier, SG Trent Meachem, G/F Calvin Brock, F Mike Davis, C Mike Tisdale
Bench: Demetri McCamey, Jeffrey Jordan, Dominique Keller, Alex Legion (eligible at conclusion of fall semester)
Star: After having surgery on his ankles to remove bone spurs, reports out of practice have last year's leading scorer, Trent Meachem, being quicker than ever.  If his quickness is for real, defenders will have to give him a little more space on the perimeter.  He could average 14pts/game.  Not bad for a former walk-on.
Top Freshman: Stan Simpson
Predicted finish:  Fifth place in the Big Ten and one of the last teams "in" for the tournament.

Indiana
Coach: How many games before Tom Crean calls Eric Gordon to come back?  His coaching reputation precedes him but this year the larger test will be that of fortitude.  Losing players due to Kelvin Sampson's NCAA violations and kicking others off for "academic and team guideline negligence", he inherits a squad with two returning players.  Improvement is the key word in Bloomington and I fully expect Crean to get the best out of his team.
Lineup: PG Verdell Jones III, SG Nick Williams, SG Devan Dumes, F Kyle Traber, F Tom Pritchard
Bench: Matt Roth, Brett Finkelmeier, Daniel Moore
Star:  Tom Pritchard will have the tough task of being the best player on a bad team.  Oh, he's a freshman.  If this was last year's team he'd probably be the first guy off the bench but this is 2009.  He'll be All Big Ten in two years.
Top Freshman: Pritchard
Predicted finish: 11th in the conference although with Crean at the helm I won't be surprised if they finish as high as 8th.

Iowa
Coach: Last year had to be the most frustrating season in Todd Lickliter's career.  After building a successful program at Butler, Iowa struggled to be even mediocre.  Lickliter's biggest challenge is getting good players.  He's been the first to admit that it's a challenge to recruit Big Ten players and not just guys who fit his scheme.  The good news is that he likes the challenge and he's not satisfied with last year's results. 
Lineup: G Matt Gatens, G Anthony Tucker, G Jeff Peterson, F Cyrus Tate, F Aaron Fuller
Bench: Jermain Davis, Jake Kelly, Devan Bawinkel
Star: Cyrus Tate, at 6'8" is a good bet for a double-double each time he walks onto the floor.
Top Freshman: Matt Gatens
Predicted finish: 8th 

Michigan
Coach: John Beilein's track record in NCAA tournaments should stoke Michigan fans.  Beilein has never recruited NBA stars but he has built solid teams that tend to over-perform in both conference and NCAA tournament play.  Don't expect Michigan to be as bad as they were last year because Manny Harris is a budding superstar.  This combination makes the Wolverines a scary matchup in the Big Ten tournament and a darkhorse for the big dance.
Lineup: PG Manny Harris, G Stu Douglass, G David Merritt, F Anthony Wright, F Zack Gibson
Bench: DeShawn Sims, Zack Novak, Kelvin Grady, Laval Lucas-Perry (eligible in January)
Star: Manny Harris can drive to the basket on anyone.  Last year he led the conference in free throw attempts and as the season went along his shot improved.  Averaging 16.1 points a game as a freshman, the sky's the limit.
Top Freshman: Laval Lucas-Perry, once eligible, will give Michigan another young playmaker at guard.
Predicted finish: 6th in a tightly bunched middle pack.

Michigan State
Coach: Tom Izzo is the best coach in the Big Ten.  His teams work hard, have great ball movement, and are never outrebounded.  That's a foundation for success.  However, in the last couple of years Izzo's teams have not been fundamentally sound.  The Spartans led the Big Ten in offensive possession turnover %.  I don't know the number off-hand but if they had been simply league average they would have won the Big Ten.  I know they lost to Purdue because Purdue shut down Neitzel and forced the other guys to handle the ball.  If MSU improves in this one area alone, they are final four contenders.  And don't be deceived by their record--Izzo also puts together the most challenging non-conference schedule of any school in the country.
Lineup: PG Kalin Lucas, SG Travis Walton, G Chris Allen, F Raymar Morgan, C Goran Suton
Bench: Durrell Summers, Idong Ibok, Delvon Roe, Marquise Gray
Star:  This is a tossup between Lucas and Morgan.  I'll go with Morgan who is so strong that smaller forwards can't guard him but quick enough to give big men trouble too.  His free throw shooting is only so-so but he's a beast in the paint.
Top Freshman: Delvon Roe
Predicted finish: 2nd, and a top 4 seed in the NCAA tournament.

Purdue
Coach: Matt Painter might be coach 1b in the Big Ten right now.  His recruiting is excellent as evidenced by the Boilers success last season.  Painter also seems to be pretty adept at X's and O's.  Two years ago the team had two players and a bunch of scrubs yet still managed to go undefeated at home and make the NCAA tournament.
Lineup: PG Keaton Grant, SG E'Twaun Moore, G Chris Kramer, PF Robbie Hummel, F/C JuJuan Johnson.  
Bench: Nemanja Calasan, Marcus Green, Lewis Jackson
Star: Most analysts will tell you Robbie Hummel is the most complete player on the team and maybe the conference.  No argument here, but the player with the most talent is Moore.  His ability to get hot and score from anywhere make him an opponent's nightmare.
Top Freshman: Lew Jackson
Predicted finish: 1st Big Ten, Top 3 seed NCAA Tournament.

It's getting late so I'll finish this tomorrow.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Great Lakes Regional Results


I just got back from West Lafayette where Wisconsin continued their domination with their 7th consecutive men's title.  For what it's worth their women won too. 

Racing conditions were not ideal.  Intermittent rain showers, steady winds, and cold temperatures made for an uncomfortable setting. Furthermore half the course was extremely muddy causing the times to look unimpressive. This is why times are overrated in cross-country. There are too many external factors that can affect performance. 

Despite an underwhelming performance from senior Matt Withrow, the Wisconsin men were able to cruise to victory on a course whose challenging terrain was overshadowed by the terrible conditions.   According to head coach Mick Byrne, the Badgers decided to run conservatively and let the leaders go.  This strategy worked well as four Badger runners finished consecutively in the top seven to pace the team to victory.

Patrick Smyth of Notre Dame out-dueled Andy Baker of Butler for the victory.  Baker was somewhat of a long-shot to finish in the top five coming into the race but he was clearly focused and gave Smyth all he could handle for most of the race.  At about 8k Smyth made his move and put Baker away.  

The surprise of the day came courtesy of the Butler Bulldogs who finished in third place.  If you would have told me they would beat Notre Dame I wouldn't believe it.  I still don't believe it. Notre Dame might be a little worried on their standing as the at-large bids are handed out for Nationals in the next couple of days.*

In the end it was an enjoyable experience.  Even with the cold and wind I had a good time.  I even ran the course after the race was over causing me to be covered in mud.  I had a good time and judging by the crowd there today they enjoyed it too.  

*Only the top two finishing teams from each of the 9 regions are guaranteed a spot at Nationals.  The remaining thirteen spots are decided on by a committee and given to teams based on their performance throughout the season.


This is a snapshot of the ravine area which the runners had to run 
through two times.  The mud was deep causing the uphill climb to be slick. 


The prairie area held up pretty well despite the conditions.  
Runners were probably relieved to hit this section of the course despite the challenging hills.

Patrick Smyth of Notre Dame and Andy Baker of Butler assert themselves 
early by taking the lead just before 3k.  These two would battle it out 
for about 8k before Smyth pulled ahead for the win.

Wisconsin and Indiana fight for position in the lead pack just after 2k.
Michigan ran well as a team while Indiana faded in the second half of the race; a disappointing performance which will probably cost them a trip to Nationals.

Joe Miller finishing the most difficult part of the course with authority.  His tough performance enabled Notre Dame to place fourth.

Just short of 5k.  There is no doubt who the guys to beat are at this point 
as the lead pack is nowhere to be seen.


Here comes the lead pack led by Landon Peacock of Wisconsin 
and Pat Sovacool of Miami.


Patrick Smyth comes down the homestretch.  He finished with a time of 
31:06--an impressive performance considering the conditions.

Landon Peacock checks on the whereabouts of his teammates as they 
head towards the chute.  Chris Lemon of Dayton holds off the Badgers 
for third place.

In a most impressive display of team unity, Sean McNamara, 
Lex Williams, Ciaran O'Lionard, and Craig Forys finish together 8-11.  
They were separated by a total of 0.2 seconds.

For more information on the race you can go here.
Click here for information on other regional results.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Cubs Part Ways with Wood

The Kerry Wood era and his impending departure can best be described amongst Cubs fans as the loss of an icon crossed with a feeling of good riddance. This duel fan opinion of the Texas right-hander is due to the fact that when Wood burst on to the MLB scene with his 20K performance against Houston in the spring of '98, a complete disbelief ushered throughout Cubdom. Could a pitcher of this immense talent really be residing on the north side? Is the second coming of Roger Clemens sporting blue pinstripes? By announcing his presence with such grandiose fireworks, Wood became an immediate obsession. I remember coming home from school and watching in awe as this guy dominated like no Cub before. Unfortunately, this fireworks display would later be accompanied by a mid-season trip to the disabled list where he would return to no avail in an NLDS loss to the Braves.
Wood's flash of brilliance coupled with an immediate health breakdown would eventually become his calling card. The next ten years would display Wood as having one of the best opponent batting averages mixed with gratuitous stays on the disabled list. I feel that any other team would have quickly diagnosed the man as incapable of maintaining his health for a full season (long believed his mechanics were the culprit) and shipped off for prospects. Though, the trade or release never occurred, and year after year Cubdom hoped he would put it together and chase down the pennant.
Hope is the very reason Wood even materialized into iconic status amongst Cubs fans. The decades of futility on the north side made hope the only option for maintaining the ability to continue to follow this sad sack franchise. And Wood immediately became the flagship of this wave of hopeful emotion. It didn't hurt that his arrival also coincided with a Cub renaissance where the teams popularity and wealth would exponentially grow. His injuries would be hailed has as disastrous, but nowhere was there a vitriol lashing among the fans towards Wood, just support and hope that next year he would stay healthy and produce.
In 2003 it seemed that hope and patience would finally bare fruit with Wood's pitching being instrumental in securing the central division title. He added to his season success with two awesome outings in the NLDS to propel the team towards capturing the NL pennant. This success would all be for not as Wood was unable to stem the Marlin tide in Game 7 of the NLCS where he allowed over five runs in 4 innings. The next 2 1/2 years would be marred in injury with an abandoning of being a starting pitcher and adopting a reliever role.
So, with this up and down play from Kerry Wood for the last decade, he has been rewarded with no contract offer from the Cubs for 2009? The Cub fan in me boils with anger for the fact that Wood is likable, enjoyed Cubdom and all its offerings, and left everything on the field. Still, the business side of my baseball acumen says, "let this guy go, he's a torn rotator cuff waiting to happen." Wood's loyalty can't be ignored, nor his talent. The guy was an all-star reliever in 2008! I see how Carlos Marmol has been groomed as the closer of the future, but its not like the Cubs lack the funds to resign Wood as Marmol's setup man. I find Philadelphia's playoff success as more reason to stack your bullpen. Fine, he can gain more salary from rival teams, but Marmol is still under contract.
Also, one fact remains, does Marmol even have the makeup to conquer the intense challenge of closing baseball games? Is Kevin Gregg now our emergency closer if Marmol loses confidence? These questions could be quickly put to bed if Wood was resigned. A valuable insurance tool in my opinion, especially for a team whose window of winning it all is quickly shutting. Therefore, is Wood a victim of increased winning expectations on Clark & Addison? I say no, for its him (Wood) that created this new bar of success. Ten years ago, just having a competitive team would have been outstanding, now a NLDS loss is met with complete disgust from the fans and media.
In the end, I hope both sides are met with positive outcomes. I do not want to see Kerry Wood back under the knife, nor do I need to see my beloved Cubs losing 90 games because of a collapsing bullpen in 2009.