Saturday, March 31, 2007

Your Crimson Tide All-American QB

I hesitate to even post this, because it feels like shooting fish in a barrel.

I was listening to sports talk radio yesterday. This is something I occasionally do, when I get a little tired of listening to R.E.M., Pavement, or some other band I'm spending way too much time listening to. Anyway, I paraphrase what a caller to this program said:
I think John Parker Wilson is going to be an All-American this year.
The host of the show politely but firmly disagreed.

Looking at the formula and analysis I generated earlier, which I submit is the best way to analyze the productivity of a quarterback with the statistics we can easily gather, John Parker Wilson generated an average of 6.14 "yards" per play. This was pretty much dead-center within the SEC. Well behind the likes of Jamarcus Russell, but well ahead of the likes of Brent Schaeffer. His 6.14 rating came in right behind Brandon Cox's 6.37 and right ahead of Omarr Conner's 6.13. Wilson was, therefore, a pretty average SEC quarterback, in terms of production on the field.*

"But," you ask, "He set an Alabama record for passing yards in a season." Yes, he certainly did. He threw for 2707 yards last season, an Alabama single-season record. It was, however, fifth in the SEC last year. You heard that right, four other quarterbacks in the SEC put up numbers that would have been record-setting had they been playing for Alabama. Plus, if you combine Syvelle Newton's and Blake Mitchell's yardage splitting time for South Carolina, they would have had almost 400 yards more than Wilson had. So, a total of five teams in the SEC got more passing yardage last year than Alabama.

The numbers bear out if you look even further, also. Wilson was fifth in the league in touchdown passes. Sixth, if you combine Mitchell's and Newton's touchdowns. Only three SEC quarterbacks threw more interceptions than Wilson did (Mitchell and Newton, combined, threw more as well). He was the only full-time starter not to get a rushing touchdown. Putting this in perspective, Brandon Cox had a rushing touchdown, and I think I read somewhere that he had his feet amputated in the middle of the season.

I'm not trying to dump on the guy. Like I said, he was an average SEC quarterback last year. That means he went into the toughest football conference in the country and held his own as a true sophomore. He didn't stand out, but he didn't look out of place either. What's more, there's a little room for improvement. He'll be entering his second year as starter, and it's reasonable to expect he'll be more comfortable. He'll also have all of his receivers returning from last year, including playmakers Keith Brown and DJ Hall.

However, the guy has done absolutely nothing to suggest he's All-American material. He wasn't particularly close to being All-SEC material last year. To get there, he's going to have to pass up Erik Ainge, Andre Woodson, and Blake Mitchell, while watching out for a healthy Brandon Cox, an emerging Matthew Stafford, Tim Tebow, Chris Nickson, and Matt Flynn. It's a tough conference out there, with lots of QBs who think they're going to be great.

* I'm being careful not to say that my formula reveals who is "best". It doesn't do that, and I don't think there's any way of statistically analyzing which player is the best quarterback. I measure "productivity". Productivity for a quarterback, like every other position, is highly dependent on players other than the quarterback. I think it's a pretty obvious point when you think about it. No QB will produce much without a decent offensive line. Good receivers help a lot too (otherwise, why would you need them?). Don't overlook hos a good rushing attack will help a team be very efficient in the passing offense as well. I think you can ask Andre Woodson about that.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Recruiting 101 Part 4 - Transferring Out?

Sometimes, the best way for a player to help a team is to leave it. When a player does not develop as hoped, and finds himself in a situation where he will never be a solid contributor at LSU, he can help both himself and the team by going to another program, one where he will play and be a key contributor.

I'm thinking in particular here about football, where people sometimes bemoan the fact that players leave the team when they don't get the playing time they expect. For example, in the past year, both Tim Washington and Antonio Robinson announced that they would be leaving the team. Washington is a defensive end who found himself behind the likes of Tyson Jackson, Rahim Alem, Tremaine Johnson, and Ricky Jean-Francois on the depth charts. He also saw the incoming freshman class and realized that he was never going to break through the depth chart and into the lineup. He is currently shopping around for a new school. Robinson is a running back who saw himself fall to seventh on the depth chart in Fall camp last year after redshirting the previous year, behind 3 other freshmen. He decided to pull up stakes and go to Northwestern State.

Both of these players are doing LSU a favor. How is it helpful to lose athletes, even ones who are far down the depth chart? I touched on it once before. It's called the "85/25" rule. As I explained,
It's not just a rule of recruiting. It is probably the single most important rule in all of college football, save perhaps for the rule that you can't pay your players. Put simply, a football team may add no more than 25 new scholarship players in any one calendar year, and may have no more than 85 players on scholarship at any one time.
Think about that. You can add as many as 25 new scholarships in any one year, but can have no more than 85 players on scholarship at one time.

Let's do some Math. Let's say that you want to sign 25 people every year. Year 1, you have 25 people on scholarship. Year 2, you have 50. Year 3, you have 75. Year 4, you have 100. Uh oh. In year 4, you can't sign 25 people because it will put you over the 85 person limit. After all, those 25 people you recruited in year 1 will be entering their senior years. Every four years, you have to recruit a smaller class. Much smaller. With recruiting being uncertain at best, you're probably going to have to pass up a lot of good players you'd otherwise want to take.

And don't even get into the problems that could be caused by redshirting, which adds a 5th year of eligibility, and a fifth year of occupying a scholarship. Let's just say that if you sign the most you can sign, and if you redshirt half the people you sign, and if everyone stays as long as they can, in your 5th year you will not be doing any recruiting at all. Over a two year period, you will add ten players to your team. You can't start recruiting again until those big classes you signed in years 1, 2, and 3 start graduating... or leaving for other reasons.

Aha! "Leaving for other reasons"? See what I mean now? There are a few ways someone can leave a program with eligibility remaining. He can a) be really really good and declare himself professional after 3 years, or b) he can simply give up his scholarship and leave.

You would prefer not to have a) happen if you avoid it, but b) sounds really promising doesn't it? The key is to get the right players to leave. Fortunately, most of the time it works out very logically. People who don't play want to leave to go somewhere they will play. Occasionally, I suppose, a solid contributor will leave a program because he doesn't like the coaches, or because of personal problems, or some other non-performance reason. Most of the time, however, a key contributor will be happy and will stick with the program while a guy riding the pine will be unhappy.

But, you ask, why recruit a guy who won't contribute, only for the sake of getting him to leave later? Well, they don't recruit guys knowing they won't contribute. Recruiting is way more uncertain than that. A team instead will recruit, say, 4 running backs over a two year period, all of whom have the potential to be good. Let's call them RB-A, RB-B, RB-C, and RB-D. They will expect, however, that one or two of them will fail to reach their potential (or that the coaches will have misjudged the players' potential) and will not really emerge as solid players. However, from the outset, the coaches will not have any idea which of the 4 will make it and which will not. Each one is a risk, and they recruit enough quantity that they expect they will get enough quality after the players develop.

Let's say that RB-A and RB-D emerge as really good running backs. RB-C ends up OK, but clearly behind A and D, and RB-B proves to be lazy, constantly out of shape, and/or an attitude problem. RB-A and RB-D put together a lot of highlights. RB-C plays in spot situations at the end of blowouts, and RB-B never sees the field.

Hopefully, RB-B transfers out of the program quickly. Also, hopefully, RB-C will see the handwriting on the wall and realize he will never pass up A or D and will leave after a couple years of trying to break through. This will open up two scholarship slots for two other running backs to come in (RB-E and RB-F), with a full four years of eligibility, who will be there when those other running backs graduate. If those other guys had stayed, you wouldn't have been able to recruit E and F.

RB-E and RB-F will then compete against each other and whoever else is recruited the following years to see who will be the best running backs on later teams.

And it is like this at EVERY POSITION. Every coach recruits more than he needs, expecting some not to meet their potential, but not knowing who will and who won't beforehand. Every year, some players see the handwriting on the wall and leave. As a result, LSU does not have to have years with only 5 or 10 recruits.

Even with this mechanism in place, however, every program will have the occasional year where they simply can't add 25 new players. Rumor has it that LSU is entering one of those years in 2008. If you listen to the talk about this, LSU will only be able to sign about 20 people this year. I don't buy it. I think more people are going to end up leaving, as they see the incoming freshmen pass them on the depth charts, and we will be recruiting the standard 25 again in 2008.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Let's look at Alabama

Granted, I criticized overly optimistic Bama fans here. Actually, I think it was more like I simply disagreed with them and carefully explained my reasoning. The word "crazy" was not used, and don't check on that. Just believe me. I didn't use it. I live in Tuscaloosa and do business here. I'm not about to be overly critical of Bama football. As I said in my introduction I am always going to be fair, objective, and non-sensationalist in evaluating other teams.

I said that I thought it was foolish to think that Bama would win or even compete for the National Championship next year or the year following, but I really do think Bama looks like they will be better next year than last year, and I'd think that with or without Saban at the helm.

One rule of thumb is that a team that loses a lot of close games has a very short road to improvement. If you're getting blown out a lot, it takes a lot to make up that difference, but if you're staying in games, it doesn't take much. Last year, they lost a lot of close games, and had a terrible red zone offense. A modest improvement to the red zone offense could be the difference in 2 to 3 games.

Also, keep in mind that Bama will finally have a veteran offensive line next year. For the past two years, Bama ended the season without a single senior starting on the offensive line. Also, last year, the two best offensive linemen were a sophomore and a true freshman. Those guys will have one additional year of experience, as will the guys around them.

Bama does not lose a single key player from its offense. By "key player" I mean one who was productive and not relatively easily replaced. Ken Darby graduated following a very good career, but his senior year was terribly unproductive. Graduations of Tim Castille and McClain leave the fullback spot open, but again it's usually not that difficult to find a good fullback. Their best tailback from last year, Jimmy Johns, returns. They lack, at this point, a real game breaking tailback, but Johns is a very serviceable power back.

Their entire passing game returns. They return their QB, every tight end, and all of their top 5 wide receivers from an offense last year that saw JP Wilson set a single season Bama record for passing yardage, though as my earlier post shows, he was only mid-pack in the SEC as far as production per play. If you're a Bama fan, you hope he's poised for improvement in his second year as starter. DJ Hall and Keith Brown are both playmakers at the wide receiver position.

In short, then, the Bama offense returns virtually entirely intact, but one year better and more experienced.

On defense, they have to replace their defensive tackles, their best safety, their best linebacker, and their second best corner. I'm not discounting those losses, but they return playmakers Simeone Castille, Prince Hall, and Wallace Gilberry. They lose some, but they don't lose nearly as much as they lost the year before, and the defense was pretty good last year. They'll have to find a couple more playmakers, but every team has to do that.

So, I think Bama has an offense that is due to improve greatly, and a defense that looks like it will probably stay close to the same. That makes for an improved team. As long the coaching change doesn't cause too many disruptions, they are very likely to be an improved team.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


I apologize for the lack of a post yesterday. Baby is cutting into blogging time, somethin' fierce.

Congratulations to the Lady Tigers for their stunning upset of UConn to get to their 4th consecutive Final Four. "Stunning Upset" doesn't do it justice however. It was a thorough beat-down. The team seems possessed right now. I honestly don't think anything can stop them. In their previous Final Fours, they didn't get it done, but I think this is the year they win it all.

It will take the sting off of what has been a bad year for the men's program, and will be a bad year for the baseball program.

I have been meaning to start something on this, and today seems like a good day for it.

Prepare yourself for the start of tradition Wednesday of Bogging Whimsy. Here is today's whimsy. A ten minute clip of an early Space Ghost: Coast to Coast episode, with a special appearance by the Beat..., uh, Pavement.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Round 4

It's over.

Richard: 603 points, 0 players remaining
Scott: 598 points, Corey Brewer remaining
Poseur: 517 points, Jeff Green remaining
Jason: 502 points, Jeff Green remaining, mathematically eliminated
Daniel: 418 points, Jeff Green remaining, mathematically eliminated

Poseur's still mathematically in it, but not really. He has to hope Green scores 86 points in the next two games to have any chance at all. That's virtually impossible, and even if he did it, he would still probably lose. Even if Green scored 106 points, he'd still probably lose.

I'm still mathematically in it, but I have virtually no chance. I have to hope that Corey Brewer is completely shut down, because Scott is only 5 points away from me, and I have no players remaining. If Brewer scores 6 points, I'm toast.

So, it's all Scott. Hell, I doubt I'm even going to watch the rest of it. I've only watched it in spots lately anyway. It just hasn't been that fun. I guess Georgetown has the best opportunity to actually make this interesting.

Good luck to the Lady Tigers, currently leading #1 seed UConn by 10 in the first half.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

LSU Quarterback Situation

On Friday, one or two people on TigerDroppings accused me of idiocy because I

a. Said that Blake Mitchell was a pretty good quarterback, and
b. Said that at this point I would probably take Blake Mitchell over Matt Flynn.

Then on Saturday, eyewitness reports from the LSU Spring Game said that Flynn looked pretty average and that Perrilloux looked below average. Suddenly, LSU Nation had a bona fide quarterbacking crisis. I wonder if my statement that I would prefer Blake Mitchell at this point would be more popular. I didn't read all the "woe are us" threads, but I doubt anyone made any mention of my day-old statements. On such a high-traffic, high-content site like TigerDroppings, memories usually fade pretty quickly.

Believe me, I was as surprised as anyone could be to find out, through a look at actual statistics, that Mitchell was the second most productive QB in the conference last year, measured on a "per play" basis. I would have guessed he'd have come out behind Leak, Ainge, and Woodson at least. But no; he was ahead of all of them, and behind only Jamarcus Russell. People scoffed. People mocked. People pointed out that Mitchell was benched halfway through the year.

People also pointed out that Mitchell had Sidney Rice to throw to. I don't buy that this made that much of a difference. After all, Leak had Baker, Harvin, and Caldwell. Ainge had Meachem. Woodson had... umm.. well, I'm not sure he had anybody at all. Mitchell was ahead of all of them. Also, Syvelle Newton also had Sidney Rice to throw to, and he ended up behind Mitchell too.

Anyway, enough about Mitchell. This post is supposed to be about Matt Flynn. Reports out off pre-Spring Game practices were that he was doing well. Reports from the game itself differ. I haven't watched one second of practice, so I don't really know. However, I know one thing that troubles me terribly: No SEC team will be starting a QB who took fewer meaningful snaps in 2006 than did Matt Flynn. If that's not a potential team weakness, I don't know what is.

Only one other team will be replacing their full-time starting QB, and that is Florida. Florida at least has the benefit of having gotten Tim Tebow significant meaningful playing time in 2006. Don't get me wrong; Tebow still has to prove he can perform every down and deal with the inevitable adversity that comes with being a starter. For a sophomore, however, he has quite a bit of competitive experience.

Flynn, as a 5th year senior, has significant practice experience going against some of the best defenses in the country. He has a lot of mop-up duty experience. He had a very good game against Miami in the Peach Bowl two years ago. He had some other less than spectacular appearances in his career as well. I ultimately think Flynn will be a very good QB, but we can't overlook the fact that his level of responsibility has never been what it will be next year, and he is NOT the quarterback that Jamarcus Russell was. Russell was special, and could do things that a defense had never seen before. Flynn is a more conventional talent. There are bound to be some growing pains as he improves.

The good news is that he will have what may be an exceptionally good running attack to lean on while he gets accustomed to being The Man. And he will have an exceptionally good defense erasing any errors.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Round 3

After 3 rounds of basketball, here is the scoring:

Richard: 585 points, Brandon Rush remaining
Scott: 584 points, Corey Brewer remaining
Poseur: 487 points, Julian Wright and Jeff Green remaining
Jason: 472 points, Mario Chalmers and Jeff Green remaining
Daniel: 394 points, Mario Chalmers and Jeff Green remaining

I think it's probably a 2-man race at this point, even though Poseur and Jason have an extra player. Scott and I simply have too much of a head start. Poseur got hosed by UNLV's Wendell White and Kansas's Julian Wright only getting 7 points each. He lost ground in a round where he could have gained ground.

Poseur and Jason will close the gap in the next round, but they really need for Jeff Green to go off for 30 points or so if they want to start catching up. Poseur needs Julian Wright to start putting up more points than Brewer and Rush as well.

Focusing on the top 2, Scott and I are separated by a razor thin margin, and I think it's obvious that the winner will come down to whichever of Kansas or Florida advances the farthest. If they both play the same number of games, there's no way to predict who will win it.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Someone Wake Me Up

Sorry, everybody. I was in Vegas for the first two rounds, making some money on the tournament. Which was nice. But the nonstop drinking got to me, and I spent the last week laid up with the flu due to my weakened immune system.

Let’s be blunt: this is the worst tournament ever. There’s been absolutely no upsets to speak of, there have been no buzzer beater moments, and there really hasn’t been that many close games. It’s been a bore. Outside of last Saturday, forever to be known as the Day of the Almost Upset, this tournament has had all of the drama of a Steven Segal movie. Hell, at least those games were close.

The top teams are advancing, but do any of them look impressive at all? Ohio State was bailed out several different ways against Xavier. Let’s count how:
- the refs refused to call the most blatant of flagrant fouls
- Xavier missed a free throw
- Xavier’s coach inexplicably refused to contest the rebound
- Xavier didn’t foul when up by three
- Ohio St hit a miracle three to force OT

Then OSU rallied from 20-points down to beat Tennessee last night. Does that speak highly of OSU’s resilience, or speak lowly to the fact they fell 20 points behind and needed their second straight miracle to advance? You tell me.

Frankly, I was wrong on Memphis. I didn’t believe in them, but they played a tough, hard-nosed game against Texas A&M. The exact sort of game I thought they could not win. They even hit free throws down the stretch. Count me as a believer now. Which means they are going to lose to Ohio St.

Though A&M did go into the tank. Acie Law missed a gimme layup with 15 seconds left to set up the loss. And while it was a fairly ticky-tack call which put Memphis on the line with a chance to win, A&M can’t really complain given the fact they allowed Memphis to get rebound after rebound in that last possession. Something happened that hasn’t happened to the Aggies all year: they got outhustled with the game on the line. You lose all bitching rights when that happens. Memphis made their own luck. And we won’t even get into that miserable final playcall.

Kansas, however, is about the only team that has looked like a dominant force. Yes, they turned the ball over 19 times last night. And yes, they had a terrible night shooting the ball. This just in, the Salukis play some mad defense. There’s no shame in struggling to find rhythm against probably the best defensive team in the country. Though UCLA is on the list of top defensive teams. And they get Kansas essentially at home, but we can see how much that helped A&M.

Two 1-2 regional finals after four games in which the lowest seed was a 5. Yeesh. This sucks.

Crunching the Numbers on the Quarterbacks

If you remember a while back, I proposed a formula for evaluating quarterbacks. It was:

Rating = (yards passing + yards running -yards lost by sack + 20*Touchdowns -30*Turnovers)/(# of designed passing plays).
To recap, the main features of my rating are that it:
  • cuts down the credit given for completing passes for short gains,
  • rewards passers who avoid sacks and get positive yardage on the ground,
  • penalizes turnovers more than does the conventional passer rating, and
  • expresses the result in an easily comprehensible yards-per-passing-play format rather than a completely incomprehensible format.
Well, there's a mild problem with this formula. The statistics available to me do not differentiate between sacks, scrambles, and designed runs. They're all counted as "carries", which is incredibly dumb, especially for sacks, which are clearly and obviously yards lost in the passing game. I also have no statistics on fumbles, so I just have to skip those. I wanted to evaluate the 2006 SEC quarterbacks, so I evaluated them without differentiating between the types of runs. The results are below. I only included quarterbacks who started. Because I couldn't figure out how to make a usable table out of this, I'll just list the results:

Jamarcus Russell, LSU, 9.16
Blake Mitchell, S. Car., 8.26
Erik Ainge, Tenn., 8.07
Andre Woodson, UK, 7.79
Chris Leak, Fla. 7.02
Syvelle newton, S. Car. 7.00
Casey Dick, Ark., 6.99
Chris Nickson, Vandy, 6.55
Brandon Cox, Aub., 6.37
John Parker Wilson, Bama, 6.14
Omarr Conner, MSU, 6.13
Michael Henig, MSU, 5.82
Matthew Stafford, UGA, 5.78
Mitch Mustain, Ark. 5.68
Jonathan Crompton, Tenn., 5.35
Brent Schaeffer, Ole Miss, 4.27

I can only represent to you that I devised the formula and wrote the previous post without knowing the results. I did not know that my formula would result in Jamarcus Russell being in a class by himself. I thought he might be, because I think he really WAS in a class by himself. The thing is, even if you use conventional passer ratings, he was still in a class by himself. He was the highest rated, with a 167 rating. Woodson was second with a 154 rating. By either measure, Jamarcus was clearly the most effective quarterback in the SEC.

It's not an artifact or an accident. He was second in the league in yards and in touchdowns, behind Andre Woodson in both, who had almost 80 more pass attempts. Speaking of Woodson, Kentucky put the ball in his hands a LOT. If he hadn't been sacked so many times, he would have been fairly close to Jamarcus. On the other hand, one of the strengths of Jamarcus's game is the fact that he is so hard to sack. As a result, he finished almost 1 full yard/play ahead of every other starting quarterback.

If Kentucky could run the ball, they'd be dangerous.

Who got hurt the most by my changes to the formula? Brandon Cox, Andre Woodson, and John Parker Wilson. Cox and Wilson lost a lot of yards to sacks, and Wilson had a relatively poor touchdown to interception ratio, which is underpenalized in the conventional formula. Cox, by the way, was the least effective veteran starter in the SEC. No one who had been a regular starter in 2005 performed worse than Cox. Who got helped the most? Probably Chris Nickson of Vandy, whose 9 touchdown runs really helped his rating. However, he also gave up a lot of points by throwing a lot of interceptions.

I also think it's interesting that under either measure, Brent Schaeffer was the least effective quarterback in the SEC last year. I'm careful in my wording here. I don't say "worst". I say "least effective". Obviously, nobody on the football field operates by himself. A quarterback is dependent upon his blockers and his receivers to give him the opportunity to be successful. Therefore, no single statistic can measure how "good" a quarterback is, independent of the players around him. We can only measure how "effective" he is, which is dependent on the other personnel. This isn't to say that ratings are independent of skill. Clearly they are not independent, but we have to recognize the limitations inherent in this formulation.

Notice also where the true freshmen are: very near the bottom. This goes to show something I will touch on again. It's never a good idea to start a true freshman at quarterback.

What does all this mean for next year? Well, the top returning starters are Tim Tebow (who isn't included in my chart, but he was very effective in his time on the field, but will have to show it every down) and Blake Mitchell.

Blake Mitchell? I have to admit that was a surprise. Wasn't he benched? He has a very solid yards/attempt number and doesn't lose a lot of yards in the running game. His TD/interception ration is weak, but he made up for it in other areas. Even under the conventional formula, he's solidly mid-pack among SEC starters (higher than Leak, for example). When you consider that both Woodson and Ainge lost yards running and Mitchell didn't, Mitchell starts to look a lot better.

Blake Mitchell was statistically the second most effective starting QB in the SEC in the time he was in the game, and got benched in favor of Syvelle Newton, who incidentally wasn't nearly as effective. I'm willing to accept the proposition that Mitchell's stats are inflated by the fact that he had Sidney Rice, but that doesn't explain why Newton was less effective.

Players to watch for next year: Ainge, Mitchell, and Woodson. If Cox can move his legs, and if Auburn has any receivers, he should be very effective next year.

I'll definitely be keeping up with this during the season. If I keep up with it game-by-game, I may even be able to refine the numbers by getting better statistics on quarterback fumbles. It'll be interesting to see how young QBs like Casey Dick and John Parker Wilson progress.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Most anticipated redshirt freshman running back... ever?

"Going into the spring I've heard comments that coach Miles has said that I'll be the guy because that's how I ended the season," Williams said. "But we have a redshirt freshman, Richard Murphy. He's just excellent, great athleticism."
Keiland Williams

Richard Murphy is a redshirt freshman running back. This means, in case you don't know, that he joined the team last year, eligible to play, and did not play. Not one down. On a team that saw two different true freshman get starts a running back, Richard Murphy sat the bench the entire season. This year, people expect him to compete with Keiland Williams and Jacob Hester to be the #1 guy at the tailback spot.

The words from Keiland Williams raised the volume on a year of whispers. If you paid attention to the message boards and to the "inside information" between August 2006 and now, you'd have occasionally heard someone say, "I hear Richard Murphy tears it up in practice." The secret seems to be out now.

It's kind of like when Cecil Collins was coming off of his Prop 48 year (except, thankfully, there are no indications of any bad behavior on Richard Murphy's part). I remember, in particular, Poseur telling me that Cecil ws the best running back on the team, a team that included Kevin Faulk and Rondell Mealey. He was right, but a fat lot of good it did us.

But back to Richard Murphy and all the talk about him. Keiland's quote above (slightly out of context, but that just makes me like all the other members of the sports media) was actually the second incident to raise the volume on Richard Murphy. The first was when all-world recruit Joe McKnight decided to sign with USC rather than LSU a month ago. People perceive, rightly or wrongly, that Richard Murphy brings the type of game that Joe McKnight was expected to bring: a speed back who can excel on the edge and in the passing game. When McKnight signed with USC at a press conference on National Signing Day televised live on ESPNU (he was considered the#1 prospect in the country according to at least one publication), LSU fans were distraught, but almost to a man each one of us said something like, "I bet Murphy is happy today" or "With Richard Murphy here, we won't miss him."

The whispers grew louder. Then Keiland Williams gave the Tiger faithful some red meat to chew on. Now, despite not having been in a game even once, people are penciling Richard Murphy into the two-deep and are expecting big things from him.

You may be asking, if he's so good, why didn't he play last year when we were hurting for a good running game. We know that he got to Fall Practice really late because the NCAA Clearinghouse didn't certify his ACT score until about a week or two into practice. Without that, the NCAA bars you from practicing with the team. Rumor has it that after he came into practice and saw that he was far behind the other freshmen running backs in learning the college game, he asked to redshirt.

How good is he? Hell, I have no idea, but I think I trust Keiland's opinion. He has no high school video on YouTube, but all college running backs look alike to me on high school highlight videos. They all look like the best athlete on the field, and like no one can tackle them. On his Rivals videos, he is elusive, but not a bruiser. He eludes and breaks tackles with quickness. He looks like the type who isn't going to run over a linebacker, but instead will try to make him miss or try to prevent him from getting a solid hit. Similar in style to Keiland Williams.

What is unusual about this is that it is very rare for really good running backs to redshirt. Running back is one of those positions that a true freshman can generally come in and contribute immediately if he's really good. While every position player has to learn a lot coming into college, running backs have a lot less to learn about technique and basic skills than quarterbacks, offensive linemen, corners, or even wide receivers. Freshmen running backs do well every year, and it even spills over to the NFL, where rookie running backs often produce very well.

I simply do not remember a single running back who sat out his entire true freshman year, despite being academically eligible, and was expected to be as good as Murphy is expected to be in his second year. Backs who are expected to be that good just aren't redshirted. They play.

Of course, I do not think that LSU fans are above over-hyping a player, but I'm also not sure this is an example of overhype. Too many people who are much better at evaluating talent than I am have said to watch out for this kid. So now, I'm adding to the hype. Watch out for this kid, and don't be surprised if he is our best running back in 2007.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Round 2

Lots of exciting games on Saturday. Very few exciting games on Sunday. And after four days of tournament action, there is still no narrative other than "Goliath slays David" and "David almost beat him." Everybody seeded above 7th is out and only 2 of the 16 teams remaining are seeded above 5th.

I guess one potential talking point is how the dreaded 12-5 matchup not only failed to produce any upsets, but actually ended up propelling the 5th seeds to be 3-1 in the second round.

Anyway, the tourney pool sits as follows:

Richard: 519 points; Brandon Rush of Kansas, Acie Law of TAMU, Chris Lofton of Tennessee, and Derrick Byars of Vandy remaining.

Scott: 519 points; Corey Brewer of Florida, Acie Law of TAMU, Chris Lofton of Tennessee, and Derrick Byars of Vandy remaining.

Poseur: 445 points. Julian Wright of Kansas, Jeff Green of Georgetown, Acie Law of TAMU, and Wendell White of UNLV remaining.

Jason: 411 points; Mario Chalmers of Kansas, Jeff Green of Georgetown, Acie Law of TAMU, and Chris Lofton of Tennessee remaining.

Daniel: 357 points; Mario Chalmers of Kansas, Jeff Green of Georgetown, and Acie Law of TAMU remaining.

We have a tie at the top between me and Scott. Daniel is mathematically eliminated because every player he has is shared by Jason, who is currently ahead of him. Jason really has his back to the wall. He's over 100 points behind me and shares two players with me, plus he has a player who is on the same team as one of my players.

Poseur is still in it, but he has to hope that Tennessee and Vandy get eliminated quickly, and that UNLV and Georgetown advance far. If that happens, he can make up the 74 points that separate him from me and Scott. Fortunately for him, Vandy plays Georgetown in the Sweet 16. This game will go a long way to deciding if Poseur can get back in it.

If Poseur can't make up the difference, it comes down to me and Scott. We are currently tied and we have the same number of players remaining. Not only that, but 3 of our 4 players are shared, meaning it will come down to who gets more points as this tournament rolls on: Corey Brewer or Brandon Rush.

Rock Chalk Jayhawk!

Sunday, March 18, 2007


Watching the end of the UVA-Tennessee game just now, and the Xavier-Ohio State game yesterday, I am reminded of the part of basketball that I really despise.

End of game fouling.

Every team does it. When they're behind late in the game, they foul members of the opposing team in order to stop the clock, hope they miss the free throws, and get the ball back. It makes the end drag on forever all the while giving the viewer the joy of watching a lot of standing around, with the occasional uncontested 15-foot shot.

It's viewer Kryptonite.

What is the name of that type of foul they almost never call in these situation? Oh yes, it's called "intentional foul". Yesterday, after Greg Oden bodyslammed the Xavier player in order to extend the game, the announcers discussed whether it should have been called an intentional foul. Ultimately they decided that it just wasn't rough enough to be called an intentional foul.

Uh, what? Isn't it called "intentional foul"? Here's the definition of "intentional", according to
1.done with intention or on purpose; intended: an intentional insult. Antonym: accidental.
Where does "hard" or "rough" appear in that definition? Nowhere. If the foul is done on purpose, it is "intentional", if the word is given its ordinary meaning. In my opinion, every one of these fouls, hard or not, would be called an intentional foul, giving the foulee two free throws and the ball out of bounds. Instead, these are almost NEVER called intentional fouls, even though EVERYONE KNOWS that they're done intentionally. Even the announcers say things like, "They have to foul now," when the appropriate time comes.

It is doubly painful that the failure to call Oden's foul "intentional" ultimately gave Ohio State a chance to win a game they should have lost, and they ultimately won it.

Enforcing the rule properly would have the double benefit of a) enforcing the rules in a way that makes sense, and b) discouraging activity that makes for painfully boring television.

Recruiting 101 - Part 3

Part 3 in the continuing series, continued today because I don't have much to say about the NCAA tournament action yesterday. Part 1 is here. Part 2 is here.

You've been saying that recruits sometimes commit early so that they can lock in a position, but that they can change their minds. Can a coach change his mind about a verbal commitment?

Yes. Verbal commitments are non-binding both to the player and to the school. A coach may tell a guy who is verbally committed that he is no longer welcome, for any reason. Rarely, however, will a coach revoke a scholarship offer to a committed player simply because he thinks he can get a better player. I won't say it never happens, but most respectable programs won't do this because it will negatively impact the trust factor between the coaches and the recruits.

A coach who goes around taking commitments early only to cut them loose late will soon find himself unable to get early commitments. To show an example of how far some coaches will go to honor a verbal commitment, consider the case of Delvin Breaux at LSU. Delvin Breaux is a defensive back who committed to LSU fairly early in the process, committing to join LSU's 2007 recruiting class. Then, in a game in his senior year of high school, he sustained a serious spinal injury that will keep him off of the football team for at least the next two years, and possibly longer.

LSU honored his commitment, even though no major college team would have continued recruiting him at that point. Les Miles decided, however, that because Delvin had given his promise to LSU, LSU would keep its promise to Delvin Breaux. Now, bear in mind that had Delvin stayed healthy, he could conceivably have changed his mind about going to LSU at any time before signing his Letter of Intent, and LSU had the power to back off of his commitment at any time as well, but did not, despite the fact that Delvin cannot even participate in contact practice drills until AT LEAST the 2009 season.

Do coaches ever tell a commitment to "buzz off"?

Yes. It happens. Reportedly, LSU told defensive end prospect Luther Davis to buzz off after he violated one of Les Miles' rules and reportedly lied about it to cover up his actions. Without going into excessive details, Miles has a rule that says he will not consider a player locked in and committed unless he stops visiting other schools. Until a recruit stops taking visits, Miles considers his scholarship offer to be revocable. Once the recruit stops the visits, he is locked onto the recruiting board and his scholarship will not be revoked.

Well, Luther Davis committed to LSU, then a short time later visited the University of Alabama, and constructed a fairly elaborate story to cover up that he had done this. Depending on what sources you believe, Miles either
  • told Luther Davis he wasn't welcome at LSU any longer, or
  • begged Luther Davis to re-commit to LSU.
After a little while, Davis gave his commitment to the University of Alabama. If I had been keeping this blog back when this happened, I would have had a lot to say about this situation.

A school may also back off of a recruit if his recruitment becomes an embarrassment for the program. One example from several years back is Willie Williams out of the state of Florida. I don't remember all the specifics, but I think he committed to Florida State. His recruitment was wild, and he kept an online journal to detail all the excesses of his recruiting, kind of exposing some of the ugly secrets of the recruiting business (though it was all, technically, within the rules). Then it came out that he had been in a LOT of legal trouble, and I think he got into even further trouble after his recruitment. Florida State cut him loose. I think he ended up at a junior college and then at the University of Miami, but I am writing strictly off of memory here and may have things wrong. Feel free to correct me in comments if you know better.

What about those two guys who recently committed to LSU? Spencer and Lonergan? What's the deal with them?

To be honest, I was unfamiliar with Clay Spencer before his commitment. He goes to Parkview Baptist (Darry Beckwith's alma mater) and will be a senior next year. He is a huge at 6'6" and 285 pounds and projects at offensive guard. He had flown under the radar early in this recruiting year, but Les Miles saw enough in him to want to get his commitment early in the process. Miles probably thinks Spencer is a dark horse that will start getting more attention next year, and wanted to lock him up before other SEC schools started thinking more highly of him. I think Spencer, who probably didn't expect an offer, was happy to take it.

P.J. Lonergan out of Rummel in New Orleans, had gotten a good bit of attention early in the process. Some consider him the best 2008 offensive lineman recruit in the State of Louisiana. It was expected that he would be fairly heavily recruited and could probably have gotten many offers from SEC schools or other BCS schools.

Why did he commit early? My guess is that he saw that LSU had signed nine offensive linemen in the last two recruiting classes, and saw the commitment of Clay Spencer and concluded that LSU may not be taking a lot more commitments from offensive linemen this year. With Dallas Thomas out of Baton Rouge and Daniel Campbell and J.B. Shugarts out of Texas all expressing great interest in LSU, Lonergan probably decided that if he wanted to commit to LSU, he may have needed to do it quickly.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Round 1

After criticizing Tubby Smith yesterday for not putting the ball in the hands of his best players, he went and played Joe Crawford 36 minutes, played Ramel Bradley 33 minutes, and played Randolph Morris as much as his late foul trouble would allow. The result? A big win against a team a lot of people expected to advance past Kentucky. Will he do it again against Kansas, or will he be playing Lukasz Orbzut and Perry Stevenson a combined 25 minutes and simply beg Kansas to blow him out?

Let's look at the results of our contest after round 1.

Scott: 294 points, 10 players remaining
Me: 293 points, 10 players remaining
Jason: 281 points, 7 players remaining
Poseur: 270 points, 9 players remaining
Daniel: 247 points, 6 players remaining

Those "players remaining" stats should reflect that everyone picked Kevin Durant and Acie Law, meaning those guys will have no ultimate impact on this game. Therefore, you should go ahead and subtract 2 from everybody's number.

Daniel had a tough round, and he needs his remaining players to go far in order to get back into it. In particular, he needs for Zabian Dowdell to blow up, because that's the only player he has that Jason does not.

Scott appears to be in the driver's seat at least for now. He's one point ahead of me, and we have a whopping 8 players remaining in common. The only differences are that he has Joakim Noah and Nick Fazekas of Nevada while I have Brandon Rush and Jason Dudley of Boston College. Everyone else will be a wash between me and Scott.

I thought I was sitting pretty when Illinois was beating Virginia Tech by 13. If Illinois hadn't forgotten how to play basketball, I'd be sitting with 11 player remaining, and everyone other than Scott would be down another player. It would be basically a two-man race at that point, and I'd have the upper hand by having the extra player. But alas, Virginia Tech forgot that the object of the game was to score points, and as a result Poseur is still very much in it, though he will be playing from behind.

The tourney itself has been fairly exciting despite the distinct lack of upsets. The dreaded 5-12 matchup produced exactly 0 wins for the 12 seed, and only two double-digit seeds actually won. I'm not going to do the research, but that has to be some kind of a record. Yeah, it's not as good as past years, but maybe VCU and Winthrop can make things exciting for another round or two before we get down to the very best teams.

Friday, March 16, 2007

I don't like Tubby Smith

The Duke-Virginia Commonwealth game last night reminded me why I don't like Tubby Smith. VCU plays a very high-tempo game, with end-to-end defense, transition offense, 3-pointers off the fast break and everything imaginable to turn up the pressure. Despite this high energy playing style, the coach for Virginia Commonwealth played his best player, Eric Maynor, 39 minutes. Maynor is the point guard, handling the ball on every possession and playing defense against the opponents' point guard from end to end. It's a very high energy assignment, and the coach saw no reason to take him out of the game except for a very short time. At the end of the game, Maynor had the legs to hit a game-winning 17 foot jumper.

Tubby Smith plays a slow-down, low energy style at Kentucky, yet does not have any player who averages more than 32 minutes per game. He goes VERY deep into his bench in every game, despite the fact that his best players are not (or at least should not be) tired. If Eric Maynor can play non-stop for 39 minutes playing the VCU style, Joe Crawford and Ramel Bradley can play 35 minutes per game, and 40 in big games.

VCU knows how to win a tough game. Ride your best player until he drops. Even if you are overall less talented than your opponent, you have a fighting chance if your best player is better than their best player, if you will put the game in his hands. Tubby won't ever do that, and I think it's contributed to his job being in jeopardy.

Tubby Smith has been undeniably successful throughout his career. He has made it to what amounts to almost the top of the ladder as far as college basketball head coaching jobs go. He coaches at Kentucky, the juggernaut of SEC basketball. In ten years there, he's won a national championship. He's won the conference I don't know how many times. He hasn't missed the NCAA tournament during his tenure at Kentucky. Despite all this, he may be getting fired at the end of the season.

The problem? Well, I mentioned it already. He won a national championship. He wasn't won multiple national championships. At Kentucky, I guess, success means more than one national championship in a decade. What's more, the championship came in his first year when he was coaching a very talented squad left to him by Rick Pitino, and he hasn't reached the Final Four since that year.

I'll leave it to others to decide if that record is good enough to keep the job at Kentucky. However, one thing I know for sure is that I do not want him coaching at LSU. I think he does things that make no sense to anyone who thinks about them even for a little while.

My biggest complaint about him is that he plays a very low-tempo game, slowing it down and slowing it down some more. Yet despite this slow pace to the game, he has 10 players averaging more than 7 minutes of playing time per game, and no one averages more than 32 minutes. Only two players average more than 30 minutes per game. He goes deep into his bench in every game, often having long stretches of play in which he does not have a member of his starting five on the floor.

But Richard, you ask, what is so wrong about using your bench? Nothing... if. Playing your bench a lot is a really good idea under certain conditions. If you play a high tempo, high-pressure, running type game, you need your bench. You need your bench because your best players simply cannot play long stretches all season without wearing down. (But, they can play long stretches occasionally, when you need it. See Eric Maynor.)

Think about the Arkansas Razorbacks under Nolan Richardson. 40 minutes of hell. They pressed. They played full court defense. They attacked the ball. They tried to run you out of the gym. VCU plays a lot like those Arkansas teams. They needed a deep bench, and they needed their bench to play.

Kentucky, as mentioned early, plays the exact opposite style. They slow it down. They play half court. They don't run much. They don't use a lot of energy. Their players shouldn't tire out. If your players aren't tiring out, you should play your best players all the time. These guys are 18, 19, 20, or 21 years old. They are strong and they are athletic. Your best players can play 35 minutes in a game under these conditions, 40 when you need them.

Every minute you're playing your 10th best player, is a minute you're not giving to your 9th, 8th, 7th, ..., or 1st best player. If you're playing your 10th best player in a competitive game in which your best player can still play at his highest level, you're simply not putting your best product on the floor. You're making your team less talented by not putting your most talented people on the floor. You're downgrading your own team.

Think about it this way. If Barry Bonds was healthy, and if baseball allowed free substitution, do you think the Giants would take him out of a close game and let someone else bat in his place? No. They'd be insane to do that, because they would be VOLUNTARILY not putting their best player where he can do the most good for them. I understand that in basketball, a player can rarely play an entire game and still be effective, but when a coach plays one of his best players fewer minutes than he can handle, he is doing the equivalent of allowing someone to bat in Barry Bonds' place.

Tubby does this ALL THE TIME.

The only other reason I can imagine to not play your best players as much as they can play, without tiring out, is if you don't know who your best players are. If you don't know who your best 8 players are by the time conference play rolls around, you have big problems. Incidentally, I think this is one of the problems LSU has had this year. We have had a very hard time figuring out what rotation of players gives us the best skill set available. I think we know that Big Baby and Tasmin are our two best players, but I think we have had a very difficult time figuring out who our 3rd through 8th best players are, and players keep floating in and out of that rotation with little stability.

I think there have been times in Tubby's tenure at Kentucky that his team has had the same problems, except that there have been times I don't think anyone knew who their best or second-best players were. I watch a lot of Kentucky basketball (probably more than LSU) because my wife is a fan and they come on television a lot. There have been years when I've watched probably 15 or 20 Kentucky games and I had no idea which player would get the ball in his hands if they were in a last-minute-behind-by-a-point situation.

I think part of this stems from Tubby having a very domineering personality. He is so intent on controlling his team and making sure that everyone knows that no one is bigger than the team that he does not allow the players to give the team a personality. And by "no one is bigger than the team," he means "no one is bigger than Tubby." He seems to delight in benching even his best players for making miscues or not putting forth maximum effort for a short period of time, to the point where none of his players are ever allowed to become a team leader. You can't be a team leader if your coach embarrasses you once every two or three games. I'm not saying a coach shouldn't coach, but I think the best coaches let their best players define the personality of the team, and let the team leaders lead. I don't think Tubby has it in him to let anyone other than him lead his team.

I'm not saying he's a bad coach. I think he just has weaknesses that become glaringly obvious when you watch him in action enough.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Unspoken Lesbianism in Women's Sports

Poseur will be away for a little while, but he'll be back to give us his insight after the opening rounds of the tournament. I know everyone's looking forward to seeing oodles of basketball today, but I'm going to switch gears just a bit.

With the hoopla surrounding Pokey Chatman's sudden resignation from the head coaching position of the LSU women's basketball team, I have seen numerous references to the "unspoken lesbianism" in women's sports. After doing a lot of thinking about this topic, I have come to the conclusion that it is probably better left unspoken.

Pokey's problems seem to have arisen from an affair with a player, and that's never good, but some people on the various message board have taken this as an opportunity to rail against women's athletics, and let me just say that there are a lot of utter ignoramuses out there. They say that women's athletics is a haven for lesbianism and that, therefore, women's athletics is damaging to society. There is also a lot of blaming of Title IX, which is a topic for another day.

I don't think that it's a big secret that lesbians are overrepresented in women's sports. By which I mean that there is a higher proportion of lesbians in women's athletics than in the women's population at large. Personally, I don't particularly care, and I don't think it's really anyone else's business if a particular athlete is gay. I understand that it is an important factor in team chemistry and in the culture around a team, but I don't think we should be getting regular SportsCenter updates on the sexuality of our athletes. Leave it in the locker room.

It got me thinking about the sexual politics of athletics. Just like it's not a big secret that there are a lot of lesbians in women's sports, it is also not a big secret that is a lot of hyper-masculinity in men's athletics. We know, though we don't often discuss it, that major athletics (college and pro) are filled with groupies, homophobia, promiscuity, even activities that bear a striking resemblance to prostitution. This hyper-masculinity also remains "unspoken", until of course it bubbles up into something the media can't ignore, like the Minnesota Vikings' sex boat incident, the allegations of UMass using prostitutes to recruit Marcus Camby, or the John Amaechi book.

Compared to the problems with sexuality in men's athletics, I think it's not terribly important or even interesting to learn that there are a lot of lesbians playing women's sports. In wake of Pokey Chatman's resignation, I have heard many reports that certain teams are known as "gay teams" while others are "straight teams", though no one seems to know exactly which teams are which. Allegedly, straight players are not particularly welcome on gay teams and vice-versa. I don't know if any of that is true, but I'm perfectly willing to accept that a group of 18 to 22 year olds can be particularly cliquish and intolerant of differences.

With all this in mind, I think we should just leave female athletes' sex lives alone. I also wonder why some people find this topic so very important. Yes, there are some things that are totally unacceptable, like a relationship between a coach and a current player or incidents of sexual harassment (which seems to be completely tolerated in the world of men's athletics). Beyond that, I don't see where it matters if a player is having a relationship with another player or if a coach is having a relationship with a former player, regardless of the genders involved.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


Thanks to Poseur for giving my faithful readers some excellent analysis of the tourney field. Now, it's time we get interactive. Here's the game:

1. Pick one player from one of the four teams on each seed-line. I.e., pick one player from among the four 16 seeds, one player from among the four 15 seeds, etc.

2. Do so before the first game starts.

3. Every point the players you pick scores over the course of the tournament (hint: pick players on teams you think may advance far) is a point for you as well.

4. Compare at the end. Brag or hang your head in shame.

Here's my team:

16: Trey Johnson, Jack St.
15: Calvin Watson, N. Tex.
14: Mark Zoller, Penn.
13: Jamar Wilson, Albany
12: Warren Carter, Illinois
11: BA Walker, VCU
10: Nate Funk, Creighton
9: Drew Nietzel, Mich. St.
8: Randolph Morris, Kentucky
7: Jason Dudley, BC
6: Derrick Byars, Vandy
5: Chris Lofton, Tenn.
4: Kevin Durant, UT
3: Acie Law, TAMU
2: Alondo Tucker, Wisconsin
1: Brandon Rush, Kansas

Coming soon: more actual content from me.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Bracket Breakdown: South

The Thad Five is just fun to say. Lost in the Greg Oden hype is that the other four freshmen are pretty damn good. Conley and Cook both average 10 points a game, meaning the Buckeyes didn't just get the best college center they got a backcourt. Ivan Harris is the kind of senior leader which make these freshmen classes work.

How you interpret OSU's resume says a lot about you, more than it does Ohio St. If you're a glass half-full kind of guy, only three teams beat the Buckeyes: UNC, Florida, and Wisconsin. This just in, those teams are good. Or, if you're glass half-empty kind of guy, you might point out that OSU beat Tennessee and then the Big Ten, which kind of sucks this year. You mean, Ohio St beat up on Purdue and Michigan? Color me impressed.

I think you know what kind of guy I am: the Big Ten sucks this year. The Buckeyes are really good, but they have had trouble with athletic teams who can run, which don't exist in the Midwest, but exist in this bracket. Ohio St, contrary to popular belief, beats you with its guard play, and this just in: Virginia's guards are better. Though they don't have that Oden guy.

Memphis played exactly five tourney teams this year. They lost three of them, and needed OT to beat Gonzaga. That leaves them with one really good one: Kentucky, which ain't as good as it used to be. Which is my wy of saying that I'm not sold on them. They do have some studs on the perimeter, but have problems with physical teams. And Texas A&M is about as physical as they come. Memphis can't be happy with the prospect of playing them in the state of Texas.

That's a nice homecourt advantage, but maybe not as cushy as Louisville getting A&M in Lexington. Lousiville is a hard team to beat, even harder at home. So, if Memphis is lucky, they won't even get the Aggies. Nevada's season is absolutely coming apart at the seams, which is not good news for Memphis, because that means they might get Creighton, another tough defensive team that plays incredibly physical.

Long Beach has four guys who can absolutely bomb from beyond the arc. They have almost no post game, and they are almost hopeless in a half-court game. The 49ers (Can I call them the Dirtbags? That's the baseball team's nickname) like to run to make up for their weaknesses, and they can only win if its a track meet and becomes a contest of who can hit the most shots.

Enter Tennessee. The Vols lack a post game themselves and they hate to play a half-court game. Tennessee wants to run and make it a contest of athleticism. Bruce Pearl has been trying to transform this into a defensive club comfortable with any pace, but that hasn't happened. The Vols aren't built to exploit the 49ers gaping weaknesses.

Thad Matta's old team, Xavier is a tough team, but they lack any post presence which kind of makes an upset of Ohio State unlikely. Creighton, however, are a bunch of mean bastards. If you can score 70 points, you deserve a medal. And Nate Funk is the kind of guy who can carry your offense. They might be one of the toughest outs in the tourney and seem built to beat running team like Memphis, who haven't played a good team this calendar year.

Other than that, the pickings are slim. Stanford is a weak selection, and they get Louisville in Kentucky. That's a tall order. Albany is not a real talented team, but they are gutty. Unfortunately, so is Virginia. In fact, all of the lower seeds just seem to be a worse version of the top seeds. If a bracket is going to go chalk, it could be this one.

I think you've picked up on the fact I'm not a fan of Memphis. I think they pose almost no threat to Ohio State. And OSU is a really good team and they are remarkably well-coached. Freshmen teams make me uncomfortable, but if one can make the Final Four, it's one coached by Thad Matta. I'm just not comfortable picking them. Which pretty much leaves me with Virginia and Texas A&M. Virginia has guts, but guts can't play the post. Texas A&M has guts, but they also have Acie Law, who by tournament's end, may be the Texas player everyone in the nation is talking about. He is pretty much the definition of a clutch player, and if anyone can carry his team to the Final Four in what looks to be the weakest bracket, it is Law. Besides, going back to my rationale for Wisconsin: defense doesn't go cold.

Bracket Breakdown: East

Thank God Kevin Durant turned down the Heels or else they would be even more loaded. They shoot 50% from the floor. They have six McDonald's All-Americans. Their average margin of victory is 19.7 points. They average more possessions than anyone in the nation, 2nd in assists, 2nd in rebounding, and 10th in assist to turnover ratio. But you don't need me to tell you that the Heels can ball.

So what's the problem? The team is so loaded, even Roy Williams is complaining about chemistry. It's March and he hasn't figured out his rotation yet. And while I'm not the kind of guy to really buy the whole chemistry argument, as its usually a cover to a load of BS, there may be something to it here. UNC's smallest margin of victory is five. When the game is close, the Heels lose. That could just be a function of great teams winning by blowout, but it could be a function that UNC lacks a go-to guy. And no one really believes the Heels are going to get through the bracket without playing a close game, especially with Texas and Georgetown lurking. Hell, Michigan St is a tough out lurking in the round of 32.

The dream matchup is the talented waves of blue going against Durant in the Sweet Sixteen. Texas is a one-man show (actually a two-man show with Augustin running the point). Unlike the Heels, everyone knows exactly who is getting the ball in a close game. The question is, can Texas keep it close?

Georgetown is just sitting there, lurking. Since January 13th, they have lost exactly one game. They didn't just beat up on the Big East, they killed it. They shoot just as well as Carolina (50% from the field), only they play a lot better defense. Jeff Green is also one of the official bad asses in this tourney. Sure, Durant is a better scorer, but Green is a better defender and a more polished player. OK, Durant is better, but Green might be the only player in the country who can shut him down at least a little bit.

Nothing personal to other teams in the bottom half, but it'll take the Hoyas having the off night of off nights, which doesn't seem likely, to prevent a showdown with UNC or Texas in the Elite Eight. Washington St is a nice story, but they are a tough, defense-oriented halfcourt team which Georgetown can absolutely physically dominate. You want to go halfcourt against the Hoyas? Vanderbilt can shoot the three, but they lack size and openly admit they lack athleticism to compete. Boston College isn't the same team without Sean Williams.

I'll quote coach Tim Floyd on his USC team, "We're an NIT team." How does a bubble team have essentially one good week and get a five-seed? They start a guy who skipped his senior year of high school at point. Pruitt missed a third of the year due to academic troubles and doesn't look like the same player. And guard play is a team strength. This team is beyond flawed.

Arkansas has size in spades. It's a team that uses its size to bully offenses. And considering USC big weakness is its inability rebound, Arkansas is perhaps the last team they wanted to face. The Hogs took about the whole season off, but once Stan Heath's job was on the line, they started winning. Honestly, the Hogs are the better team. The question is whether they will decide to show up. This is the best shot for a 12-seed.

Arkansas ran out of gas in the SEC tourney, but they are a strong defensive club with lots of depth. Not only can they knock off USC, but they are a threat to Texas as well, as SEC Defensive Player of the Year Steven Hill (who is 7'1") will draw the Durant assignment. George Washington is more athletic than Vanderbilt, and their zone forces tons of bad turnovers and destroys bad shooting teams. While Georgetown is a great shooting team, Washington St is not. GW is a real threat to make the Sweet 16.

Oral Roberts is an interesting upset pick. First off, they beat Kansas though they did lose to powers Tulsa and Oakland. Tutt and Green are senior studs, both of whom have scored 2000 points apiece. Tutt can drain the three and is a really good player, but Caleb Green is the real stud. He's a three-time conference player of the year, and he's a stud power forward who is 0.7 rebounds away from averaging a double-double. How often does a 14-seed have the two best players on the floor when they go up against a 3-seed? I'm guessing never.

There are three great teams in the bracket, and that means one of them gets to wait for the other two to play. That's just a massive advantage. But here's the thing: Georgetown is better than Texas and UNC anyway. They don't need the added advantage, but they got it anyway. Texas is too much of a one-man show, and they often descend into just watching Durant. Well, except for Augustin who makes plays in between boatloads of turnovers. Texas' two starting guards are both under six-feet, I'm sure that won't matter against a physical team like Georgetown. Well, if they can beat UNC, who has more talent than they know what to do with. Quite literally.

Bracket Breakdown: West

Kansas has the reputation of being tourney chokers. Considering the Jayhawks have lost their last three tourney games, the last two in the first round to double-digit seeds, it's not an unfair rep. But they also are perhaps the deepest, most talented team in the country. They return five starters from last year, and have two freshmen who each average about 10 PPG. Picking out the best player is difficult, I lean towards Brandon Rush, but can easily make a case for Julian Wright or Mario Chalmers. Kansas is loaded.

They remind me a lot of previous champs who had been underachievers before winning a title. Florida lost to a lower-seeded team in the five tourneys before their run, three in the first round and all before the Sweet Sixteen. UNC lost in the round of 32 before their title run, which was better than the two straight tourneys they had missed previously. OK, UConn didn't have that rep. But Syracuse? They were like the poster children for tourney flameouts. Same with Arizona before their run.

The point is, last year is last year. And it can even serve as a good motivator. There is nothing Kansas can't do. They have great players everywhere, and they can beat you inside or outside. Usually, both. They won 14 of their last 15 games, and nine of those were by 18 or more points. Kansas isn't just winning, they are killing teams.

The name of the game is defense. UCLA does not lose if it keeps you to under 70 points. The thing is, the same is true of Pittsburgh. I wonder why that is true. Maybe its because Ben Howland built both programs. Of course, UCLA has more talent than the Panthers, which is probably going to be problem if the two match up to face their mirror image. There is no stylistic difference between these two teams, which simply want to batter you into submission.

Duke lurks at the bottom of the bracket. And while this isn't Duke, this team is still pretty good. Only two teams have really blown out the Devils (Maryland and UNC... and boy, that was fun to type), and they have also had success playing defense. No one will confuse them with Pitt or UCLA, but Duke is a pretty good defensive squad, and if they could ever find a reliable offensive go-to guy, they could be one of the tougher outs in the tourney. Then again, Paulus is not the best ballhandler in the world, and VCU loves to press. They are vulnerable to the upset.

Virginia Tech is one of the most infuriating teams in the bracket. They start two senior guards, and Deron Washington is a third year starter as junior who has blossomed into perhaps the best player in the ACC. They play great defense, and like to apply pressure and score points in transition. The knock? This is the most erratic team in the bracket. They followed up their wins over UNC by losing to Florida St by nine and NC State by 25. They lost to Marshall. And Western Michigan. They followed up a three-game ACC win streak by dropping two games by a combined 32 points. You get the idea. The Hokies are not to be trusted.

Illinois doesn't exactly inspire fear either. Their best win is Michigan St, and they only have four wins over tourney teams (two against Indiana and Miami of Ohio). Also, they can't score. Illinois relies on, you guessed it, defense. Since February 1, they have allowed a team to crack 60 points just once (a loss to Indiana on 2/10). Frazier and Pruitt form a solid inside-outside threat, but the team lacks depth. They'll win if they keep it a halfcourt game and prevent the Hokie guards from penetrating and drawing fouls. Then again, the Hokies suck at free throws.

Gonzaga is overseeded, but they are going back to their roots. They are a double digit seed that everyone has written off. Ravio is one of the best guards in the whole tournament, and can simply will his team to victory. And they still have goofy post players who hit three pointers. And in a region full of defensive studs, VCU's full court press will stand out.

And while not seeded as an upset team, no one is really talking up the Salukis. So let me do so. Southern Illinois is another extremely tough defensive team, but they are about the only team in the top half of the bracket who can stop the Jayhawks. There isn't much depth, but Tatum and Falker make a terrific inside-out combo (it's like talking about the other Illinois, eh?). And if they can avoid foul trouble, SIU can shut down anyone. What killed them against Creighton was the quick whistle and their inability to score points in bunches once down big. They are the kind of team that could punch Kansas right in the mouth. There just aren't those kind of defenses in the Big 12.

While I worked to find a reason to pick against the Gators, I can't even find one to pick against the Jayhawks other than history. The bottom half of the bracket should be an outright war, with teams physically punishing one another night in and night out, while Kansas only has to worry about a potential matchup with Southern Illinois, who Kansas has more talent than. Kansas has to beat the play-in winner, then Kentucky or Villanova, before they have to play one of the bruising defensive squads. UCLA has the homecourt advantage the whole way through, which counts for a lot, but will they still be standing? Pitt's not an east out. Gonzaga is a threat because they can gun. And Duke is still Duke, you want to write them off? If UCLA does manage to step through the brutal bottom half of the bracket, there will be a fairly fresh Kansas team there ready to blow them out of the gym. Life isn't fair.

Bracket Breakdown: The Midwest

Yes, they return five starters from last year's title team. Yes, they can shoot lights out when they feel like it. Yes, Noah is really good. So are the other four starters. So, how do they manage to screw this up?

Firstly, the Gators turn the ball over. A lot. Everything flows through their guard play, and when Green and Humphrey have an off night, the team falls apart. That means teams, in order to pull the upset, need to pressure those guards nonstop. That means athletic guards who like to clog up those passing lanes. Gee, I wonder if any teams fit the bill... oh, look! There's Maryland! And Arizona! Both of those teams also have fairly credible frontcourts, a rarity in this bracket, dominated by backcourts. In fact, most of the teams in this bracket have downright lousy frontcourts. So ball pressure becomes even more important.

Secondly, everything went right last year. I don't see that happening again. winning the tournament requires a little luck, and getting lucky twice in a row is a tall order. Florida's due for some bad karma. And it's not like they have been dominant this season. Which leads us into the final point...

Focus. Florida has taken entire games off. Will they just turn it on for tourney? they seemed to do so for the SEC tourney, but then again, the SEC is not exactly Murderer's Row this year. There are a lot of senior-dominated teams in this region, and if Florida decides it deosn't feel like playing for ten minutes, that could be the opening teams need to beat them.

Could there be two more different teams than Oregon and Wisconsin? Wisconsin plays a frustratingly slow game. They play off those screens, use the whole shot clock, and then let Alando Tucker beat you, especially now that Brian Butch, their best post player, is out with an injury. Laying in wait is UNLV, a team with five seniors getting huge minutes. Exactly the kind of team that won't be frustrated by the most frustrating team on the planet.

Oregon, on the other hand, plays at a supersonic pace. They only have two players over 6'7" in the eight-man rotation, so they abhor halfcourt sets. And they shoot lights out. Which has to piss Notre Dame off. Notre Dame loves to push the ball and take lots of shots to make up for their undersized team. They are, fundamentally, a less talented version of Oregon. Besides, everyone and their best friend's sister is picking the Irish to lose to Winthrop, a team that might have the best frontcourt of this bracket outside of Florida.

Butler is freakishly small. They don't have a single player on the roster over 6'7". Which means they get absolutely killed on the boards. They lack speed and athleticism. AJ Graves is their best player and he doesn't even shoot 40% from the floor. Which may explain why the team ranks 192nd nationally in FG%. So what can they do? Play defense. Butler slows the game down to a painful crawl, making you earn every shot. They force you to make mistakes, while Butler makes none. They take care of the basketball and hit seemingly every free throw. They are the anti-Florida. ODU is also a tough defensive team, though they like to use their defense to set up the transition game, since their halfcourt offense isn't that stellar, and most teams just dare the Monarchs to shoot. Which means that ODU is well-built to pull upsets, just not Butler in particular. Butler won't make the careless mistakes to set up ODU's attack. This game could be the cure for insomnia.

Actually, the top teams in this bracket seem ripe for upset. Florida is talented by maddeningly unfocused, Wisconsin is lacking their post game, Oregon never had a post game to start with, Maryland relies heavily on its freshmen guards, Butler has little athleticism, and Notre Dame relies too much on shooters who cannot have a bad game. You get the point.

Arizona has a puncher's chance of beating Florida, as they are one of the most talented teams in the country, even though they have not shown it since November. Georgia Tech has Thaddeus Young, who will either take the Jackets to the Elite Eight or disappear in the first round. Davidson will usually have the best player on the court in Stephen Curry, and he can take over a game. While Miami(OH) isn't that great, they do have a great inside game, which may key an upset against Oregon though I doubt it. They'll trade threes with Miami's layups. And then there's Winthrop. A senior-dominated team which can flat out score. And, unlike Notre Dame (their first round opponent), they have a powerful inside game to go with all of those shooters. I'm wary of teams that get annointed as the upset team before they do anything, but it's easy to understand what the hype is about.

Florida is clearly the best team in this bracket, but there are some teams here that would give them fits if they manage to survive their first round landmines: Arizona has just as much talent, Maryland plays the perfect pressure to beat the Gators, and Butler and Wisconsin both would control the tempo. Hell, even UNLV would have shot given their penchant for forcing turnovers and senior lineup. I'm going to pick Wisconsin on my theory that defense doesn't go cold. And the way to beat Wisconsin is to exploit that huge hole they now have on the inside, but the only team in their half of the bracket that has a dangerous inside game is Winthrop. The Badgers should bludgeon their way to the final game against a Florida team that has survived matchup problem after matchup problem. However, given the relative strength of the 6-13 seeds, this region is one of the most likely to absolutely screw your bracket.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Brackets

Just to toot my own horn, I got 32 of 34 at-large bids right. And I got 51 of 65 of teams within one of their seed with only two embarrassing gaffes: I had Creighton as a 6, they are actually a 10. And to show I'm not totally in the tank for mid-majors, I had Butler as an 8, and they are a 5.

This will be the last post about the bracket selection, we'll start breaking down the field tomorrow. Matchups are what matters, so that'll take some time to figure out. But let's have some fun with the field itself.

Thank God UNC gets to play in Winston-Salem, huh? Texas looms as a bad ass 4-seed by the time everyone goes to East Rutherford. Georgetown also looms as an extremely bad ass 2-seed. So the Committee did the Heels absolutely no favors. I'm not a fan of Texas Tech making the field, but its understandable why they did. No one wanted the Big 12 to only get three teams in, even if Texas Tech's profile didn't quite merit inclusion.

Washington St and USC both get shipped East, but thanks to the pod system, both get to stay on the West Coast. Is there anything more ridiculous than the pod system? Why are eastern region games being played in Sacramento and Spokane (particuly since they sent Wazzu to California... if you're gonna have this ridiculous sham, at least stick to it).

Speaking of ridiculous, why is OSU the South #1 and Florida #1 in the Midwest? And could have OSU gotten a bigger gift of a draw? Virginia is a weak #4, Tennessee is a fairly weak #5. The Xavier thing is cute, though. Thad Matta gets to smack the crap out of the team he coached last.

Creighton is a 10? That's really low, though I'm not altogether sold on Nevada anyway. Louisville gets to stay in Kentucky, and if they make it to the Sweet Sixteen, A&M gets to play before a home crowd in San Antonio. I think Memphis is a reach as a 2-seed. And there is Stanford. For the record, comparing them to Drexel:

Road: 13-5 v. 5-7. AD: DREXEL
Conference: 14-6 v. 10-9. Well, consider its the CAA and the Pac-10. AD: STANFORD
Non-conference RPI: 5 v. 91. AD: DREXEL
Last 10: 7-3 v. 4-6. AD: DREXEL
vs. top 50: 3-4 v. 4-8. AD: DREXEL

Why is Drexel not in the field?

A quick dilemma: do you pick choking dog Arizona or choking dog Purdue when they play in the first round? I think Butler's getting way too much respect, and ODU is seeded a bit too low. That's how 5-12 upsets happen. But what is the point of putting mid-majors against one another? there's only six mid-major at-large teams in the field, and they are playing each other here. In fact, almost all the high seeded mid-majors are playing another mid-major (Nevada v. Creighton, SIU v. Holy Cross, and BYU v. Xavier). The beauty of tourney is David vs. Goliath. Not David vs. David.

Also, to make the top teams worried, I feel that both Notre Dame and UNLV are underseeded, which ought to make Wisconsin and Oregon very nervous. Everyone is talking up Winthrop and even Georgia Tech as potential upsets in the first round, but people should pay attention to what the 6-7 seeds will do in the second round as potential upsets if they survive the first round upsets.

Kansas got the #1, but UCLA gets Sacramento in the first rounds, and San Jose in the next two. What would you rather have? A number or cushy home sites? Yeah, same with the Bruins. Illinois looks like one of the last teams in, and I'm cool with that, but their profile was almost the same as Purdue's and they got a 9-seed. In fact, I'd argue Illinois' profile was better.

Gonzaga as a 10-seed is very cute. I guess they've earned the benefit of the doubt, huh? Duke is slightly overseeded, but nothing outrageous, and they got a tough VCU team as a bonus. And the potential of Ben Howland facing his old Pitt team is delicious.

All in all, the Committee did a bang up job in a very difficult year. I think they are dead wrong on Stanford, but its nothing to go crazy about. And there's no real whoppers out there. It's a good bracket. Time to study who is the leading shooter for Jackson St.

Bracket Guess

I'll save you the suspense and put my bracket guess at the top, with the explanation to follow. So here it is by seed, I won't bother embarrassing myself by putting them in regions:

1: UNC, Ohio St, Florida, UCLA
2: Wisconsin, Georgetown, Kansas, Pitt
3: Memphis, Texas A&M, Oregon, Texas
4: Southern Illinois, Maryland, Virginia Tech, Washington St
5: Louisville, Notre Dame, Tennessee, USC
6: UNLV, Marquette, Virginia, Creighton
7: Arizona, Nevada, Villanova, Boston College
8: Duke, Butler, Vandy, Xavier
9: BYU, Indiana, Michigan St, Kentucky
10: VCU, Georgia Tech, Arkansas, ODU
11: Winthrop, Syracuse, Illinois, Purdue
12: Drexel, Davidson, GW, Gonzaga
13: Wright St, New Mexico St, Miami(OH), Holy Cross
14: Albany, Long Beach, Penn, TAMU-CC
15: Niagra, Oral Roberts, Eastern Kentucky, Belmont
16: Central Conn St, North Texas, Weber St
16b: Jackson St, FAMU

Last 5 Out: Stanford, Kansas St, Missouri St, Texas Tech, Air Force

Some Comments On Today's Games:
- Kansas can earn a 1-seed by winning the Big 12. Wisconsin can earn a 1-seed by winning the Big 10. But it's inter-related. UNC and Ohio St are locks as 1-seeds regardless of the outcome today. Florida is a lock if they win the SEC tourney. If all three win, Kansas is the team stuck with the 2-seed. If Florida loses, it loses a 1-seed before UCLA. So it's still pretty fluid.

- If NC State wins, Drexel is out of the tourney. They are my last team in. Arkansas is in even with a loss.

- Northwestern St would save the Committee the PR disaster of a play-in game between two traditionally black colleges. The Committee has bent over backwards in previous years to prevent the all-black college play-in game, but FAMU and Jackson St are clearly the two worst teams in the tourney. Northwestern St would allow them to bump Jackson St to the 16-seed line. And Niagra would get TAMU-CC's 14-seed and North Texas would move up to the 15-seed.

All right, the bubble is ridiculously close right now. I've gone back and forth all weekend. So, let me explain my logic and I'll willingly concede I'm going to miss at least two, probably four.

Every team on the top 9 seed lines are locks, and all of the teams on the 13 seed line and below are auto qualifiers plus three 12-seeds, one 11-seed, and one 10-seed (maybe two if Arkansas wins). Add that up, and that leaves only seven at-large slots and plenty of viable candidates. Here's how I separated them, in order of how they are on my personal S-Curve

GEORGIA TECH (#52, 20-11)
The road record sucks and they were slightly below 500 in ACC play, but they finished strong and they are 8-9 vs. the RPI top 50. That's just a boatload of tough games.

ARKANSAS (#35, 21-12)
They played a tough OOC schedule, and they are finally above .500 in the SEC. Their road record is mitigated by going 6-1 on neutral courts. They are 5-4 vs. the RPI top 50 (which to me is the biggest guide, did you play good teams and did you beat them?)

OLD DOMINION (#40, 24-8)
Won the CAA regular season title. 9-1 in their last 10. Beat Georgetown in Georgetown. They have three really bad losses, but they have enough huge positives to outweigh that.

SYRACUSE (#51, 21-10)
11-7 in the Big East. I think that's what does it. The conference is brutal, and they won 11 games. The other peripherals are average at best (3-7 vs. the top 50), but you win in the Big East this year, you get in.

ILLINOIS (#29, 23-11)
No bad losses. They have a high RPI. And they scheduled a brutal OOC slate, something the Committee has long sressed. They should be rewarded for not ducking anyone.

PURDUE (#42, 21-11)
I'm actually not sold. I wouldn't put them in, but I'm hedging because so many people do. Their road record stinks, they played .500 in conference, and they are 3-6 vs. the top 50. Actually, I'm changing my mind again. I'm sticking to my guns and say they don't make it, they don't have the OOC slate that Illinois did and their win over the Illini was at home.

DREXEL (#39, 22-8)
13 road wins. I'm simply flabbergasted by that. TheCommittee tells the mid-majors to go on the road and play tough. Well, that's what Drexel did. If the Committee obeys their guidelines, Drexel's in.

Hey, I have a new team to put in Purdue's slot! Let's look at the contenders:

STANFORD (#63, 18-12)
The RPI freaks me out. 4-6 in the last 10, and the Committee loves teams they are hot. 4-8 vs. the top 50. Not enough to get in.

TEXAS TECH (#53, 21-12)
They lost by 20 with their tourney lives on the line. No real positives, but no negatives either. They are just decent on the road, in conference, out of conference, and vs. the top 50. That loss just kills me. And I still only have three Big 12 teams in, all seeded three or above.

KANSAS ST (#56, 22-11)
Play a team with a pulse. 2-6 vs. the top 50, but most importantly, their OOC schedule was a joke. Their best OOC win is USC. The second best is Tennessee Tech. That doesn't cut it. The Committee has routinely punished teams for lousy schedules. They won' buck the trend to help Bob Huggins.

MISSOURI ST (#36, 21-10)
13-7 in the Valley. 8-4 on the road. 1-7 vs. tourney teams. But that one is Wisconsin. I really want to put them in, but they really do lack marquee wins.

AIR FORCE (#30, 22-8)
They played their way out of the tourney by absolutely imploding down the stretch. they actuially have a nice profile, but they are in an absolute free fall.

FLORIDA ST (#41, 20-12)
Below 500 in conference. 4-6 in the last 10. 5-9 vs. the top 50. Does that sound like a tourney team to you?

APPALACHAIN ST (#59, 22-7)
3-2 vs. the top 50, but no games against the top 25. Nine road wins, a gaudy conference record. Didn't just lose those two games, they got crushed. Clemson beat them by 30, Virginia Tech by 32. OK, they beat VCU and Vandy narrowly. I would love to put them in, but I don't think the Committee will.

Looking at that group, I am reminded why I put Purdue in the field in the first place. Also, looking at those flawed profiles reminds me why the field does not need to expand past the current 65. The teams are tightly packed, and it really is a crapshoot right now.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

NIT Bound

I still don't know how such a talented team could have struggled so much this season. It is what it is, however, and thanks to losing to Ole Miss, the basketball team is now NIT bound. I watched last night's game on fast-forward via the magic of Tivo this morning. (If my baby is asleep at 9:00, I'm going to sleep too). My only analysis is that we shot terribly, with most of our shots falling short. That means the team didn't have the legs from playing an extended game the night before.

Maybe that travesty of a charging call really ended up mattering after all.

I actually like the NIT. Of course, it's a consolation prize, but at least it excludes the truly terrible teams. With a little rest, maybe this team will FINALLY get it together and put up a run in the NIT and, to use a phrase I think I've used before, "salvage something positive out of this season."

Anyway, I'm going to leave it at that for now. I just don't have much to say about the basketball team, and I don't want to get into other topics at the moment.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Out of the loop

I apologize for being out of the loop. Here we are, staring at a high profile LSU coach resigning suddenly amid allegations of "inappropriate conduct", and I not only say nothing about it, but I actually buried Poseur's eminently helpful post on the SEC men's basketball tournament, which also briefly touched on Pokey Chatman's resignation, through a clerical error that caused me to list a post actually posted on Wednesday to be listed as Friday, meaning posts from Thursday just lined up behind that one. You'll have to forgive me for being a little distracted, not to mention sleep-deprived.

Poseur is definitely right that we won't have any truck with potentially hurtful (not to mention potentially libelous) rumors here. She's resigned, and if you want to read the salacious rumors, there are plenty of websites around that will provide that information to you. I won't discuss it unless there is some kind of confirmation beyond "reports say...".

I'm more interested in what this means about the direction of LSU Women's Basketball. Pokey inherited a really talented team that was also in a good position to keep it going through good recruiting. The fan base was very solid. we had Final Four calibre teams and the best player in the country. Dream job? Absolutely. But before we just say that Pokey was put in a position where failure was almost impossible, realize that LSU has continued to be a power without Seimone Augustus. Pokey developed Sylvia Fowles into a dominant post player, developed Erica White into a very good point guard, and recruited the next generation of stars as well. She had a good thing going at LSU.

I made the observation recently, in response to someone who said that the LSU women's basketball program was nothing before Augustus and would return to nothing afterward, that the team was a mid-level power before Augustus and would probably be a consistent top 10 team for the foreseeable future post-Augustus. That has been borne out so far, but the key phrase in that sentence was "for the foreseeable future." No one foresaw this.

The good thing is that there is no reason to believe that the LSU program can't maintain its strength even despite this setback. Pokey reportedly received a salary of $400,000 per year. I am not that familiar with the economics of women's basketball, but I would venture a guess that $400k put her in the upper eschelon of women's basketball coaches, salary-wise. If the budget remains the same, I am sure that Skip Bertman can find a very good coach who would be willing to come in and coach the talent that will return to the team next year. Just don't blow it by hiring a dud.

Anyway, congratulations on the men's team's big win over Tennessee. I missed the end of it because I needed to sleep. I am a very bad fan. I did, however, see the highlights on SportsCenter this morning, and that offensive foul call on Garrett Temple was a complete travesty. At least it didn't end up mattering.

I think that despite the men's mediocre record, and poor performance at times, this is a team capable of putting together a run to win the tournament. This is after all a team that has beaten not one but two potential #1 seeds in TAMU and Florida. We also lost a lot of close games, suggesting that our team is more talented than our record, to be distinguished from "better" than our record. Last night, we figured out how to win a close game, and pulled the upset.

We get Ole Miss next, and despite Ole Miss's superior record, they don't exactly strike fear in my heart. If we play up to our ability, we are a better team than Ole Miss. We just haven't played up to our ability nearly enough. And of course, if we don't play up to our ability against Ole Miss, we'll lose.

At least we seem to be a sure shot to make the NIT now.