Wednesday, February 23, 2011

College Hoops Update

It’s March next week, so let’s take a look at the 2 most popular topics in College Hoops this time of year: Number 1 seeds and bubble teams.

The #1 seeds are not as clear cut as they have been in the past. Kansas, with their #1 RPI should be a lock, even if they slip up at Mizzou and don’t win the Big 12 tournament. Ohio State finishes with 3 of their last 4 at home and could seal a #1 seed by avenging their loss to Wisconsin on March 6th.

If Duke doesn’t slip up again, or if their only loss is @ UNC should be in line for the 3rd #1 seed. After that, Pitt and Texas are in a battle to gain the final #1 seed. If Pitt wins their last 4 (vs WV/Nova and @ USF/L’Ville, they will have a pretty strong case. If they lose 1, but win the Big East tournament, they have just as strong a case. Texas has a good chance to finish strong as well, but Iowa St/Colorado/Baylor all having an RPI outside of the top 75 will damage their rating a bit. A Big 12 tournament win should give Texas a #1 seed.

As for bubble teams, it is a bit different this year with 68 bids. There are teams out there like Baylor (RPI of 79, UAB (19-7, but without a top 50 RPI win), Colorado State (17-8 with a 47 RPI), and Richmond (21-7 with their only top 50 win being against Purdue) that would not even be mentioned in previous years.

I think there are several teams that have come up with big wins lately and are breathing easier right now like Georgia, Kansas State, Utah State, and Cincinnati. But, several other teams need a big win the next 2 weeks to solidify their bid:

1) Michigan State (14-11) RPI 43: Must beat Purdue at home and either at Michigan or Minnesota to finish 17-12 (10-8) and feel comfortable

2) Gonzaga/Saint Mary’s – If the winner of their matchup Thursday then loses in the conference final in a 3rd meeting, both have a chance. But, the loser of the game this week will certainly have to win the conference tournament to get in.

3) Colonial Conference: George Mason is in as of now, and in easily, but VCU and ODU have at-large aspirations as well. VCU has been struggling, but won at Wichita Friday and has wins over UCLA and ODU. ODU has an excellent shot at an at-large with wins over Xavier, Dayton, George Mason, and VCU.

4) Florida State – The ACC has to get more than 2 bids, right? At 9-3 in the ACC, but playing now without best player Chris Singleton, the Seminoles really need to win 3 of their last 4, especially the home game vs UNC. Their top 50 wins are Duke (#6) and BC (#45) and they desperately need the quality win over UNC (#11) to impress the panel.

5) Minnesota – The Gophers look solid right now with wins over UNC, WVU, and Purdue, but after losing 4 of 5 they need to finish strong. Winning their last 3 home games vs MSU, Michigan, and Penn State will put them in easily.

6) Butler – Butler is very intriguing with an RPI of 49 and wins over Florida State and Cleveland State. Their case is hurt by recent losses to Youngstown St (RPI #273) and Wisconsin-Milwaukee (#107). The Horizon could have been a 2 bid league if Cleveland State had beaten ODU this past weekend, but now it looks like Butler/Cleveland State will need to win the conference tourney to feel comfortable at all.

7) Boston College – I think Boston College is in big trouble. They are only 6-10 versus the RPI top 100, and 2 of the wins are against #93 Maryland. Their #45 RPI is based a lot on their tough schedule, and the Texas A&M win is pretty solid. I think they need to win their last 2 home games (Miami/Wake) and win at least 1 of their 2 remaining road games (UVA/VT) plus win at least 1 ACC tourney game to have a shot.

8) Memphis/UTEP/Southern Miss/UAB – I think that C-USA can get 2 bids at most this year. There is no way all 4 of these teams get in, as all have bad losses and their only quality wins are against each other. Whoever finishes strong and plays well in the conference tourney will get the spots.

9) Marquette – Needs more quality wins (Cuse, WVU, ND) because they beat no one out of conference.

Projections as of 2/22

1) Ohio State, Pitt, Kansas, Duke
2) San Diego State, Texas, Georgetown, Purdue
3) BYU, Georgetown, Wisconsin, Florida
4) Notre Dame, Kentucky, UNC, Arizona
5) St. Johns, Vanderbilt, UConn, Xavier
6) Louisville, Villanova, Missouri, George Mason
7) Syracuse, Missouri West Virginia, UCLA
8) Temple, Washington, Texas A&M, Illinois
9) Tennessee, UNLV, Kansas St, Cincinnati
10) Georgia, Utah St, Old Dominion, Alabama
11) Minnesota, Memphis, Butler, Gonzaga
12) Boston College/UAB, Florida State/Colorado St, Cleveland State, St Mary’s
13) Missouri State, Coastal Carolina, Charleston, Oakland
14) Harvard, Fairfield, Bucknell, Belmont
15) Long Beach State, Long Island, Miami (OH), Vermont
16) Montana, Morehead State, FAU/Bethune-Cookman, McNeese St/Texas Southern

The importance of Al Horford

The value Al Horford has to the Atlanta Hawks cannot be overstated. While Josh Smith has remarkable athleticism, shot blocking ability, and scoring ability and Joe Johnson is the so-called #1 option, Al Horford is the Hawks MVP.

It is no coincidence that the 2 most embarrassing losses on the season (100-59 loss to NO and 117-83 loss to PHI) came in games where Al did not suit up. He is a leader on the court, is the only player on the team that winning seems like it means a lot to him, and he can score when given opportunities.

For the year, Al is averaging 16 points, 10 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block per game. That puts Al 6th in the league in rebounding, but only 47th in scoring; the latter number needs to go up dramatically, and soon. This can be done by simply giving Al more chances to score in the half–court set. This team settles for too many jumpers and dribble drives when Big Al has either a miss-match or good position on his defender.

A player with a 57% field goal percentage needs more than 12.2 shots per game. The players just above Al in rebounds per game have the following shots per game averages for the season:

Player PPG RPG Shots PG
K.Love 21.1 15.5 14.6
D.Howard 22.8 13.8 13.8
Z.Randolph 20.0 13.1 16.5
B.Griffin 22.9 12.5 17.0
P.Gasol 18.7 10.4 13.6

That is over 2 shots per game for all of the above players, except Gasol, who is the only guy on the list (including Horford) with a player on his team that has more than 16.5 shots per game (Bryant, 19.5).

The point is, Al needs more attention. He is not a physical specimen like D3, a long-range threat like Love, or a freak athlete like Griffin, but he is a very capable scorer that needs to push his ppg up in the high teens-low 20’s like the above players. This season, Al has played in 10 games where he has attempted fewer than 10 shots. Although the team is 5-5 in those games, 3 of the 5 were road games against the NBA’s elite (LAL, BOS, DAL). Those are the playoff-type games that Al needs to see more of the ball. The other 2 losses were against Milwaukee, where Al was not in foul trouble and went 12-15 combined from the field.

He may be playing out of position as a center, but he is a 2-time All-Star when playing that position. Lets feed him the rock a little more and see if that helps open up the offense. And getting a point guard by the deadline wouldn’t hurt either…

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Moving on...

Well, it's time to move on from the NFL season and re-group. I took the Falcons loss pretty hard, and it has been tough to discuss or watch anything NFL related since. I think there are some things the team can do this off-season that would give the team another chance at making a strong run in 2011. Here are the needs in no particular order:

1) Offensive Tackle
2) Running Back
3) Slot Receiver
4) Linebacker
5) Defensive End
6) Corner

I believe the most pressing need is at defensive end. Biermann is serviceable and makes plays and Abe can still be good, but more is needed here. Chauncey Davis is fine as a back-up, but someone needs to come in and make a difference as a consistent pass rusher. This will help the secondary, which can get better, but certainly was not the sole reason behind the GB loss. Shaun Ellis, Charles Johnson, and others are free agents, but a guy like Cameron Heyward from OSU is also intriguing in the draft. Look at what Julius Peppers did for the Bears defense this season, a solid pass rush covers up other weaknesses.

Once this piece is added, depth at linebacker and corner can be met through free agency and the draft. Thomas Dimitroff has brought in a big-name free agent every off-season, and if he uses that strategy again and brings in another offensive piece, I could see it being RB or WR.

Michael Turner is likely coming up on his last season as a guy that can handle 300+ carries. He simply takes too big of a pounding each week. Snelling is a fine 3rd stringer, but the team needs a back-up guy that has some big-play ability, quickness, and good pass receiving skills. If the team goes free agency, Darren Sproles could be a fit. As for slot receiver, Santana Moss needs a job and if the price is right, that could be another offensive fit for the birds.

It is tough to think positively immediately after the crushing loss against the Packers. However, they had a rare combination of a hot QB and a stiff defense-good things are still in the Falcons future.

The Falcons have a really good nucleus and now are on 3 winning seasons in a row. Winning seasons and division titles certainly made the Braves significant in the 90's, but as anyone today will tell you, world titles are what matters. At this point, I can't see Art Blank failing on his goal to bring Atlanta a Lombari trophy...