Friday, April 26, 2013

NFL Draft Thoughts, Day 1

Or, Why Buffalo will continue to stink for the foreseeable future

- Three offensive tackles go in the first 4 picks: After doing 27 seconds of research (mostly scanning through my own memories) I feel confident in saying this was the first time this happened in NFL Draft history. Why did this draft (probably) make history? Two main reasons:
1) There are no franchise quarterbacks in this draft
2) There are no sure thing pass-rushers in this draft

Here are the positions drafted first overall since 1988

That's 15 QBs and 5 defensive line players in 25 years.

Offensive line is seen as a "safer" pick than QB or DE, and it's a valuable position (just look at how the good ones get paid). If you don't like what you see at the top value positions, grabbing a tackle is probably the way to go.

- Two offensive guards go in the first 10 picks: Guards don't normally go top-10. The position simply isn't that important. You don't leave guards on an island to take a defender out of the picture like you do tackles. It's such a scrum in the middle of the field that it's very rare that a guard can really distinguish himself. Don't believe me? Look at how often guards get paid. Not nearly as often as tackles. Did Arizona and Tennessee get good players? Absolutely, both of these guards have been graded very highly across the board. Did they get good value for their picks? Not really.

- The Jets forgot to screw up their draft: Reading up on this draft you'd think the Jets are a player or two away from being good. They're not. They're not the Raiders, who essentially have a black hole where their talent should be, but they need to tear the house down to its foundation and rebuild. So reaching for a quarterback, or an offensive skill position, just to "plug a need" wasn't going to be helpful. The Jets, first and foremost, need talent. And they got it. With their first pick (9th) they grabbed the consensus best defensive player on the board (CB Dee Milliner), replacing the recently traded Darrelle Revis. With the second pick (#13, from the Revis trade), they grabbed the top defensive tackle on the board, Sheldon Richardson. The Jets did it right, and simply went for the best talent they could get.

- The Bills, on the other hand: Buffalo made no bones about the fact that they wanted to come out of this draft with a franchise quarterback. After trading down from #8 to #16, their pick came up with every quarterback still on the board, so they had their pick of the litter. These are the names of quarterbacks who had been mocked somewhere reliable as the first quarterback taken in this draft:
Geno Smith, Matt Barkley, Ryan Nassib (who played for the current Bills coach in college).

The Bills bypassed all of these names and took EJ Manuel out of Florida State.

Now before I continue, I should point out that my team picked a quarterback in last year's draft that everyone thought would fail in the NFL. They rode this quarterback to the divisional round of the playoffs and are being talked up as a legitimate Super Bowl contender this off season. So one might think I should be careful in ragging on another team for taking a quarterback way ahead of where the pundits thought he should go.

But there are two giant differences in the two situations:
1) All of the negatives for Russell Wilson were about his height. The negatives around EJ Manuel concern his ability to play quarterback (can he go through his reads, his ability to move in the pocket, and accuracy).
2) Russell Wilson stepped into a team with quite a bit of talent on it (good running game, great defense). Manuel's Bills have a couple of offensive talents (CJ Spiller, Stevie Johnson) and nothing else.

This smells like a team that saw the read option succeed last year, so they went for the most athletic quarterback they could find. The issue is, the read option worked because it was used with great quarterbacks who happened to be athletic. Not athletes playing quarterback. With the uncertainty as to whether Manuel is the former or the latter, taking him at #16 when no one else had even sniffed at a quarterback looks desperate. And choices made in desperation tend to end badly, much like all of Buffalo's seasons since 1999 (or ever, depending on your perspective).

Vikings make 3 picks: Minnesota grabbed a DT with their original pick (#23), a CB with the pick they got from the Seahawks as part of the Percy Harvin deal (#25), and a WR with a pick they acquired from the Patriots for a few mid-round picks (#29).

Manti Te'o is selected one: Three teams were talked up as having interest in Te'o in the first round. The Bears, the Vikings, and the Ravens. The Bears and Ravens seemed the result of lazy analysis ("Oh, Urlacher/Lewis is gone, let's give them the best known MLB in the draft!") Minnesota's interest seemed a little more legit, but between his measurables, his performance in the Alabama game, and his, ummm, fake dead girlfriend, he was not going to be good value in the first round. On the plus side, I'm sure ESPN and the NFL Network have learned their lesson and won't spend all of today talking about him again...right? Right? Please???

Patriots trade out of 1st round: In other news, the sun rose in the east, dog bites man, and the Browns still stink (sorry, Cleveland).

Day 1 Trade rundown:
Miami gets
Oakland gets
12th, 42nd
St. Louis gets
Buffalo gets
8th, 71st
16th, 46th, 78th, 222nd
San Francisco gets
Dallas gets
31st, 74th
Atlanta gets
St. Louis gets
22nd, 7th rounder (2015)
30th, 92nd, 198th
Minnesota gets
New England gets
52nd, 83rd, 102nd, 229th

The two trades that stand out are Dallas-San Francisco (San Francisco got to move up 13 spots for very cheap) and Minnesota-New England (for a team with 2 other first rounders, Minnesota paid dearly to get a 3rd one in a draft that's being talked up for its depth, not it's cream of the crop).

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

March Madness Day 10: The Recap

Game Commentary

The Daily Leaders
Day 1: Joe P - 14 pts
Day 2: Jen K/Joe M/Melissa R/Jimmy T - 25 pts
Day 3: Jen K/Joe M/Melissa R - 35 pts
Day 4: Joe M - 47 pts
Day 5: Cindy F - 58 pts
Day 6: Craig M - 70 pts
Day 7: Craig M - 78 pts
Day 8: Craig M - 86 pts
Day 9: Craig M - 102 pts

The Final Leaderboard
1. Megan K - 130 pts
2. Bryan L - 125 pts
3. Jon J - 118 pts
4. David K - 116 pts
5. Bernie Q - 114 pts

Last+1: Paula B - 36 pts
Last: Rachel G - 36 pts
Rachel snags last place with the total points tiebreaker. Paula had 129 total points, and Rachel had 273. The correct number of total points was 158. Since Rachel was further away, she "wins" last place.

To Megan, Bryan, and Jon, for finishing in the "money spots". Or the medal spots, if you prefer (they probably don't).

To Celinda, for bringing home the title of "Top Kofron" this year.

To Nathan G, for bringing home the title of "Top Gourd/Kofron" this year. Also for it being his birthday today. Happy Birthday Nate!

To Miles, for beating every Kofron except for his Mom. Yes, my bracket lost out to a 2-year-old.

To the 20 of you who correctly picked Louisville to win the whole thing.

To Craig M, the top finisher in the pool who did not pick the correct winner.

To Sam OC, for his unselfish nature. Sam emailed me a few days ago to see if I'd consider making the top-6 spots the "money spots". I declined, but considering he ended up in 23rd place, perhaps his motives were more selfless than I believed.

To Katie A, for predicting the exact final score of the championship game. Well done.

To the University of Nebraska, that was a heck of a thing you did.

More on Jack Hoffman

To CBS/the NCAA. Is is really necessary to wait to start the final until 9:30? You championship game ended after night football games end, and those are 3+ hours long.

To Mike Rice, the former Rutgers coach who apparently enjoyed bullying college kids he (as their coach) had essentially complete control over. Putting aside how this makes him a bad human being, how can someone think this is a good way to coach?

To Rutgers, for not having fired him already. You see, Rutgers didn't see this video when ESPN got ahold of it and aired it. They saw it well before this, and made the decision to suspend him for 3 games and fine him. I don't understand
1) How they could have watched this and not concluded the correct course of action was termination
2) How they fooled themselves into thinking this would never leak. 30 years ago? Okay, I could see it. Now? With the internet, 24-hour news coverage, and sites like TMZ and Deadspin? That was never realistic.

Finally, thank you all for participating in the pool, especially if you helped increase this site's page views by about 3000% over the last 3 weeks. I hope you all enjoyed following along with the games as much as I did.

March Madness Day 10: The Game

Louisville 82, Michigan 76
If you watched the Final Four games, you saw a each team's slightly lesser-played version of this game.

Louisville: They start the game out slowly. They try to focus their offense around Siva's and Smith's penetration, but the opposing team's defense is stout enough to head it off. They give up a ton of offensive rebounds despite not being at a size disadvantage, and they aren't really able to set the pace and turn the other team over. In the second half things change. All of a sudden their offense gets going, they hit a few threes and now the driving lanes open up. Louisville starts getting offensive rebounds of their own, and their faster pace starts to take its toll on the other team.

Michigan: They start out fast. For one half of play, they scheme and execute a brilliant offensive game plan, which includes some ridiculously long range three point shots. As you're watching it, you're thinking, "They can't possibly keep this up"...but when the first half ends they show no signs of slowing down and you start questioning yourself. Then the second half rolls around and all of a sudden Michigan's defense starts looking like the defense of a team with a distinct size disadvantage. The other team is upping the pressure and smothering the long range shot attempts, and all of a sudden Michigan's offense goes from beautiful to stagnant. Either Michigan makes enough plays down the stretch to hang on, or they don't. On Saturday, they did. Last night, they did not.

Michigan looked ready to run away with things in the first half, thanks first to Trey Burke's first fast start of the tournament (he scored Michigan's 1st 7 points) and then thanks to reserve Spike Albrecht's three point shooting clinic (he made 4 threes in the first half). And Michigan would have gone into halftime with a sizable lead...except Louisville's reserve Luke Hancock hit 4 threes of his own in the final 4 minutes of the first half. I'll be honest, the first thing that popped into my head when Hancock started doing his three thing was, this is exactly how Louisville got back in the Wichita State game...why weren't we seeing Hancock do his thing in the first 16 minutes of this game?

Again, I'm not really sure how Michigan was able to throttle VCU (who is maybe the most committed to pressure defense in the nation) in their second game of the tournament, and then looked so bad (vs Syracuse) and uneven (against Louisville) against pressure D in the Final Four. Sure opposition talent level makes a difference, but at some point ball-handling is ball-handling.

The refereeing wasn't good in this game, but I don't think you can say it favored one team over the other. Michigan might have come out slightly on the short end of the stick in this regard, but it certainly was not the difference in the game. For two games in a row Michigan lost the battle of the halftime adjustments, and this time it caught up with them.

The best part of this game It was tremendously entertaining, especially the first half. In the second half, especially the latter stages, Michigan's offense turned into the Trey Burke show. That was enough to keep the game close, but not enough to get Michigan ahead once Louisville took the lead. As Celinda put it, Louisville was playing team ball while Michigan was waiting for an individual to make a play.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

March Madness Day 9 Recap

Game Commentary

Part 1
Part 2

The Leaderboard
1. Craig M - 102 pts*
2. Meg K - 98 pts (Louisville)
T3. Bryan L - 93 pts (Louisville)
T3. Colin M - 93 pts*
5. Sam OC - 87 pts*
T6. Jon J - 86 pts (Louisville)
T6. Josiah K - 86 pts*
T6. Barack Obama - 86 pts*

Lurking: Shelly P - 74 pts (Michigan)

T-Last: Paula B - 36 pts*
T-Last: Rachel G - 36 pts*
* - Selected champion has been eliminated from the tournament


To Meg K and Shelly P, the only two in the pool to have Michigan in the final game. As an aside, no one had Syracuse making the final.

To Meg K, for being the only person in the pool to correctly pick the final matchup.

To me, for finally slaying the project beast I've been dealing with for the better part of a month at work. This week especially has been pretty rough, but at about 4:45 today, it finally got finished.

To the aforementioned project, for sucking up so much of my time in the past month, and doubly so this past week.

See you back here on Monday for Day 10 and the end of March Madness 2013!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

March Madness Day 9, Part 2

Michigan 61, Syracuse 56
We were spoiled tonight, in that we got 2 games that were tight down to the final buzzer. But while the first game had the makings of a classic, the final 3 minutes of this one preclude me from using that label for UM-SU.

Michigan played the first half beautifully. They had a great plan of attack against Syracuse's zone. In the second half, I'm not sure if they went away from the scheme or if Syracuse simply defended it better, but the bottom line is Michigan's offense went cold, which allowed 'Cuse back into the game. Syracuse were able to make up ground thanks to finally exercising their considerable advantage inside against Michigan's frequent 4-guard lineup.

With 4 minutes left, Syracuse started pressing (coming out of their 2-3 zone to do it), and Michigan couldn't handle it. The same team that ran VCU and their full court "Havoc" defense off the court in round 3 was flustered by Syracuse's press. When they were able to beat the press, they simply held the ball and hoped the clock would wind down, rather than keep running their offense. It was not a 4-minute stretch of basketball that glorified Michigan.

Syracuse didn't get a single break from the officials down the stretch, and that plus inability to hit from downtown (3/14 on the night), kept them from ever taking the lead, allowing Michigan to hold on by the skin of their teeth, despite their lack of offense and terrible free throw shooting in the last couple of minutes.

After one half I was convinced Louisville-Michigan would be a fun, entertaining final game. After the last 4 minutes of this one, I'm not sure Michigan can hang with Louisville.

March Madness Day 9, Part 1

Louisville 72, Wichita State 68

This game was essentially an extension of the Elite Eight games for both teams. Louisville struggled for a half, but used a defense-led spurt to take control in the second half. Wichita State smacked the favorite in the mouth and built up a sizable second half lead before the favorite picked themselves off  the floor and started clawing their way back. Unlike last weekend, Louisville wasn't able to pull away from their opponent in the second half. And unlike last weekend, Wichita State wasn't able to hit enough shots down the stretch to hang onto the lead.

Wichita State had a terrific game plan in this one: pack the lane, and make Louisville beat you from the outside, specifically Lousiville's 2 biggest threats: Peyton Siva and Russ Smith, neither of whom is a long-range marksman. For over a half, it worked. Louisville tried to create offense through their two guards, but neither could really get going. Because Louisville's offense wasn't clicking, they weren't able to really impose their will on the game defensively.

But like I've said before, pressure defense (if done well) works, even when it's not working. Even if it's not creating turnovers, it's wearing down the opponent. Instead of getting 40 minutes of quality play, the opponent gets gassed and starts fading after 30-35 minutes. A tired team isn't quite as sharp, their shots hit the rim instead of swishing through the net. Their care of the ball is just that much looser. And then the turnovers pile up. The shots stop falling. And the lead crumbles. Wichita went more than 26 minutes without a turnover, then turned the ball over 6 times in the final 7 minutes (for 10 total).

The other reason Louisville got back into the game? They hit enough of their threes to force Wichita State to cover the perimeter, freeing up the lane for dribble penetration leading to easier points. This game turned when little-used Tim Henderson hit back-to-back threes with just over 12 minutes remaining. The threes came from Louisville's bench (the bench scored 34 points, almost 50%), and that's when Wichita State's defense started to crack.

I will say that Wichita State was robbed of a chance to tie this game in the final 8-9 seconds. After gaining a defensive rebound, the referee's called a very quick jump ball that probably should have been a foul, if anything. Twitter, for one, didn't like the cal very much:

He knows a little something about basketball.

One of Sports Illustrated's former college basketball writers

This guy...wait...what??? How dare you! Who authorized this tweet?

All in all, a heck of a run for the 9th-seeded Shockers. Not only did they make the Final Four, they played some very entertaining ball to get there.