Wednesday, November 24, 2010

NFL Playoff Picture, through Week 11

Note: Working to make my homemade conference standing images less-hobbitlike

The biggest shocker in the current AFC playoff picture is that if the season ended today, Jacksonville would be in, and the Peytonmannings would be out. Jacksonville would then take over the mantle of worst-playoff team ever from the 2004 Seahawks.

Not only did the Texans' collapse likely cost Gary Kubiak his job and cause the media to force-feed Mark Sanchez down our throats in the current Favre-ian quarterback void, but the loss effectively eliminates the Texans from playoff consideration. They are 3 games out of a wild card spot with 6 to play, and even though they're only 2 games out of the division lead, there are 3 teams ahead of them. The more things change, the more the Texans finish disappointingly out of the playoff race in the end.

No team wants to end up in a tiebreaker with the Patriots for a wild card spot. They've beaten 4 teams they could easily be competing with for seeding (or a spot itself) head-to-head. Their one blemish? The loss that's keeping them in the wild card spot right now: the week 2 loss to the Jets.

Also interesting: No team on this list has played more than 3 games against teams in its own division. Smart move by the NFL keeping a good amount of divisional games till the end of the season.

Miami and Tennessee are both on this list, but barely. Both have 4 conference losses already (which hurts their chances at winning tiebreakers). In Miami's case, they sit behind 2 8-2 teams, so the division is out of the question. Tennessee sits 1 game behind 2 teams, but they've beaten one of those teams H2H so far, so they have slightly more hope.

This is almost always a bittersweet exercise, for when I look at the numbers, I usually see my Seahawks easily in 4th place with a poor record. Sure enough, they're 2 games behind the other 3 division winners, but still in a playoff spot with a .500 record thanks to the ineptitude of the rest of their division. The Rams lurk at the very bottom of the list, but actually only 1 game out of a playoff spot, at 4-6. The final game of the season is STL at SEA, which could be for the division...and a .500 record.

Speaking of Week 17 games for the division, CHI at GB, I think we've found our end of the season Sunday night flex game.

Tampa picked a rough year to be surprisingly good. Looking closer at their schedule though, the only team on this list they have beaten is the only sub-.500 team on the list, which makes me feel a little less sorry for their current outside-looking-in position.

2 weeks ago, the New York Giants looked like the best team in football. Right now, their the 8th team in the playoff race. If that's not worth a Manningface I don't know what is.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The US-Mexico CONCACAF rivalry has been junked

True story.

From Grant Wahl's piece linked to above:

Here's how it would work: The six lowest-ranked teams in the region would have a home-and-home playoff to trim the field to 32. Then eight groups of four teams would play a six-game quarterfinal stage, with the top two in each group advancing. Then four groups of four would play a six-game semifinal stage, with the top two again advancing. Then two groups of four would play a six-game final stage. The two teams that win those groups would earn bids to World Cup '14. If CONCACAF successfully lobbies FIFA for four spots in Brazil (instead of the previous 3.5), then the two second-place teams would also receive World Cup bids. If it stays at 3.5, then the two second-place teams would have a playoff, with the winner going to Brazil and the loser then playing against a team from another confederation for a World Cup spot (last time it was the fifth-place team from South America's CONMEBOL).

Since the US and Mexico are easily the top 2 teams in CONCACAF, they will be seeded into opposite halves of the draw, only to meet if they both finish 2nd in their pool and CONCACAF doesn't successfully lobby for a 4th bid to the World Cup.

Why do it? Aocording to Wahl, it's so the smaller countries of CONCACAF, many of whom don't have a prayer of qualifying, get more games before being eliminated (for the the qualifying procedures of CONCACAF for the 2010 World Cup, see here). As you can see from the link, 23 of the 35 teams play 2 or 4 games and are then out. Only the top 12 teams play more than that.

Under the new procedures, 32 of the 35 teams will play at least 6 games, with at least 2 of those being against one of the powers in the region (which should help sell tickets for some of the smaller countries).

The upshot? That day US Soccer fans have been hoping for, when the US finally wins an important game in Mexico? Won't happen, as the US won't get the chance to play an important game in Mexico under this format. It's sacrificing the quality of competition for the 3 or 4 teams who eventually make it to the World Cup in favor of the multitude of teams who will not qualify. CONCACAF is already lacking in terms of competing on the World stage, and part of that is a lack of pressure opportunities against quality opponents. Now those opportunities have gotten even slimmer, which should only help to weaken the conference's standing on the largest stage.

In Wahl's article, CONCACAF general secretary Chuck Blazer remarks,

The goal [of World Cup qualifying] is not to try to find a champion of CONCACAF. That's what we have the Gold Cup for...

This is true, there isn't any benefit in terms of World Cup seeding for your standing in your conference's qualification, only whether you qualified or not. But the goal for CONCACAF should be to improve the chances of the qualifying teams at the World Cup, but since a minority of the region's 35 teams have any shot of making it to the World Cup, that's not a goal that a majority of the region will embrace.

This is a dark day for American (and Mexican, for that mater) soccer. Hopefully US silence on this issue at least helps America win their bid to host either the 2018 or 2022 World Cup.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Bill Polian: NFL determined to ruin its product, one way or another

The 18 game season is "...a fait accompli"

There are so many things wrong with this decision it's hard to know where to begin.

- It's not enough for the owners to threaten a lockout (and don't mistake this comment to mean the players are blameless if it does come to that), they're threatening a lockout AND endangering the welfare of the players for 2 extra games a season. If the players are smart, they will demand expanded rosters in the next collective bargaining agreement since the owners are determined to force 2 more games down their throats.

- This is a minor point, but to a math-inclined avid follower of brackets and scheduling, the NFL is perfect right now. 8, 4 team divisions, where of your 16 games 6 are played against the 3 other teams in your own division, 4 are played against all of the teams in 1 of the other 3 divisions in your conference, 4 more are played against 1 of the 4 divisions in the other conference, and the final 2 games are played against one team from each of the 2 divisions in your conference you haven't played yet, based on where you finished the previous season in your division. There's no room for 2 more games, it currently works out perfectly with 16 games.

- There hads been much talk of the increased awareness of concussions (outside of Philadelphia at least) and the possible links to dementia and other long-term brain problems later in life. That's wonderful, but this stance of forcing the players to play 2 more regular season games while the studies and heightened awareness are just beginning demonstrates that the owners are talking out of both sides of their mouths. I've seen pro football compared to the gladiator fights of Roman times, and I have to say, the comparison has merit. Sure, the players are wll compensated for their work as opposed to being slaves, but the owners will take watever liberties they please with the players' physical condition to make a couple of extra bucks. They dress it up nice, but look at the retired players trying to increase their pensions to pay for their replacement knees and hips and tell me it's more than window dressing.

This is part of a greater concern for me. I love football. I don't apologise for occasionally spending Sundays sitting on my couch watching 1 game, then a second, then the highlights, and then a third. I don't apologize for looking for ways to stream Seahawks games online, as I cannot get DirectTV and thus have no less illicit way to see the games. One of my bigger regrets is not ever having played football when I was younger (not because I think I'd have gone pro, but because I love the game so much). But I'm growing more and more worried as time goes on that the game I love is too much of a bloodsport. I've always known football was a violent sport with the potential for serious injury, we see torn knee ligaments, snapped ankles, even fractured arms with some regularity. It's part of the game. But hiding in the background is the more sinister story. Concussions, and what they become when players tell no one about them and play through them repeatedly. When Chris Henry tragically dies last year, studies showed he had serious brain trauma, and the only known cause was playing football. He wasn't 75, or 60, or even 40. He wasn't even retired.

He was 26.

Henry's not the only one who has been found to have brain trauma, he's just the youngest public case showing football might actually be too violent. I read a column a few months back essentially asking, "Can we enjoy football and still call ourselves human beings?" At the time, I thought the article too sensationalist, and I'm not at a point where I feel guilty for loving football as I do, but I'm starting to wonder what to think in the back of my brain.

I'm not quitting my football fandom, but I am having some second thoguhts about the sport. I was 110% sure that if my child wanted to play tackle football, I was going to let him try it. Now? I'm not sure I'm willing to do that, until I see more of where the current research leads.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Week 1, continued

Just how badly was Cincinnati out of it in their game against New England on Sunday? Chad OchoCinco scored a touchdown, and despite telling us all that he would do something special after scoring, all he did was flip the ball to the official and run back to his sideline. And thus, on September 12, 2010, we learned that OchoCinco does actually possess an iota of shame. That, and it would have been nice had the Bengals decided to start playing before 30 seconds into the 3rd quarter on Sunday.

New England's defense had to put their fans' minds at ease, at least for week 1. There was general consternation after Sam Bradford and the Rams picked them apart in week 3 of the preseason (aka, the closest the preseason comes to mattering), but they faced an offense with an array of weapons, and their young D emerged unscathed until the game was well out of hand. And for those of us who worried about Carson Palmer after his conversion into a fantasy stinkbomb last year...he's not out of the woods yet.

Chicago literally stole one from the Lions, as Calvin Johnson fell victim to Detroit's version of the Tuck Rule...well, that's not entirely fair. The last 9 years have been Detroit's version of the Tuck Tony Romo's fumbled just being the Cleveland Browns ever since they got their 2nd installation of the team. But like the Tuck Rule, it was the correct call of a bad rule for that situation.

Atlanta poured cold water on the "Atlanta for NFC South Champion!" parade, managing only 9 points against a Steelers team starting their #3 choice at quarterback. Matt Moore poured cold water on the "Matt Moore is an NFL starting quarterback" movement, instead putting on his best Jake Delhomme (what, too soon?) impression, throwing 3 picks in a loss to the Giants.

Speaking of Delhomme, he tossed a touchdown pass, which confused the Cleveland fans (seriously, go look at some of the terrible performances Anderson and Quinn put up last year) for a little while. Not wanting to shock them too bad, Delhomme tossed a couple of interceptions, as Cleveland fell to Tampa Bay. Like Cleveland, Buffalo (vs Miami) and Oakland (vs Tennessee) played down to all expectations in losses, maintaining some semblance of order on Sunday.

Tim Tebow had a dud of a debut (2 carries, 2 yards) while Sam Bradford impressed in his first game as a pro, but both of their teams lost close ones. Kevin Kolb did not impress at all, and Michael Vick's 100 yards rushing and passing in the 2nd half after Kolb left the game with a concussion means the Philly fans can either write off the opening loss to Green Bay and throw their support behind Kolb when he's ready to come back, or they can embrace a full fledged QB controversy.

Also big losers on the day, Philly's medical staff and sideline. Somehow, linebacker Stewart Bradley was allowed to get back on the field after he was unable to literally put one foot in front of the other after a tackle. Finally someone got him back off the field and kept him off, but the fact that he was able to get back in in the first place is a damning indictment of the Eagles staff and makes a mockery of the emphasis the league is trying to put on concussions and overall brain health.

Pete Carroll's return to the NFL was surprisingly positive, as his Seahawks tore the visiting preseason darling 49ers limb from limb in a 25 point blowout win. Game ball went to Alex Smith, for his happy feet, 2 interceptions, and general inaccuracy.

And finally, Dallas took their sizeable talent advantage over the Redskins and spent the whole game making mistakes and let the Redskins hang onto a slim lead right up until the last play when the Cowboys finally scored the tying touchdown...except their backup right tackle (who doubles as the most penalized player in the NFL over the last 5 seasons) was called for holding, which ended the game and handed the Redskins the win. Add in the fact that the Redskins got their only touchdown of the game thanks to a Dallas fumble they took to the house on the last play of the first half, and saying the Cowboys blew this game does not do it justice. It was about as fitting a Cowboys loss as you can get.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Welcome back, NFL

And now fall can begin in earnest, as the NFL season is underway, thanks to the Saints' 14-9 win over the Vikings.

The Saints were a bit befuddling last night. On the opening possession of the game, their offense threw the ball all the way down the field and scored. Then they didn't score for the rest of the half, going into halftime trailing 9-7. On their opening possession of the 2nd half, they ran the ball all the way down the field, then didn't score for the rest of the half.

Then we come to their defense. Last year in the NFC title game, the Saints blitzed Favre every way possible, battering him to the point where he threw an INT across his body instead of running 5 yards to set up a makeable field goal at the end of regulation. In last night's game, the Saints spent most of the night rushing 3 or 4. In the first half, I'm not sure they blitzed once. They brought some pressure in the 2nd half, but nothing close to what they were doing last year. Can't argue with the results, but it was very interesting to watch.

Maybe training camp means something after all. Minnesota was clearly trying to protect Favre with their running game, but he just wasn't on the same page with enough of his receivers. Collinsworth made a good point during the broadcast when he questioned why Greg Camarillo wasn't on the field more. As soon as he came on the field, Favre hit him for a big 3rd down conversion.

For all of the press the kicking game has gotten recently (ovetime rules need to be changed as kickers are too accurate from long distances, field goal percentages are so high, etc.) last night was not a good one for kickers. NFC title game hero Garrett Hartley missed 2 field goals (one from under 40 yards) and Ryan Longwell had an extra point blocked. To be fair, Longwell already performed his most important task of the season when he helped convince Favre to come back and save the Vikings from following Tarvaris Jackson off the edge of the cliff.

This wasn't at all the game we were expecting to see, but it shows a) how hard it is having the bullseye on your back from day 1 and b) Minnesota isn't as good as they were last year. The OLine, especially, didn't look near the unit that has drawn so much praise opening holes for Peterson and protecting Favre.

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Bob Bradley Answer

Four More Years

Quick thoughts:

- This isn't a bad decision, but I would be very surprised if we don't look back on Bradley's tenure in 2014 and determine he peaked at the Confederations Cup in 2009. Like I said before, the road to the round of 16, let alone the quarterfinals, in 4 years in Brazil will almost certainly be harder, and this team barely made it this time around. Add in the statistics regarding coaches getting 2nd chances at a World Cup squad, and it's hard to get excited about this decision.

- It seems pretty likely that for the 2nd time in a row, Bob Bradley was given the reigns to the US Soccer team as the second choice behind Juergen Klinnsman. Klinnsman would have gotten more people excited, but even though I wasn't for bringing Bradley back, he deserved better than (alledgedly) playing second fiddle to him again.

- Develop the next set of players, Bob. You have the security of the 4-year contract, you don't have to prove anything to us in the next 2 years. Show us your plan for replacing the older guys from the 2010 squad. Show us who will step in on the backline, show us who will roam the midfield with the current core. And in the name of everything holy, develop some strikers.

The bar is higher now, Bob. Keep the momentum going.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Bob Bradley Question

Given the news that Bob Bradley is meeting with US Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati this week (likely later today), the question of "Will Bob Bradley's contract be renewed for a 2nd run at the World Cup?" will likely be answered in the very near future. The real question, though, is "Should Sunil bring Bob back?"

On the one hand, if this were a country in Europe, things would be easier. Many countries in Europe operate on 2 year cycles (thanks to the UEFA Cup) instead of 4-year ones. If we were in Europe, Sunil could simply decide to extend Bob's contract for 2 years and see how things played out. However, we are in the USA, and our soccer team resides in the CONCACAF region. No one cares about the Gold Cup (CONCACAF's equivalent to the UEFA cup), so you can't judge a coach on the team's performance in the Gold Cup and think it has any meaning as far as the World Cup is concerned. That's like judging an NFL head coach on how his team does record-wise in the preseason. Just a bad idea.

There have been plenty of times in Team USA's recent history that the retention decision has been an easy one. 1998 for example: the US finished 32nd out of 32 teams that made the finals. Steve Sampson was dumped shortly afterwards. In 2006, the US drew a tough group, but even so looked unimaginative and their coach, Bruce Arena had already been stewarding the team for 8 years. In both of those cases, the decision was easy: dump them and find someone else. It almost didn't matter who you replaced them with. In Arena's case, his coaching acumen wasn't in question, but he seemed burnt out and unable to continue. In Sampson's case, his acumen was entirely in question. A change had to be made.

Even in 2002, the decision wasn't very difficult. Bruce Arena had just led the team to a quarterfinals appearance in which the US had outplayed Germany but fell 1-0 to the eventual runner-up. If Arena wanted to come back, he was almost owed the opportunity to do so. I say almost not because a quarterfinals appearance wasn't enough for the US in 2002, but because of the statistics on coaches and their 2nd terms.

Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl accumulated the statistics on coaches from World Cup teams who returned for another 4 years and again eld their team to a 2nd World Cup. The results show a tepid picture: Of the 48 coaches he found, 25 led their team to a worse showing the next time around (this includes Arena), 10 led the team to an equivalent showing, and just 13 (or 27.1%) achieved an improved standing. Wahl makes the good point that only coaches who overachieve tend to get asked back, so they're behind the 8-ball from the get-go on round 2, but the stats still don't paint a very promising picture.

Are the stats enough to say Bradley should be removed? No. This isn't a case of anyone could do better. We have to delve a little deeper.

On the one hand, the players love playing for Bradley. And he was able to cultivate an environment where this team never gave up. They would push and push and pressure you until the end (see USA 1, Algeria 0). Bradley led the US to the finals of the Confederations Cup in 2009, getting the USA out of a group featuring Brazil, Italy, and Egypt, and then upsetting Spain 2-0 in the semifinals, brekaing an unbeaten streak of over 30 games for the now World Cup Champions. The US emerged from CONCACAF qualifying as the top team in the region. In this World Cup, he was without perhaps his best defender (Onyewu, a shell of himself due to injury), and possibly striker (Charlie Davies, due to a car accident that almost killed him in October 2009), and still the US advanced to the 2nd round by winning their group. Bob Bradley did much for this country in his 4-year cycle.

But (unfortunaetly, most of these accomplishments lose a little luster if you look a little closer)

The players may love playing for Bradley, and their never-say-die attitude made them a great show...but this attitude was necessary because once the Confederation Cup ended, they spotted their opponents a goal in the first half of the first half some 90% of the time. The one game in the World Cup where they didn't fal behind early? Against Algeria, a team that scored a whopping 0 goals in the tournament, and even then only because their striker hit the crossbar on an open shot inside the penalty area in the early stages of the match. In their game against Ghana in the round of 16, the US gave up a goal in the first 5 minutes of the match, and then again in the first 5 minutes of overtime and fell 2-1. You can't dance with the devil consistently and expect not to get englufed in flames sooner or later. The Confederations Cup upset of Brazil was an incredible feat, but the US only got there on goal differetial because their pool was Brazil at 3-0 and 3 teams at 1-2 with terrible goal differentials. The USA topped their qualifying region...but they still cannot get results in Costa Rica or Mexico. This can't be held against Bradley as a failing, because no one else can get the US results in those two places either, but it would have been a feather in his cap. Finally, yes, he got the US to the 2nd round, but based on their draw, anything less would have been failure. And once they won their group? The US was presented with the easiest path to the semifinals that they will ever get. That's not to say Ghana and Uruguay were lightweights, they were both good teams. But each other quadrant featured at least 2 heavyweights (Brazil/Netherlands, Germany/Argentina/England, Spain/Portugal) and the US quadrant has 0. When Gulati was asked after the OT loss to Ghana whether the US had met expectations at the World Cup, his answer was an unequivocal "No."

So this is not an easy decision, should Bradley come back? There are plenty of arguments for, and plenty of arguments against. The poll on the ESPN page linked at the top of this post is split 48/52 yes/no. I side with the 52%. Why? Bob's lineups, the slow start disease, and the US style of play against its region.

The US has employed a counterattacking style for quite some time now. This isn't a bad decision, it's reality. If the US wants to beat Spain, or Brazil, or even England, it's not going to happen by outpossessing the better teams. The US will have to hunker down, weather the storms, and make things happen on their counters. Essentially, the US wants to be a poor man's Germany (a team that has finished in no worse than third in the last 3 World Cups). But when you're playing Trinidad & Tobago, or El Salvador, a team like the US should not be conceding possession so readily. And even against good CONCACAF teams like Costa Rica or Mexcio, the US shouldn't be setting themselves up as the decided underdog with their style of play. The US is now the big dog in CONCACAF, they should be imposing their will on the other teams. Yes when they reach the world stage they will need the counterattacking style, but Germany doesn't concede possession to Luxembourg or Denmark.

The slow starts are what they are. It's true that Bob Bradley did not suit up once for the US in the last 4 years, and thus cannot take the lion's share of the blame for the performance. However, this wasn't some new phenomenon at the World Cup, this happened throughout qualifying as well. Bob didn't give up those early goals, but he never found the consistently right tonic for them over 2+ years either.

And finally, the lineups. As I said above, injuries really handicapped Bradley, especially at striker, where he had a 20-year-old and 3 players not good enough to be on the World Cup stage. But it wasn't just at striker that Bradley baffled. I will never understand why Benny Feilhaber never got a start. The book is apparently he can't pace himself to last for a full 90 minutes. But when he's on the field, good things happen. It was telling that when Bradley needed offense, Feilhaber was usually subbed in for the 2nd half. I also don't get his Ricardo Clark fixation. Clark is a defensive-minded midfielder, and it's a tactic that had worked in the past (playing Michael Bradley and Clark together), but Clark was responsible for the England goal in the 4th minute of the USA's opening game. And that wasn't his lone defensive lapse in that game, either. He wasn't in the game for his offense or possessive abilities, and he wasn't getting the job done defensively, so why did he get the nod against Ghana?

But the most damning indictment of Bradley's World Cup was his tubborn continued use of Robbie Findley. Findley rode a hot MLS streak this spring to a World Cup roster spot, bascially because he's very fast. However, very fast is worthless on the World Cup stage unless you also have the skills to threaten the opposition's keeper as well. Findley showed in game 1 that he didn't have these skills. He showed in game 2 that he didn't have them. Thankfully in game 3, the decision was taken out of Bradley's hands due to a suspension for an accumulation of yellow cards in games 1 and 2. So in game 4, Bradley surely wouldn't go back to Findley, right? Right? Bob? Seriously???

It's not that Bradley had great forwards sitting on his bench, Buddle and Gomez had some skills, but aren't world class strikers either. However, Bradley did have an excellent forward on his team he could have paired with Altidore: Clint Dempsey. Clint prefers his outside midfield spot, but he played some forward in the Confederations Cup and scored frequently from that position. I can't imagien Clint would have openly defied Bradley at the World Cup over a position change (this isn't France, right? Is this France? No, this isn't France), but there Findley was, running around aimlessly and forcing Bradley to use valuable substitution slots at halftime of a game that ended up going into OT. Certain unfortunate events aren't preventable. This was entirely preventable.

In the end, Bob Bradley was a positive for US Soccer these last 4 years. As the replacement Gulati had to scramble for after Juergen Klinnsman turned him down, he fell into a good option in Bob. But Bob didn't do so well that he's owed another 4 years at the helm. With statistics indicating there's a good chance the US does not do as well in 2014, and the likelihood (near certainty, really) that the path will be much harder in 4 years, Bradley did not do enough to warrant giving him the chance to out-perform the statistics.

Thank you for your tenure Bob, enjoy your next coaching job.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Sun Rose in the East Today

...and in a related story, Erik Bedard remains hurt and does not believe he will pitch at all this season.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Hey! Hey Cleveland! Suck one.

We're 47 minutes into The Decision, and that's all I have heard. Well, that, and "Look at me! Love me! I'm very important!" I feel like I'm watching Brett Favre, except even Brett Favre never stooped to this level.

It's not that LeBron owed it to Cleveland to stick around. He didn't. He was drafted by his home-state team, he re-upped with them for 3 years when he was given his first crack at free agency, so in total he gave Cleveland 7 years, 7 years in which they surrounded James with 3rd bananas (not 2nd bananas, 3rd bananas), spare parts, and a coach who couldn't diagram an offensive play to beat a high school team with, yet had no offensive-minded assistant to help address those shortcomings. The end result being a team that, when the going got tough, stood around and waited for LeBron to save the day every time down the court in the 4th quarter. It was ugly to watch, and quite frankly, I can't blame LeBron for getting out of Cleveland, as they don't have much of a way to get better over the next couple of years.

However, if you're going to leave your home state, make your statement, take out a double full page ad thanking the fans for their support, apologize for not bringing the Cavs a title, and state that Cleveland/Akron will always be your home. Don't stage a 60-minute self-lovefest on ESPN, and then wait 30 minutes to make your announcement that you're going to go team up with Bosh and Wade because you want to take the perceived easiest route to a title, something that has been rumored to be in the works since the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

If this really was a decision he made this morning, it's rough treatment of his home-state fans. If this has been brewing for 2 years, it's a desperate cry for love and attention that would make Brett Favre blush. Good luck LeBron, because you had better win multiple titles now. You've worked to assemble a perceived super-team, so you had better get the results.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

And then there were 8

Of the 8 group winners, 7 advanced. The exception? Of course, the US National Team. Why did the US fail to hold form? Well, a giant part was head coach Bob Bradley's baffling starting lineup. The US has many good-to-great midfielders on the team. None of them is named Ricardo Clark. The US has a number of average-to-good defenders on the team. Not one of them is named Jonathan Bornstein. They also have a few okay forwards on the team. Not one is named Robbie Findley. Unfortunately, 3 players in the US starting 11 against Ghana were named Clark, Bornstein, and Findley. Bornstein actually did ok for himself. The other Just no. After the England game, I said Clark and Findley should be replaced. For all the good Bob Bradley did in these 4 years for US Soccer, these 2 lineup decisions against Ghana is sufficient grounds to not ask him back for this next 4 year cycle. Absolutely unbelievable.

The next story was bad refereeing on goal scoring plays for Sunday's games. The England disaster convinced me beyond a doubt that FIFA needs goal line officials or replay. That's a hard call to make when no official is standing on the goal line, so let's add an official on each end line near the goal. Sure it might only come into play once or twice a tournament if that, but you can't botch a goal call, it totally changes a game. The Argentina debacle was absolutely inexcusable. There is no way the linesman could miss that Tevez was offside. Either he fell asleep or he's blind, and either one is inexcusable for an official on this stage. Heck, the offside position was so glaringly obvious, the referee himself should have been able to see it. As a US Soccer fan, I hate Mexico and enjoy seeing them suffer, but that was an awful missed call.

I am incredibly excited for Argentia-Germany and Brazil-Netherlands. That's a lot of talent and a ton of offensive firepower in 2 quarterfinal matchups. Argentina-Germany will be the match of the World Cup.

Brazil was simply too good for Chile, who is still the only South American team to lose at this World Cup (to Spain and Brazil, no shame there). Of the 8 quarterfinalists, 4 are from South America. Considering they only qualified 5 teams overall, that's impressive. I thought Africa's teams would make a move, but instead South America has taken advantage of the UEFA teams' habit of underachieving compared to when the World Cup is held on European soil.

The Paraguay-Japan snoozer has been called the most boring game of the World Cup. I saw England-Algeria senator (I deserve a medal for staying with that one for the whole game), and there could not have been a game that was as boring as full of inept offense as that one, so I am officially calling shennanigans.

Spain is simply a joy to watch. Their possession game is very pleasing on the eyes, and as soon as you stretch yourself out to try and deny them possession, they pounce. That being said, Portugal played a whale of a game, coming up with some good chances on counters, and their keeper was amazing, singlehandedly at times keeping Portugal in it.

And we even got a penalty shootout, so we saw it all. It may be an awful way to be eliminated, but it is fun to watch.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

A few thoughts from Sunday's games

- I would argue that the soft goal given up by Algeria's keeper is substantially worse than the one given up by England's keeper. Not that the play was that much easier a play, but Robert Green gave every keeper a warning, and Algeria's keeper still made a lazy play on that ball and cost his team a point.

- Serbia was a darkhorse (and Sports Illustrated's) pick to win Group D, but they lost a player to a red card and gave up a penalty on a terrible handball, giving Ghana, playing without best player Michael Essien, 3 points.

- Germany looked like the best team to play so far. Take that with a grain of salt as the Netherlands, Brazil, and Spain have not played yet, but only Argentina even looked in their ballpark. You could argue that Argentina looked more talented, but their lack of discipline puts them a notch below the Germans.

- The flipside of that is Australia looked terrible. Old and slow is not harsh enough. Apparently they essentially brought back their 2006 team that got to the round of 16, but they all aged like cheap beer. And they were the top qualifying team out of Asia. South Korea must have been asleep. Japan just isn't that good. And North Korea is on track to lose by 30+ to Spain.

USA 1 England 1

The result (though gifted to the US from England) was a good one. How the US got to that result...not so much. For about the 37th time in the past 2 years, the US put themselves very behidn the 8-ball by giving up a goal in the first 5 mintues of the match. Ricardo Clark fell asleep and Oguchi Onyewu got caught in no-man's land on a defelcted pass which led to a goal for England.

At that point, England played a pretty cautious game, putting a couple of sustained attacks together but not putting much pressure on the US midfield. The US put some quality offense together, but nothing that resulted in a shot on net. Then, in the 40th minute, Clint Dempsey put a couple of spin moves on his defender, getting enough space to let loose a shot from 20-25 yards out. English keeper Robert Green didn't get his body behind the ball, and it bounced off of his hand and behind him into the net, giving English tabloids fodder for at least the next 4 years, depending on how far England advances in this tournament. The US weathered England's pressure until halftime and went in to the half all square.

In the 2nd half, the US competed well with England for the first 10 mintues, culminating in Jozy Altidore's bout of brilliance that was saved by Green off of the post. Up until this point, the US was playing with England, England was better, but it wasn't a huge discrepancy. From this point on, England started attacking the US in the midfield more, and the US wasn't handling it well. England was carrying possession, getting the only close chances. Luckily Tim Howard was equal to the task.

With 20 minutes left, the US went into full-fledged survive with the tie intact mode. This made for lots of nerves on the part of their fans, but they did get the job done. The US now has to transition to carrying play against Slovenia and Algeria, especially with Slovenia's 1-0 win this morning.

Bottom line, the result was good, but if the US does not improve its play in its next 2 games, they will not get out of their group.

G - Tim Howard: Made some very strong saves, though was caught by Wayne Rooney's shot in the 2nd half that went just wide. Add in his likely bruised ribs suffered around the 30th minute, and he was the man of the match for the US. Grade: A

D - Steve Cherundulo: Played well both defensively and when he went forward. Was single-handedly responsible for England's 1st half sub as their midfielder on his side could not handle Cherundulo and could only resort to fouling him to stopping his pushes forward. Once that substitution was made, Cherundulo's forward pushes were effectively kiboshed. Grade: B

D - Jay DeMerit: Was assigned to make Wayne Rooney's life miserable, and succeeded greatly, as Rooney had to keep going further and further back towards the midfield to get the ball. His comunication with Onyewu wasn't always great and led to some freeze-ups that could have been deadly, and got caught out of position and was forced to handle the ball to avoid a break on his goal in the 2nd half, which earned him a yellow card. Grade: B+

D - Oguchi Onyewu: A tale of 2 halves, as Onyewu needed some time to shake off the rust. Got caught in no-man's land on England's goal, but by the end of the game he was ruling the air against lanky giant Peter Crouch and inserting himself into English attacks to break them up. By the end, he was even taking chances that only a fit and confident Onyewu could take and be successful with. Very good sign going forward for the USA. Grade: B-

D - Carlos Bocanegra: Bocanegra played very well. There was some concern over his lack of speed being take advantage of by England's wingers and possibly Rooney, but Bocanegra played a strong game. Not much for going forward, but I'm guessing that was more by design as Clint Dempsey spent most of his time on the left, and for all of Dempsey's positive qualities, he's useless as a defender. Grade: B-

M - Landan Donovan: Donovan didn't pull his disappearing act from 2006, but he also wasn't really leaving a definite stamp on this game. He had bouts of good play, but nothing that really freed up teammates for runs at the goal. His performance on set pieces was fine, but again, no moments of real brilliance. This grade will sound harsh, but for top talents like Donovan, much is expected. Grade: C

M - Michael Bradley: Did a great job defensively against England's midfield, busting up attacks and forcing England out wide. Did a pretty good job with the ball as well, maintaining possession. Quite a few times when the ball was advanced to the forwards, there was no support from the midfield in time, leading to turnovers. How much of this was by dictation from his dad (the coach) I don't know, but all 4 midfielders share some blame for it. Grade: B+

M - Ricardo Clark: Fell asleep on England's goal as his man notched it. Was uneven defensively, at times combining very well with Bradley to clog the middle of the field and at times seeing his man help generate decent chances on Howard. Did not offer much offensive support, which is not altogether unexpected. I will be surprised if he is starting in the next 2 games, as the US will need to press on the atack more and that is not Clark's game. Grade: C-

M - Clint Dempsey: His goal was a gift but he was also the first US player to actually force England's keeper to actually do anything. Given that England's goalkeeping has been an ulcer on their team for at least 12 years, the lack of tries on net was disappointing. Dempsey made a couple of things happen, but like Donovan, there wasn't much generated. His effort on defense was higher than I've seen in awhile, but liek I said above, his usefulness on that side of the ball was only marginally affected. Grade: B-

F - Jozy Altidore: Caught offsides too often, but generated the nicest chance on goal of the night, taking it right at and blowing by his defender. His shot was a good one, and his decision to shoot and not try to make the extra pass should be commended (that has been a problem for the US team). Did a pretty good job with possession, but was letdown by his midfield support often. Didn't work great with Findley, I think more of the blame lies with Findley but Altidore gets some too. Grade: B

F - Robbie Findley: His speed didn't generate enough problems for the English defense to compensate for his rustiness and inability to play off of Altidore, Dempsey, or Donovan well. I believe we'll see him as a sub when offense is needed late in the game going forward. Grade: D+

Sub - Edson Buddle: Unfortunately, by the time he came on for Findley, the US had decided to stay back in a shell to try and preserve the tie, so there wasn't much to see from Buddle. Grade: INC

Sub - Stuart Holden: Came on later than Buddle, taking Altidore out and pushing Dempsey up to forward. Missed on 2 or 3 passes that could have set up an offensive chance (or at least given the defense a breather with some possession). Looked like he took to long to get up to the pace of the game. Grade: C-

Coach - Bob Bradley: Got the result he needed. The US keeps coming out of the gates slow and he has to find a way to change that going forward, as it's enough of a pattern to reflect on him. The way he used Bradley and Clark was excellent, and if Clark doesn't fall asleep on Gerrard's goal, the US could have stolen one. Must adjust his tactics for Slovenia and Algeria, though, as this type of effort against those 2 squads will yield no advancement. His jedi mind trick on England's keeper was a nice touch though the lack of tries on target from anywhere close to the box was disappointing. Grade: B

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

This was too good not to share

Read this story about Seahawks rookie WR Golden Tate getting busted with his hand in the cookie...err, donut jar.

Maybe Seattle can pay Tate in donuts for this year and save some salary cap space.

My favorite part:
That's definitely wrong. We've talked about it, addressed it. He's remorseful and all that. I do understand the lure of the maple bars.

I can see Pete Carroll stopping mid-halftime speech and scarfing down a couple of maple bar donuts to re-energize.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A brief history of Mariner relief

Last year, former first round draft pick Brandon Morrow decides he wants to be a closer, not a starter. Economists and baseball fans around the world start laughing at the Mariners for spending a top-10 pick on a reliever when they could have had Tim Lincecum. Yes, Washington state native and reigning back-to-back Cy Young award winner Tim Lincecum.

In game 2, Morrow melted down and gave up a game versus the Twins. This scenario was repeated somewhere between 2 and 37 times in the first month and a half (I can't remember specifics). Morrow is demoted, David Aardsma takes over, throws hard, and saves a lot of games. Morrow decides he wants to be a starter again, but forgets to develop offspeed pitches or any semblance of control.

This past offseason, Seattle tired of Morrow, and traded him to Toronto for a new Brandon (Brandon League). Brandon League was a fastball and sinker pitcher who was billed as a late inning reliever who could take over for Aardsma in a heartbeat if his performance sagged this year.

That hasn't really happened. League's ERA was well over 3, and he'd blown 2 saves already in 16 appearances. Then today's 8th inning against Baltimore happened:
Home run
Runner reached on a strikeout and wild pitch
Fielder's choice
Grand slam

...and a 5-1 lead was a 6-5 defecit and, an inning later, a loss (League's 3rd of the season).

Moral of the story? Brandons don't perform in Seattle. As starters, relievers, mascots, anything. Someone wake up Griffey, the Trade Cliff Lee watch has begun in Seattle.

Monday, April 5, 2010

That was a heck of a game

Except for Duke winning, it's everything you could ask for in a Tournament Final.

In the end, Butler missed too many layups, and gave up 6 cheap points on inbounds plays to Duke. That was the difference in the game. Duke's defense took the 3 pointer out of Butler's arsenal for the second half.

I thought Stevens erred badly in leaving Howard in towards the end on offense, as Butler had such success spreading the floor with Jukes and driving. But aside from Hayward, Howard was Butler's only offense for the last 6 minutes, which shows why he's the darling coach of the country and I'm a no-name with a blog.

Duke played 2 outstanding defensive games in the Final Four. They completely shut down West Virginia and kept Butler from making any runs whatsoever in the final. In the end, Duke's defense won the day.

Luckily for Duke, they didn't have to bring any sort of A-game until they reached the Final Four. Purdue was a shell of itself and Baylor was too green to pose a real threat. Villanova might have been a threat, if they had bothered to show up for the tournament at all. I don't understand how the #3 overall seed ended up with the easiest road to the Final Four, all I can say is "It's good to be the Duke".

You cannot say enough about Butler's run. There were at least 4 points in the second half where it looked like Duke would blow things wide open, but every time Butler got the stops they needed to claw their way back in. They had their shot with 30 seconds left, the ball, and down 1, but Hayward was just off on his floater. if you had offered them that chance before the game they would have taken it in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, the 2nd timeout they had to burn to get the ball inbounds cost them after Zoubeck's intentional miss with 3.6 seconds left. Hayward's heave was closer than it had any right to be, but in the end, Butler could not hold Duke under 60, and points 60 and 61 were enough for Duke to win their 4th national championship.

Cue the smarmy American Express card commericals for Coach K

Duke 33 Butler 32 @ Halftime

I'd feel cautiously optimistic if I'm Butler. They're getting good shots, both close to the basket and from behind the arc, they only started falling towards the end of the half. If Matt Howard can hit the broad side of the barn in the second half, Butler's got quite the chance. Duke's going to get 60, but if Butler can keep it close, that's all they could ask for with 4 minutes to go in this game.

Coach Stevens has the golden touch so far, hopefully he and his team have 20 more minutes in them.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

I really hate to say this

Duke played an outstanding game. They didn't get the calls, they simply executed their offense very well, played tight D and didn't let West Virginia get open looks from behind the arc, and buried the Mountaineers with second-chance points. They did a heck of a job, it was like watching the West Virginia-Kentucky game, only with West Virginia playing the part of Kentucky, minus the complete ineptness from downtown.

Then again, who could be surprised, this is what Bob Huggins teams do when they make it to the final four, they show up, and depart very quickly. I will say this for Huggins though, for a joyless mercenary, his somewhat uncomfortable moment with Da'Sean Butler was touching.

Congratulations soulless blue devils, I hope you lose by 40 on Monday.

Duke still sucks

but it looks like they're going to the title game. Way too many offensive rebounds being given up by West Virginia, and too many open looks at three pointers. Kentucky got a lot of these open looks too, they just didn't know what to do with them. Duke does, and unless they go ice cold in the second half, Butler's going to have to be the team of all that is good and righteous on Monday night. Come to think of it, even if West Virginia pulls it off, Bob Huggins teams aren't good or righteous, so Butler's got that mantle locked up.

Butler wins

Butler got 1 field goal in the final 10 minutes and still knocked off Michigan State. Thanks to free throws and forcing MSU turnovers, Butler never even trailed for the final 16 minutes.

Basically, Michigan State played very good defense, but Butler's great defense, MSU's foul trouble, and the loss of Kalin Lucas earlier in the tournament was too finally too much for them to overcome.

About 6-7 years ago, I christened Gonzaga as the ultimate tournament team, for being a minor conference team that consistently outplayed their seed in the tournament. Gonzaga really hasn't done that consistently in 5-6 years (basically Mark Few's entire tenure), and now, I think we can officially hand over the mantle to Butler.

Hopefully they can keep it going for one more game.

MSU-Butler 1st Half

These teams are very good defensive teams, but this half we're seeing quite a bit of bad offense. Lots of missed shots, a few turnovers.

Draymond Green is one of the strangest basketball players I've seen. I've seen big football-player looking b-ball players before, but they're centers or power forwards. Green is a wing player, and twice in that half I saw him put the ball on the floor and beat his man off the dribble. That's odd considering he looks like Robert (Tractor) Traylor.

Michigan State's offense really stagnated at the end of the first half, but Butler got 0 field goals from everyone on their team not named Mack or Hayward. Like I said earlier, the offense did not impress overall.

I didn't like the timeout Butler's 12-year-old looking coach called with 2.5 seconds left, for 2 reasons. First, they need to change the rule and force the player with the ball to call the timeout. Letting the coach do it from the sideline totally changes the game, and at least twice this tournament the time out has been granted even though the player didn't have possession of the ball when the time out was called. Second, what are the odds of a successful play with 2.5 seconds left when you have to inbound the ball 92 feet from the basket? I'd estimate 0.8%. He might want that 4th timeout in the last couple of minutes.

Edge to Butler after the first half. None of their players have 3 fouls, only 2 players actually hit a field goal, and they are tied with Michigan State.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Drop what you're doing

Put down whatever it is you have in your hand, get on your computer, jump on the internet, search for the Xavier-Kansas State game. March Madness on Demand may have full games archived. If you have to go to a torrent site, or download the game somewhat illicitly, do it. Watch the game. Just trust me, you want to see this game if you didn't catch it live.

Seriously. Find a way to watch this game.

You're welcome.

Cornell did themselves proud

No shame in losing to the 2nd best team in the nation as of the start of the tournament. Kentucky was just too athletic and (once they took Cornell seriously) too good on the defensive end. Cornell just couldn't get good shots off.

But even facing that reality, Cornell never gave up on the defensive end, and Kentucky wasn't able to pull away until the very end. Unfairly, they're going to be buried behind the Butler upset and the Xavier-Kansas State instant classic, but Cornell deserves a lot of kudos for their tournament run, and for this game they just played against the presumptive favorite remaining.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Syracuse pulls a Kansas

Butler is better than Northern Iowa. Their half court defense has been flustering teams for the last 3-4 years, and the Orange couldn't solve least not early on. 18 turnovers though...Syracuse needs to do better than that.

Well, now the top 2 choices for overall winner in my pool are gone (though about 3x as many picked Kansas, Syracuse was the next most popular choice). If Cornell can somehow knock off Kentucky, that would be 80% of the pool losing their winner by Day 5.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

I hate you, Bill Self

The man has ruined more of my brackets than anyone else, mostly because his teams almost always underaachieve come tournament time. Kansas was handed maybe the toughest region in the tournament...but that was because of #2 seed THE Ohio State University, #3 seed George...nevermind, and #4 seed Maryland. #9 seed Northern Iowa never factored into this designation. And why would they?

Looking back at the box score, absolutely nothing jumps out at me. N. Iowa shot less than 35% from 3 point land, and just 40% from the field (Kansas shot 44%). The only stat that points to the upset is the 15 Kansas turnovers they forced. This points to a choke job, which really shouldn't be that much of a surprise from a Bill Self coached team.

I figured I had to stop piling on Bill Self after Kansas won it all in 2008, but let's review that title-winning team: They were 1 shot away from losing to Davidson in the Elite Eight, and only an epic choke job at the free throw line in the title game by Memphis allowed Bill Self and his team to claim the title.

When I filled out my bracket, I picked Kansas to win it all. Once I had finished, I thought about changing my bracket, as I have been burned by Bill Self teams at least 3 times in the past. I declined to make a change, as I figured if I went away from my first thought I would regret it. I forgot that this isn't the SAT, but real life, and in real life, the percentages say that Bill Self teams will implode when you count on them.

Congratulations Bill Self, you have successfully steered your team to yet another gross underachievement. Hopefully I won't trust you for at least another 3 years.


Angry Bracketeer

Day 3, Villanova's habits catch up to them

Last year Villanova was a tough defensive team that played 3-4 guards with a dangerous offense predicated on slashing and kick-outs. The center of this offense was Scottie Reynolds, the player who hit a driving layup to beat Pittsburgh and claim a spot in the Final Four.

This year's tournament Villanova team was a tough defensive team that played 2-3 guards with an offense that didn't seem to have an identity. Scottie Reynolds shot about 4-26 in the 2 games, and totally lost the swagger he gained from last year's Final Four run. Without their catalyst, Nova's offense wasn't consistent enough. Against 15 seed Robert Morris, their defense forced enough turnovers to keep them in the game, and their sheer talent advantage eventually was just enough to advance to the Round of 32. Against St. Mary's they ran into a team with a dominant post player (Omar Samhan) who was able to get St. Mary's a ton of bailout baskets when the rest of the team was harried by Nova's defense. Seriously, his post moves are outstanding.

That, and a couple of huge 3's in the last few mintues, were enough to send Villanova packing, and unfortunately, hand Duke the South region. If Duke doesn't make the Final Four, they should give up basketball next season, because the only possible threat in this region was Villanova.

Friday, March 19, 2010

More Day 2

- I'm still upset at losing 10 game minutes of my life to watching Duke beat up on the play in winner.

- The Georgia Tech/Oklahoma State game wasn't always great basketball, but it was definitely an exciting ride from beginning to end. Both teams had some ridiculously sloppy moments, but their on moments were pretty fun to watch. Except for the 8 straight time outs in the last minute and a half. That was boring. Props to Ga. Tech for hitting almost all their free throws, especially considering they were a 67% FT shooting team during the season. That and Georgia Tech's defense won them the game, as Oklahoma State didn't look comfortable on offense for the last 12+ minutes in the game.

- Great defense may beat great offense...but not if it's cancelled out by bad offense. FSU seemed to mount a good rally towards the end, but they dug themselves too big a hole in the first half.

- New Mexico State got no favors done for them at the end. The lane violation was cheap (Serena Williams can relate), which gave Michigan State a 3 point lead instead of a 2 point lead, and then the officials didn't review how much time was left on the final out of bounds play, which effectively ended the game. I like MSU, because they always play hard nosed defense and always rebound incredibly, but the help from the zebras was a little too much.

Day 2

- Cornell smoked Temple. So, instead of calling the Patriot League the Ivy League without the academic presumption, should we call the Ivy League the Patriot League only with good athletics? Probably not, because after Cornell, the rest of the Ivies would get smoked.

- As of midway through Friday's games, it looks like all of the excitement was used up in Thursday's games. Hopefully this will change, preferably starting with Duke's game.

- Speaking of Duke, how can you possibly think the viewers want to see Duke beat up on the team that got a win and now will be sacrificed at the altar of the lucky 1 seed? And staying with the massacre for 10 minutes? That's just stupid. You guys did a decent job with the late games Thursday, why ruin that now?

- It's not right for the game Gus Johnson is doing to not be a close one. Get on it Florida State.

Still More Day 1

- The last 9 seconds of regulation in the Wake-Texas game are a perfect example of why most coaches call timeouts reflexively in those situations. Just a total mess where Wake got nothing despite gaining possession off a missed free throw with 9 seconds to play. Yikes.

- I mean seriously, it's OT now, and Wake's guards are practically begging Texas to steal the ball on every other trip down the floor. An ACC tournament team with cruddy guards? What's the world coming to?

- Based on their...ahh..carelessness with the ball, I was shocked Wake didn't call timeout down 1 with 10 seconds left. Shows what I know, they simply called him Ishmael. Texas could have afforded to call a timeout, as the big man who ended up getting fouled with 10 seconds left missed both of his free throws, if Rick Barnes beleived in time outs, or coaching in general. I'm not sure Barnes doesn't just want to accumulate as much talent as possible and hope for the best.

- San Jose as cardiac city? Really? What about Providence, 8th string announcing team?

- The biggest bracket buster of Day 1? Easily Georgetown's loss. Took out 2 winners in my pool.

- Well, Day 1 was more fun than usual, hopefully it hasn't used up all the excitement for round 1.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

More Day 1

Going to have to go to the proverbial bullet points, as I was away from the TV/computer for a good portion of the afternoon/evening:

- Kansas State must have watched the 'Nova game, as they came out strong and the game was never in doubt. Nice to see a high seed take their first round game seriously, though the fact that the #2 seed is pretty new territory for K-State may have something to do with it.

- It's nice to see Baylor have some success. It seems like only a couple years ago that one of their players killed another and then the coach was caught on tape trying to cover things up. Upon further review, it was almost 7 years ago. Wow.

- St. Mary's had a hellish schedule, having to win their conference tourney to get in, then travel to Providence over Daylight Savings weekend to play their first round game. Didn't hurt them too much, though it won't help them against the wounded and angry Villanova Wildcats.

- Murray State played a heck of a game. Vandy didn't play bad defense at the end, Murray just hit an incredible shot. Tough break for Vandy, who didn't play great, but looked like they had done just enough to pull it out.

- Kentucky had a very smooth start to their tourney. They had better win the tourney, because that's the only way the NCAA won't take away their tournament victories 3-5 years down the road. What? That's how it goes with Callipari. Ask UMass, or Memphis. Luckily for the Nets, Callipari didn't win any playoff games with them for the NBA to take away.

- Wow Georgetown. A double digit loss to THE Ohio University?

- Washington-Marquette was a fun game, kudos to Pondexter for holding for the last shot in a tie game but starting his move with ~10 seconds left and giving himself time to get a decent shot off. Too many players wait until ~5 seconds are left and end up throwing up wild, rushed shots, or worse, not getting any shot off at all. Sure Marquette had 1.7 seconds left to try a desperation 3 pointer for the win, but better risking that scenario then wasting a shot at a good game winning chance of your own.

Day 1, Part 1

Aaaaand, we're back!

The past couple of years the tourney has gotten off to a pretty boring start. Favorites took care of business, underdogs perhaps put up a fight into the 2nd half, but then couldn't maintain the fight. Any "upsets" were ones most everyone saw coming, and only the bracket pickers who tried to get cute felt the sting on Day 1. In the last 3 years I believe 5 people have successfully nailed all of the games on Day 1. Day 2 is when the upsets started wreaking havoc on the brackets.

This year is definitely a change-up.

The first set of games started with perhaps the worst display of offense at Notre Dame since the days of Ron Powlus. About 10 games ago, sitting firmly on the bubble and with their star player injured, Notre Dame decided to slow their games down to a crawl, only take shots with less than 5-7 seconds on the shot clock, and hope this frustrated the other team and kept the game close through the end. Unfortunately, it worked. It also created some of the most boring basketball I've ever seen (Ty Willingham would be proud). Fittingly, Notre Dame wasted the last 8 minutes of this game, during which time they hit a grand total of 1 bucket (Charlie Weis would be proud...what? Too soon?) I usually pull for Notre Dame, but I don't want to see that ever again.

Doing a complete 180, BYU's Jimmer Fredette was awesome. 37 points, and 2 big 3's in double overtime to finally help BYU pull away from a surprisingly tough Florida team.

Finally, there was the Providence game: Villanova (2) vs Bob Morris (props to ESPN for this one) (15). These games usually are, ahem, terrible. But Bobby came to play, and Villanova...didn't. Things didn't get off to a rocking start for 'Nova with coach Jay Wright benching 2 of his starters for the first 4 minutes for..well, no one knows why. I don't think he was expecting much of a fight (I can't blame him, Robert Morris? Please.) But Ol' Bobby jumped out to an early lead and had a 6-point edge at halftime. Nova's best player Scottie Reynolds wasn't hitting anything (he finished 2-15 from the field), but thanks to his driving and foul-drawing skills, Nova stayed within striking distance, but with 4:19 left they still trailed by 8. Finally Nova started taking advantage of the bucketfuls of turnovers (21 for the game) Bob Morris and clawed their way back in the game to force OT. At the beginning of OT, Bobby looked outclassed, but then Nova started getting careless with the ball. In the end, plucky Bob was down by 3 with 9 seconds left and the ball on their own baseline. They then proceeded to dribble out the clock in one of the worst plays out of a timeout I've seen in a couple years. The little guy who drained a 3 from the parking lot 20 seconds earlier? Never touched the ball, mostly because he didn't cut for it until 1.5 seconds or so were left. Nice job coach. Maybe you can call lanes for Dutch speedskaters next.

I've already started to hate the Ivan Brothers. Bad sign, as I'm going to see them 3427 more times between now and April 5th.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Sarcastic Guy, Vol. 5

At about 1PM Eastern today, the Seattle Seahawks will hold a press conference announcing Pete Carroll as their new head coach. He leaves behind a USC program that went 97-19 under Carroll in 9 years, including a 7-2 bowl game record and 2 national titles.

The words of the immortal Ron Burgundy come to mind, "I immediately regret this decision." Yes, Seattle is about to throw caution to the wind, and in an effort to save a team that's flailing for its life, jump into a pit full of bears.

Apparently the decision to can Mora was made by Paul Allen, who decided that he wanted "the biggest name out there", and gave his CEO a list of names he would be okay with as the new head coach. That list supposedly had one name on it. Now, Paul Allen did something similar once before, back in 1999 he fired Dennis Erickson (showing incredible football acumen) and threw the kitchen sink at Mike Holmgren, offering him both the GM and head coaching positions. While this would end up being a great success (especially in Seahawks terms) it was only after Allen forced Holmgren to relinquish his GM duties that this team went anywhere. And Mike Holmgren was on top of the NFL world at the time, coming off a 3 year stretch with 1 Super Bowl win and another appearance.

Now Allen is going back to the well, only this time he's hiring one of the guys on top of the college coaching world. When will people finally get it? Coaching college football and coaching professional football are 2 entirely different animals. Pete Carroll has had 2 short stints in the NFL already: 1 year with the Jets (6-10 record), and he took over a Patriots team fresh off of a Super Bowl appearance (10-6/1 playoff win, 9-7/0 playoff wins, 8-8, no playoff apprearance) before the Patriots realized he had lost the team and fired him. Carroll then landed at USC (as its 4th choice) and built himself an empire (see the top of this article for the stats).

Carroll is such a success at the college level in part because he failed at the pro level. On the spectrum of hard nosed coach to players coach, the extreme end on the players coach side might as well be renamed the Carroll wing. Carroll doesn't seem to have it in him to be a disciplinarian. At the college level, a 58-year-old with ADD (Carroll's never been diagnosed, but has many times diagnosed himself) who throws himself into drills with the players,] plays pranks on them (youtube USC lean on me), and creates an atmosphere where they feel comfortable posing for pictures with the Governator on the sideline during a game can be emperor. 19-year-olds with NFL dreams will eat that stuff up. All Carroll has to do to keep them in line is remind them that their dream of playing football in the NFL and making it big goes through him.

In the NFl, however, most of the players already have financial security. Motivating millionaire adults is totally different from motivating college kids. Carroll has taken a couple of swipes at motivating millionaires, and it didn't work. By the end of his term with the Patriots, story after story was leaking out that he had lost the locker room, that players did not respect his authority. Sounds like a great guy to be coaching your team, Mr. Allen!

Could Pete Carroll have learned something from his failures? Sure, it's possible. But his success at USC had a lot to do with his personality, a personality he had back in his previous NFL stints. He didn't have to change himself to create the dynasty at USC, he just had to change his arena. This brings up a great question, "Why would Carroll leave his empire in Los Angeles for a faltering team in the NFL's Siberia?" If you listen to Pete Carroll, he relished the challenge. If you look just a little deeper, you see the vultures circling USC's football program. Rules appear to have been bent at the very least during Carroll's tenure at USC, and many people believe sanctions are coming for the football team (and that USC is trying to sacrifice its basketball team to avoid these sanctions).

So, before I write the next great American novel, let's review the facts:

Seattle is about to hire a guy who succeeded at the college level because...
- He accumulated more talent that most everyone else on his 85+ man roster. The NFL has 53 man rosters and a salary cap. This method doesn't work in the NFL.

- His personality. A personality that has been shown to not work in the NFL (see Jim Mora, Dennis Erickson, Barry Switzer. I can see you getting ready to argue. Don't. Don't use the Super Bowl XXX win to argue on Switzer's behalf. We could have gone to the Ukraine, picked a random person off the street, and that person could have coached the Cowboys to that Super Bowl title.)

- Good defensive schemes. This might be a plus for Seattle, as he cut his teeth as an NFL defensive coordinator. But he was last involved in the league 10 years ago. Who knows how well those schemes have aged, with regards to the NFL.

In sum, this is a terrible move for the Seattle Seahawks. Paul Allen's heart may be in the right place, but he is going to end up firebombing the team in an effort to save it. Perhaps if they hadn't botched the hiring process (allowing Mora to address the media as if he was staying another season, talking with Carroll behind Mora's back while he still had the job, all the leaks ahead of any interviews they did, making a complete mockery of the league's Rooney Rule, having candidate after candidate pull out of interviews for the Seahawks GM job, the list goes on) I hope I am 100% wrong, but I just can't see it. The team I love is heading back to the Dark Ages, and thanks to his giant contract and the faith of the man in charge, I don't see an Age of Enlightment coming anytime soon.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Strike a blow for fairness in college football

If you care at all about fairness, or college football, or fairness in college football, if you despise good-ol-boy networks and societies designed to keep the same group of people in charge year after year after year, do something about it.

Turn your TV to FOX. Right now. Seriously, drop what you are doing and put on FOX right now. Leave the TV on FOX for the next 3.5 hours. If you happen to enjoy good college football, then watch the Boise State-TCU game and enjoy the bonus.

TCU and Boise State are both outside of the 6 BCS conferences, which means they have to jump through a bunch of extra hoops just to play in these featured bowl games, and it's just about impossible for them to get serious consideration for berths in the national title game. A big reason for this is the major bowls are worried these teams won't travel well and that casual fans won't tune in to watch games featuring these teams, preferring games with big name schools instead.

Show them they are wrong. Do it for fairness, if you don't want to do it to see some good college football. These are the #3 and #6 teams in the country this season. One of these teams has the #1 defense in the country. The other just put forth the most exciting bowl game of the decade the last time they were in the Fiesta Bowl 3 years ago.

Watch the game, or at least have it on in the background.