Friday, March 27, 2009

March Madness Tidbits

With the field for the Elite Eight almost set, I look at some of the teams that have made it this far and realized how...predictable this year's tournament has been. In the Sweet Sixteen alone, all four regions saw their top three seeds advance, and of those four three of them saw their fifth seed or higher advance as the final member of each region's Final Four.
  • Arizona: Ill admit it, I was one of the few people who believed that you would be able to make it past day one of the tournament this year. However, when I saw Wake Forest lose on day one, I realized that 'Zona had a great chance to make a run in the tournament. Unfortunately, you had to play Louisville at some point, but I commend Nic Wise, Chase Budinger, Jordan Hill, and Russ Purnell for the job they did getting the 'Cats this far.
  • Purdue: Another team that people were not that high on for some reason, yet they ran to the Sweet Sixteen and played a tough game against UConn only to come away a loser.
  • Missouri: Ah, Mizzou. I'll admit that I was excited about the possibility of a Mizzou run, and a date with Memphis in the Sweet Sixteen from the first time I filled out a bracket this year. This run will be remembered as, possibly, the best stretch of Missouri Basketball in school history.
  • Pittsburgh: Once again, Pitt, you tried to lose and failed. That makes three straight rounds where you have tried to lose and failed. If you really want to lose that badly, then REALLY lose. Otherwise, play the whole fricken game amd actually look like you are trying to succeed.
  • Duke: You went a round longer than I expected, though I still am convinced you should have lost to Texas. Villanova completely dismantled you with hustle and execution, both on offense and defense. The thing is: had 'Nova stayed focused the whole time, Coach K would forget about the 30 point loss to Clemson earlier this year.
  • Syracuse: The Orangemen proved me wrong. I believed that their fatiguing run through the Big East tournament would finally catch up with them after a first round victory, but they made it to the Sweet Sixteen. I give credit not only to Jim Boeheim, but his players as well. They played hard throughout the postseason, and showed the definition of Big East Basketball.

The Solution to NCAA Recruiting Troubles

In light of the most recent batch of recruiting mishaps, this time involving the pristine Connecticut Huskies and Jim Calhoun, we are once again reminded of how recruiting violations are not just rarely committed deeds. I am positive that if the NCAA examined every single Division-I school, they would find all sorts of recruiting violations at big schools and small schools. The thing is, it seems almost commonplace for coaches to allege that the "had no idea it was going on", and that there is seemingly no way to police these schools to keep everyone in-line with the rules of recruiting.

So I got to thinking about this issue, and thought of something. What if the NCAA created/immensely improved on a division of people whose only jobs were to monitor each school's recruiting progresses? They would do this by tapping the coaches' phone lines, and handing out registered cell phones to the coaches explicitly for recruiting, with pre-set limits on minutes and text-messages, and with the ability for the all-powerful NCAA to monitor the call history and text history of each phone.

Now, I know that this seems like a complete invasion of privacy but it would completely eliminate any possible excuse that a coach could use to get around this system, particularly why they made x many more phone calls to a recruit than the NCAA limit. Then, if a coach went outside of these guidelines, it is not a matter of whether he knew these 'evil recruiting deeds' were being done or not, seeing that he had to know if he took the steps to avoid using the NCAA registered and tapped phones.

Personally, I think that UConn will receive a minor punishment. I do not think that they will receive Indiana-esque sanctions, since Nate Miles was already expelled from the University but also never played a single basketball game while he was there, so no wins or tournament titles could really be taken away from Connecticut. I think that they will have a restricted number of scholarships, which hampers a coaches recruiting efforts since the overall size of he recruiting pool has not changed yet the key draws to his program are more limited than they were before, so he must be more selective in his recruiting process and possibly miss out on a few big-time recruits.

The NCAA needs to take some sort of measure to try and combat the ease with which schools get away with these 'recruiting atrocities', or they need to just get rid of the rules alltogether since we will never be able to fully tell who is really abiding by the rules and who is not.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Sweet 16 Match-ups Part Two: The Refs Hold the Key

Another match-up that could be entertaining to watch will be the Villanova Wildcats taking on the Duke Blue Devils. In the second round, Villanova came out and destroyed UCLA by roughly 20 points, while Duke barely survived Texas. The key to Duke's survival was the officiating by the referees of that game.

With all due respect to Coach K, for what he has done over the course of his Hall-of-Fame career, the true reason that his team beat Texas was because of his constant complaining to the officials. I realize that, as a coach, you want your players to be protected. There is nothing wrong with that. But there is point where constantly harassing the officials just takes it too far. Personally, I believe that Duke players are given a good amount of calls because they are Duke players, Coach K is their coach, they have to be good and they have to be right. I have seen moments where officials have made horrible traveling calls in favor of Duke, then on the next trip down the floor I see Kyle Singler pick up his dribble, and it looks like he will play some DDR before then taking a shot. (This is not meant as a knock on Singler, he is one of the two kids on Duke's current roster that I respect). But, had the Texas game been called fairly, I do not believe that Texas big man Dexter Pittman would have picked up some of those cheap fouls, and instead of riding the bench and seeing his Longhorns lose by five, Pittman would have been in the game and led his team to a victory.

Now, entering the Villanova game, I am positive that Coach K will have Villanova's tough play in mind, as he will probably begin harassing the officials before tip-off about calling any form of contact between his players and 'Nova players as a foul. Whether the refs actually listen to Coach K or not will have the greatest influence on the outcome of this basketball game. If Villanova is allowed to play the style of tough, aggressive, Big East basketball that they played against UCLA, then they should have a 10+ point victory. If Coach K gets his way again, and by doing so any 'Nova player diving for a steal is called for a foul, then Duke will win.

You can look at their tempos, their styles of play, their offenses, it all does not matter if the officials call the game Duke's way. Personally, I believe Duke is vastly, and I mean VASTLY overrated this year, and that Villanova is actually the much better team. Duke has a lot of players who can hit an open jumper (Greg Paulus and Jon Scheyer for starters), but no real big man. Singler is a small forward who Coach K has playing power forward. Gerald Henderson is an athletic freak, there is no way around that, but I do not believe that he is the superstar that Dick Vitale makes him out to be. As much as I would like to make a prediction for this game, I truly cannot until about five minutes in, when I will have a chance to see how the game is being called.

Sweet 16 Match-ups Part One: The Battle of the Tigers

So as I sit and twiddle my thumbs in the doldrums that make up the days that pass by between each round of March Madness, I can't help but think about some of the match-ups on display in this year's Sweet Sixteen. We will see a match-up of run-and-gun teams, a display of recent and historical powerhouses, legendary coaches, and special players.

By far the most exciting match-up to watch should be the game between Memphis and Missouri. When the seedings came out, and I saw that the Mizzou Tigers were a three seed, I was stunned. I had been keeping an eye on them all year. I saw them beat Kansas and Oklahoma at home, but I also saw them get flattened by the very same Jayhawks a month later. Nonetheless, they have come out of the gate ready to play and have not disappointed. As for Memphis, I was surprised that they were not given a number one seed, though my guess is that the commitee decided UConn's strength of schedule gave them a better argument than Memphis' in-conference wins. This game will feature two teams that utilize the "40 minutes of hell" tempo on both sides of the ball, so we should see scores in at least the high 70's. Ultimately the keys will be these to determine the winner:
  1. Can Missouri keep up with Memphis in the first half?
  2. Can either team's full-court trap defense be succesful?
  3. Can Memphis hold off Missouri's strong second-half surges?
If Missouri can keep up with Memphis in terms of first-half scoring, you have to like Missouri's chances. Mizzou's main trouble has been their first-half of basketball games, and it is usually where they dig themselves into a hole. Key number two is important because both teams have full-court defenses that thrive off of traps and forcing turnovers, and if one team's defense is more succesful than the other team's, look out. The third key is important assuming Memphis does not go into halftime up by 20 points. Missouri on the season has averaged close to 60 points in the second-half of their games. Coach John Calipari will make sure his Memphis team is aware of that heading into the game, and will surely remind them of it at halftime. If Memphis gets a little too lackadaisical in the second-half, thinking that their lead is secure, then they will blink and will not make the Elite Eight.

Ultimately, I think Memphis will win this game. This is no knock on the lovable Missouri Tigers, but I do not think that they have a defensive answer for freshman phenom Tyreke Evans, or for Memphis' staggering depth in the front-court. Missouri has two main scoring outlets in Demarre Carroll and Leo Lyons, both of whom have played very well all year, but unless they get help from everyone else, I don't think Mizzou will pull out a win. I think Missouri will make it more of an entertaining game than most people think it will be, but barring any Memphis meltdowns, Missouri will be heading home after Thursday's game.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

What If...

As we wind down the final weeks of the NFL season, and teams are lopped off each week, we get closer and closer to the Super Bowl.

With the final four set with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens, Philadelphia Eagles, and Arizona Cardinals, every fan starts to envision a perfect Super Sunday match up.

My question is: Should there be an All-Pennsylvania Super Bowl, what if the Big Game was moved from the sunny shores of Tampa, Florida to the snowy domain of Beaver Stadium, the home of the Penn State Nittany Lions, in State College, Pennsylvania ?

Personally, I am sick of the fact that we will probably never see any Super Bowl in the snow or the cold ever again. I understand that hosting the Super Bowl in these warm climates is a nice break for the players who play in the cold week after week, but you have to break up the monotony of sunshine state Super Bowls and at least break them up with occasional games in the cold or snow.

As a coach, this type of move would mean your team would have fewer distractions in State College than they would in, say, Tampa, or Miami (the site of next year's Bowl) and more overall focus on hitting the weights and blocks, and less on hitting the beach. Besides, if your players want to hit the beach, they can wait it out until the Pro Bowl, which might as well be beach flag football.

Not only would this break the monotony, but it would also draw more attention from the fans. There would be more interest in seeing the Steelers and Eagles play in their home state, in the snow, in what would probably go down as an epic, defensive, struggle. There is also the fact that you could put more people in the stadium as well. The current site, Raymond James Stadium, holds just over 66,000 people, while Beaver Stadium holds just over 107,000 and can reach 110,000 on big game days.

Think about that: Beaver Stadium can hold almost two full Raymond James Stadiums' worth of people. Plus, at the rate that Super Bowl tickets usually go for, there is a fortune of money to be made just by selling the 110,000 seats, before any sort of parking payment, concessions, or advertisements are even factored in. Not to mention, it would also do wonders for the State College economy.

Beaver stadium would also be able to be a neutral field, positioned 3 hours away from both Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, droves of both loyal fan bases would much rather make that trip than one that would require a lot of flying. You could sell 35% of the tickets in Philadelphia, 35% in Pittsburgh, and distribute the rest which ever way you wanted. That way, you would have a good number of loyal fans from each fanbase there, while still not excluding the rest of the country.

As for what Penn State gets out of this, they can receive a cut of the money made from the event, and will see the town around the university be booming economically by the large amount of people there for the biggest game in all of American sports.

While it is probably too late to be able to change anything now, plus the fact that if the locale was changed now the people of Tampa would probably not be too happy about it, this idea will go to waste. However, it is still a possibility for future Super Sundays, just change up the college stadium or pro stadium that would replace Beaver Stadium in my scenario. All-PA Super Bowl at Beaver Stadium would be really nice...

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Braves Bolster Rotation: Agree to Terms With Derek Lowe

I've seen this story all over the place today, and when I found out that the Atlanta Braves gave Derek Lowe 4 years, $60M to pitch for them, I was shocked. Firstly, I was surprised that it took this long for a team to sign Lowe, but the fact that he will be getting 4/$60 is a figure that I did not believe possible for him to achieve, even with Scott Boras as his agent.

He is getting the same framework in terms of years as he did with the Dodgers, but he is getting a $24M raise overall from $36M to the new $60M. Personally, I love Lowe as a pitcher. He competes, will give you 200 innings, and keep your team in the ball game. But at the ripe age of 36, a 4/$60 deal is absurd. Then again, it shows how much teams value pitching. I wonder how much of this deal was paranoia on the part of Atlanta's front office in that they didn't want either the Mets or Phillies to pick up Lowe, and were willing to give him the type of money they gave him because of that.

Financial issues aside, the signing gives their rotation an infusion that will allow them to nurture top pitching prospect Tommy Hanson along in the Minors until they deem him ready to unleash upon the rest of the baseball world. The Braves had to make this move, having already lost icon John Smoltz to the Red Sox, and with Tom Glavine's future uncertain and Tim Hudson not expected back until August, they needed an ace to fill the void.

Lowe and his sinker should fit nicely in the spacious confines of Turner Field, and he will be backed by an offense that, while not as potent as those of the rival Phillies or Mets, should give him some solid run support.

With the Lowe addition, the rotation will look something like this for 2009:
  1. Derek Lowe
  2. Javier Vazquez
  3. Kenshin Kawakami
  4. Jair Jurrjens
  5. Jorge Campillo
Lowe and Vazquez will be a potent one-two punch in the NL East, with Kawakami, Jurrjens, and Campillo looked upon to provide solid starts to help get this franchise back up to speed in the competitive NL East.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

What I Learned Today

So I have my first day back at school tomorrow, and what better way to prepare than spending all day watching sports?

I was able to watch the Baltimore Ravens dominate the Miami Dolphins to advance on to the next round of the AFC race, while my Philadelphia Eagles held on and used a late Brian Westbrook touchdown to beat the Minnesota Vikings. I also caught the final ten minutes of Boston College's upset of #1 North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

Now, the Ravens-Dolphins game showed me once again that the Ravens' defense is back and as dominant as it was in their Super Bowl run of 2001. Every year this defense just seemingly reloads with talent, though when Ray Lewis takes his final bow his replacement will have some giant-sized shoes to fill. The game also reminded me how freakishly good Ed Reed is. You will undoubtedly see the highlight of his two picks on the day. Also, the Ravens clearly made the right pick of Joe Flacco. It seems like they finally have a quarterback who can pilot an offense well enough that the defense is no longer the sole means of scoring.

What surprised me with the Eagles-Vikings game was that the Eagles went into halftime with a two point lead thanks to three David Akers field goals and an Asante Samuel pick-six, and did not let that lead shrink anymore. They kept up their solid defense against the run, and did not allow Adrian Peterson any other big plays. The Birds also put more pressure on Tarvaris Jackson, who kept up the trend of young quarterbacks showing great poise thus far in the playoffs, and forced several wild throws and should-be-interceptions. Bravo, Birds, and on to the Meadowlands and the New York Giants.

Finally, I'm still shocked that Boston College knocked off unanimous #1 North Carolina. It will be interesting to see how far the Heels fall, though I do see this as being a "wake up" moment that will spur the Heels on for the rest of the season. The loss, combined with Pitt's drubbing of Georgetown, should ultimately give the Pittsburgh Panthers some much-needed exposure as the new #1.

College Football Madness

Why does it seem like this happens every year?

We have seen, once again, a team come into bowl season undefeated, and they are not given a shot at a national title. This year, we saw the Utah Utes go and "shock the world" by beating the Alabama Crimson Tide 31-17 in the Sugar Bowl. They outscored a team in Alabama that was ranked #1 in the country for five weeks this season 21-0 at the end of the first quarter.

So the Utes have finished the season a perfect 13-0, but will most likely not be in the top three in the final rankings, as Florida and Oklahoma will most likely be one and two, and computer favorite USC will probably take the final spot in the top three. The Utes have a chance to be in the top five, as Texas will most likely take the number four spot with a win over big-game-choke-artist Ohio State.

There was much discussion heading into this post-season about whether the undefeated teams of Boise State and Utah should deserve a shot at a national title. I feel that the teams with the best overall record should deserve a shot at the national title. Utah is honestly lucky that they got to show what they can do and beat a championship contender in Alabama.

I feel that keeping this BCS system as the means of deciding who gets to play for the National Championship is just a poor idea, as it narrows down a list of contestants that is not just two or three schools. I feel it could be used to determine the seedings for a playoff, that would truly allow the teams like Utah, or Boise State, to show what they can do against these powerhouses of Florida, Oklahoma, Texas, and Alabama.

It would also give each team more to play for, as not only would they get the chance to face these vaunted foes but they also get closer to a national title in the process.

The National Championship is supposed to go to THE BEST team in the country, and a playoff is the only way we can truly see who THE BEST team in the country truly is. Congratulations
Utes on a perfect season, too bad that a team with one loss will be crowned the National Champion.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Other Little Tid Bits

  • Today the Texas Rangers signed former Milwaukee Brewer closer Derrick Turnbow to a one year deal, worth $925K if he makes the Major League Roster. A low-risk, high-reward move by a team in need of a lot of pitching help.
  • I was disappointed by how poorly South Carolina played in the Outback Bowl...they lost 31-10 and let Shonn Green run all over them. Oh well, at least the REAL bowls are finally starting now.
  • Speaking of Bowls, I think Penn State has a good shot at beating the University of Spoiled Children, even though I must say I'm impressed with Ray Maualuga. 21-17, Penn State.

More Hot Stove News: Angels Sign Brian Fuentes, Cubs Sign Aaron Miles

Also occurring yesterday were the signings of closer Brian Fuentes by the Los Angeles Angels, and second baseman Aaron Miles by the Chicago Cubs.

Fuentes had been rumored to be the Angels' top choice of closer for quite some time now, and it was only a matter of time once K-Rod signed and once Teixeira signed that the Angels would look to ink the electric lefty. They signed him to a two year, $17.5M deal with a third year vesting option worth $9M.

Fuentes has spent his last seven years pitching in Coors Field, and has kept a respectable sub 3.50 ERA since being named the Rox' closer in 2005. During that time period, he also had more strikeouts than innings pitched for three of those four years, all while holding opponents to a sub .220 BAA.

I like the Fuentes signing for the Angels, because it gives them a replacement strikeout arm to close out games, while also giving them a lefty in a bullpen full of righties.

The Cubbies signed Aaron Miles to a two year, $4.9M deal yesterday as well. Miles has spent his last three seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals, with a gradual improvement in his numbers across the board, resulting in a .317/4/31/49 year last year.

This signing just puzzles me, as the Cubs have so much talent up the middle even with Mark DeRosa now in Cleveland that locking up a guy who is not the best of the group offensively to try and replace DeRosa's production is just foolish. I do not see Miles getting more than 300 at-bats this year, if he does I'll be surprised.

MLB Hot Stove Reaction: Mark DeRosa Traded

Yesterday the news broke that the Chicago Cubs decided to free up some money by trading their ultimate utility man Mark DeRosa to the Cleveland Indians for three young pitchers. The only way that this trade would make any sense from the Cubs' perspective is that they are looking to clear salary space on the payroll for a big-time addition.

DeRosa is entering the last year of his contract, and is owed $5.5M. That is money well spent, seeing DeRosa played in 149 games last season and came up with a line of .285/21/87/103 for a guy who played just about every position on the diamond for the Cubbies last year. He should add a bit of an offensive spark to a Cleveland team that suddenly couldn't hit its way out of a paper bag. DeRosa also can exert a veteran influence on the young Indians infield, as well as replace the offensively-challenged Josh Barfield in the every-day lineup. While DeRosa won't be able to match Barfield's appearances on "Web Gems", he will easily make up for the drop-off in flashy leather with a solid bat in the top half of the lineup.

In addition, the Cubs had a plethora of middle infielders with DeRosa, Ryan Theriot, Mike Fontenot, and Ronny Cedeno who all deserved plenty of playing time.

The combination of this trade, along with the rumored to be almost-done deal that would send Jason Marquis to the Colorado Rockies for Luis Vizcaino, freeing up approximately another $8M of payroll, would presumably allow the Cubs to sign someone like Milton Bradley to play right field and add a left-handed bat to the lineup.

Ultimately I think the trade will work out for both teams, as you can expect DeRosa's numbers to be roughly the same as they were last year, maybe a little bit higher if Victor Martinez and Travis Hafner can remember how to hit again.