Thursday, January 27, 2011

More CBB musings...

So now that most of us are in full college hoops mode, it is time to do a little more catch-up on what teams may be sliding under the radar. We get so much Big 10/Big East/ACC/SEC games shoved down our throat during the week, it is easy to miss out on some of the mid-majors that can certainly make a splash. Butler, George Mason, Gonzaga, and others have shown that mid-majors can make deep runs in March.

Most of us are now aware of San Diego State and BYU’s outstanding start, but here is a look at some other teams that you may want to write in for a win or 2 when filling out brackets:

1) Belmont (18-4) – The notoriously bad Atlantic Sun has a team that can do some damage this year in Belmont. Coached by legend Rick Byrd, the Bruins shoot lights out and if hot, can beat a lot of teams. They played at Tennessee and lost by 1 earlier in the year, and fought Vandy hard as well, losing by 9. Amazingly, Belmont leads the A-Sun in scoring (82+) without a player averaging more than 12 ppg, and leads the A-Sun in rebounding (37+), without a player averaging more than 5.5 rpg.

2) Coastal Carolina (18-2) – This could be a team entering the tournament with an unblemished conference record. An experienced team, Coastal has solid guard play and has good wins against Charlotte and LSU.

3) Virginia Commonwealth (16-5) – VCU has played a very tough non-conference schedule, and it has paid off with an 8-1 start in the CAA. They own wins over UCLA and Wake, while playing Tennessee, Richmond, and UAB on the road down to the wire.

4) Wichita State (17-4) – Another mid-major that has played a good schedule, the Shockers had UConn beat back in November before melting down late in the 2nd half. They currently lead the almost high-major MVC and should be a major player in March.

5) Oakland (14-8) – Oakland lights it up offensively (82.6 ppg) and owns a great win over Tennessee. The Golden Grizzlies also played Illinois and Michigan State extremely well and have an RPI in the top 60.

6) St Mary’s (17-3) – The Gaels don’t have a bad loss, losing to MWC powers SDSU and BYU along with at Vanderbilt. They also blew out Texas Tech by 20, beat Mississippi State, and St Johns. With a current RPI of 40, St Mary’s has good shot at an at-large bid should they not win the WCC.

7) Utah State (18-2) – USU is on a tremendous run since losing at Georgetown on December 4th. The Aggies have started off 7-0 in conference play and put up a strong showing in a loss to BYU. A win over in-state rival Utah has also helped the resume and RPI, which stands at 41.

8) UNLV (16-5) – The Rebs have been lost in the shuffle in the MWC with BYU and SDSU getting off to such great starts. But, the Rebs have another shot at the top 2 and have a 31 RPI by beating Wisconsin, Virginia Tech, and Murray State. Look for UNLV to knock off one of the top 2 sometime the next few weeks.

As for the big boys, I was very surprised to see Pitt go down at home earlier this week. But that is the life in the Big East, which is as strong as ever. My new bandwagon team for now is Texas, as they have shown they are as talented and athletic as anyone. Their mix of experience, guard play, and athleticism has #1 seed written all over it.

Top 15 for 1/26
1. Ohio State
2. Duke
3. San Diego State
4. UConn
5. Texas
6. Pittsburgh
7. Kansas
8. Villanova
9. BYU
10. Kentucky
11. Texas A&M
12. Notre Dame
13. Missouri
14. Vanderbilt
15. Syracuse

Friday, January 14, 2011

NFL Playoffs...

I have a crazy nervous/excited feeling about Saturday night. I think the Packers are clearly the best team standing in the way of the Birds and the Super Bowl. The Bears/Seahawks winner could certainly win in the GA Dome, but the Packers scare me a lot more.

I wrote several weeks ago that the Eagles were the scariest team in the NFC, but they went in the tank in 11 of their last 12 quarters. I still think that the Falcons will win and their dominance in the GA Dome will continue and Saturday's game will result in the 1st NFC Championship game in Atlanta.

As with most years, teams that can run the ball and stop the run have advanced and are likely to advance. The Colts and Saints had their already "iffy" ground games stymied by injuries and were eliminated in the wild-card round. The Ravens shut down KC's running game, holding them to just 108 yards (41 on the Charles TD run), and it is no coincidence that when James Starks stepped up for 123 yards, the Packers were able to control the ball and beat the Eagles (1 rushing yards).

Aaron Rodgers and his arsenal of receiving weapons are definitely capable of putting up huge numbers and points, but GB ranked 24th in the league in rushing this year, and was just 18th in rushing defense. I think GB has the best D in the NFC, but like in the regular season match-up they will have to commit an extra man to contain Turner and Snelling. This should open up the passing game and I think Michael Jenkins is a guy that needs to go for 5+ catches and 65+ yards.

The Atlanta running game ranked 12th in the league and their rushing D was 10th. I don't think Starks gets over 50 yards in the game as I think the GB run game will be completely taken away. Again, it is very tough to win in the NFL, especially the playoffs, if you can't run the ball.

Before the season, I picked GB over Atlanta in the NFCCG and then had GB losing to Baltimore. However, I like the Falcons at this point at home playing GB without Ryan Grant and a consistent running game. It won't be easy and Matt Ryan has yet to win a playoff game, but I am picking the Falcons, 26-24.

Other games:

Chicago 27 - Seattle 17

Baltimore 17 - Pittsburgh 16

New England 28 - Jets 17

Thursday, January 13, 2011

NBA and College hoops thoughts...

I don't want to look anti-Auburn here, but I need their basketball team to show why college basketball these days is so unpredictable. Auburn is without question a bottom feeder in the SEC in 2010-11 and will not even sniff the NIT. They blew a 27 point 1st half lead to Georgia Southern, lost to UNCA/Campbell/Samford to start the year, and trailed 9-7 LSU 32-6 at halftime in a home game last weekend. Their 2 best wins are Florida State and....Arkansas Pine-Bluff?? Hard to find another quasi-quality win on the schedule.

Point is, Florida State knocked off previously unbeaten and defending champs Duke last night. How in the world does Duke lose to a team that Auburn beat by 5? Crazy result, but Duke always seems to struggle in Tallahassee.

As more people turn their focus to college basketball this week, here are 5 things to know about the season so far.

1) The Big East has 7 lock NCAA tournament teams right now (Marq, Cincy, UConn, Cuse, Pitt, Nova, and ND. And, they could easily get in Louisville, Georgetown, and West Virginia for a total of 10. Best far.

2) The Mountain West Conference is worth paying attention to. Jimmer Fredette is on fire this year, averaging more than 26 points per game, and BYU has beaten Arizona, USF, St Mary's, @Creighton, and @UNLV. San Diego is one of 4 remaining unbeaten teams and could be a #2 seed in the tournament.

3) Ohio State, while not too deep and without a true point guard, has all the ingredients of a championship team. They play remarkable defense while shooting over 50% from the floor and score over 80 points per game.

4) Current un-ranked teams that are top 25 teams in the country - Florida, Michigan State, Baylor, and Oklahoma State

5) Team getting too much hype? Kansas - no wins over current top 25 teams and near losses to un-ranked USC, UCLA, and Michigan.

Team not getting enough hype? Pitt - probably due to their consistent early exits in March, many are hesitant to get on the Pitt bandwagon. They are amazingly efficient on offense, deep, athletic, and share the ball (1st in the nation in assists). Just look at their wins: Texas, UConn, Marquette, @G'town, and Maryland.

And, here are 5 of the best games already been played that you probably missed.

1) UConn 82 Texas 81 - Texas went up 9 in the 1st half only to fall behind by 7 with 5 minutes to go. The Horns force OT, but lose on Kemba Walker's 15 footer with 4 seconds left.

2) UCF 57 Florida 54 - UCF led for most of this one and then went on to beat Miami to state their claim as the best team in Florida

3) UAB 100 UTEP 97 (3 OT's) - If there is 1 thing you need to know about UAB, it is don't turn off any of their games at halftime. Their 2nd half prowess this year has been remarkable. In the 2nd half this year, they have outscored Troy 47-28, UGA 32-23, UTEP 33-26, GW 41-22, VCU 47-32, USA 46-25, and so on. They are also 2-0 in OT. The 3 OT win over UTEP was an unreal start to the C-USA schedule.

4) Oakland 89 Tennessee 82 - Oakland (MI) knocked off UT shortly after UT beat Pitt and Nova (still the only loss for both to date). UT has been very inconsistent this year but has a ton of players and has hosted many illegal Bar-B-Q's.

5) Texas A&M 63 Washington 62 - David Loubeau blocked an Isiah Thomas lay-up as time expired to ensure the victory for the Aggies. A very well played game on both ends and possibly a match up of conference champions.

More NCAA hoops stuff to come in the next few weeks, including a bubble watch and must-see games.

As for the NBA, I have just one thought in relation to the Hawks. Will they stand pat with the group they have and lose in round 2 in 4-5 games or make a move to give them a chance? The Magic made drastic moves to try and keep pace with the Miami Super Friends, and the Hawks need to do the same.

Steve Nash can be had. Phoenix also has veterans that would fit in well with the Hawks (Grant Hill/Channing Frye). Lets get Crawford/Teague/Marvin/2 1sts and make a run at Nash and a veteran. It's the only way this group stands a chance in the playoffs the next few seasons. You have Nash for a year and a half and let him run the show.

If you can't get Nash, try for Billups or Calderon. Something needs to be done. Crawford would be a big loss, but he isn't re-signing. You think the Magic, Celtics, or Lebron and company would fear this team in Round 2?


ESPN Trade Machine says a Nash/Hill/Frye for Crawford/Teague/Williams/2 1sts increases the Hawks win total by 14.

What would you do? Anyone out there worth making a run? Joe is un-trade able, but would moving Josh make the team better?

Thoughts are welcome...

CFB season comes to an end...

Well, the 2010 college football season came to an end Monday as Wes Byrum kicked the game winning field goal as time expired and Auburn defeated Oregon 22-19. A truly magical season for the Tigers as they followed Alabama's unbeaten season with their own national championship led by the Heisman winner. What the future will bring for a program that has spent more time on probation than every school outside of SMU and Arizona State should be very interesting.

Looking at Auburn football and their troubled past is even more interesting than their 2010 Cam Newton saga-filled season. What is intriguing is when they have gone on probation for violating NCAA rules.

1) 1957-1958 - Assistant coaches caught paying recruits that resulted in several years of no bowl games and other penalties. Not coincidentally, 1957 is the other year besides 2010 that Auburn "claims" a National Championship.

2) 1979 - One year after Alabama wins the National title, Auburn is once again caught giving improper benefits to players and is slapped with more sanctions including no TV or bowl games for 2 years.

3) 1993 - Again, one year after Alabama wins the National title, the Pat Dye tapes come out and more proof is once again found by the NCAA that Auburn is paying players. Auburn goes on to finish unbeaten in 1993 but does not get a chance to win the National title due to their probation.

4) 2010 - Again, one year after Alabama wins the National title, paying players and improper actions are again being reported. What comes of this is yet to be seen (the NCAA is still interviewing builders and boosters and the FBI is still investigating).

Hopefully, the Auburn title in 2010 is legitimate. It would be a disgrace to college football and the SEC if Auburn acted as it has so often in their troubled past. Other programs in the SEC have had troubles as well, but not so much in the last 20 years.

Lets just hope SMU and ASU remain the only schools to go on probation 8 times and the trend of violations immediately following Bama titles ends in 2011...

Sunday, January 9, 2011

NCAA Musings...

It’s about time I throw something out there to stir the pot a bit…The topic for today? The NCAA and their poor handling of student-athletes and their eligibility this season.

To begin, the NCAA should have set a precedent that it does not tolerate parents or people associated with high school athletes soliciting money from schools. By allowing Cam Newton to remain eligible, it has set the precedent that any family member/friend/associate can ask school after school for money and just wait on one to bite. If they get caught, just tell the NCAA that the kid did not know about it and there is a clear precedent.

Most of us know NCAA By-Law 12.3.3 now that does not allow, “Individuals or entities to represent a prospective student-athlete for compensation to a school for an athletic scholarship.” If this relationship is shown, then a player-agent affiliation is present and the player is immediately ineligible to participate in games.

But, the NCAA chose to look for a loophole in the rule and “interpret” the rule in another way. Just like when it comes to suspensions, often times the ruling does not match previous interpretations or rulings.
Another NCAA bylaw, - Preferential Treatment, Benefits or Services, is what has put Alabama’s Marcell Dareus, Georgia’s AJ Green, MTSU’s Dwight Dasher, and Ohio State’s Terrell Pryor and company’s eligibility into question.

This rule, known as the preferential treatment rule, states that players cannot receive “Preferential treatment, benefits or services because of the individual’s athletics reputation or skill or pay-back potential as a professional athlete, unless such treatment, benefits or services are specifically permitted under NCAA legislation.” This bylaw does not affect eligibility if the benefit is $100 or less, but eligibility loss can increase as the dollar amount received is increased.
So, let’s look at what these players received:

Dareus - $1,787 from a known agent in airfare, hotel accommodations, food (2 Games)
Green - $1,000 from an online bidder (who the NCAA later considered an agent) for a jersey (4 games)
Dasher - $1,500 from an 80 year old man in a VA hospital to cover a gambling debt (4 games)
Pryor - $2,500 for selling 2008 Big Ten championship ring, 2009 Fiesta Bowl sportsmanship award, and 2008 Gold Pants (5 games)
Herron - $2,300 for selling jersey, pants and shoes

These instances all involved the players in question becoming ineligible immediately, except the Ohio State players. Although the violation was the same, the timing of the penalty was different for them.

Dareus originally received a 4 game suspension, but it was later reduced to 2 games after appeal. Dasher and Green also appealed but did not get a reduction from the original 4 game suspension.

So, who benefited the most out of these rulings? The NCAA, because they will receive maximum viewership in the National Championship game with Newton eligible, maximum viewership in the Sugar Bowl with Pryor and company eligible, and the defending champs got their stud DE back for the Arkansas/Florida games so the marquee name in the sport coming into the 2010 season would have the best chance to repeat and bring in fans.

Doesn’t it seem wrong that the body ruling on rules interpretations has a vested interest in what the penalties do the institutions/bowl games/ratings/etc? I think so.

The NCAA has publically stated that they do not have a vested interest because they do not get any money from the bowls. I say nonsense…they get money from TV contracts that become more valuable when ratings are up, thus the players that should have been at home watching with you and me are now able to participate.

So what should have happened? I think the NCAA should have read its rule book and enforced the penalties that its rule book deemed necessary for the penalties the kids mentioned above.
1) The Marcel Dareus suspension should have been kept at 4 games, or the Dasher/Green suspensions should have been similarly reduced.

2) Cam Newton should have been ruled ineligible once the NCAA found out his father asked for money from Mississippi State. How they found a way to say there was a loophole in that rule is beyond me…Someone solicited money for a player in exchange for a signature – ineligible. Pretty clear to me.
3) Ohio State players should have been suspended starting with the Sugar Bowl and then the 1st 4 games next year. The increase in money received by Pryor/Herron warrants the extra game that Dareus/Green/Dasher did not receive.

What actually happened/is going to happen?

1) Dareus had the suspension reduced and Green and Dasher are left scratching their heads.
2) Newton is deemed eligible because he claims he did not know anything about the situation with his Dad and MSU (even though according to the rule book that doesn’t matter).
3) Ohio State players were able to play in the Sugar Bowl, get another ring they can sell, and the NCAA will reduce their penalty to 4 games before the start of the 2011 season so another one of their marquee teams still has the best chance possible to run the table.

I think a lot of this could be fixed with the simple addition of a rule that allows to sell items that are given to them as gifts or rewards. They earned these things and should be allowed to do as they wish with them. That would save the NCAA tons of time and money in investigations and could open up more opportunities to work on finding a way to institute some sort of playoff...