Saturday, April 19, 2014

Just another BRICK in the wall


I have to wonder if while writing the lyrics for the Pink Floyd mega classic "Another Brick in the wall" they had to be watching their favorite basketball player clang free throw after free throw after free throw. 

Obviously this is really not the case but when I am clutching my hands together during crunch time of a basketball game and player after player can't hit a 15 foot free throw it is nauseating.  I mean 15 feet and there is not one sole in front of you.   

I have been watching basketball for almost my entire life and have found the art of shooting free throws to be the most confusing aspect of the game.

Wrapping your mind around why a player can't hit at a high percentage a wide open uncontested glorified jump shot is mind blowing. 

After watching Game one of Clippers and Warriors the end of the game was disgusting if you are an instructor of shooting free throws.  In the last 30 seconds of the game there were 6 free throws attempted and guess how many were made.

Here is a is the loneliest number!

That is right!  ONE!

It was horrifying that these multimillionaire professional basketball players can't even make a free throw.  One of the unfortunate bricklayers was none other than Chris Paul.  Shooting his foul shots he looked more like Cliff Paul. 


Games are won and lost on the free throw line.  Good teams can become great teams just by sinking free throws. 

This was never more evident during this past NCAA tournament.  The UConn men's team was deadly from the foul line as Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright sank not only foul shots at an alarming rate but their opponents hearts as well.  I wish I would have counted the number of times the announcers said if they had a late lead it would be hard to beat them as they are so good from the free throw line. 

In the championship game they missed, oh wait, they didn't miss any free throws.  Yes they were 100% on the night they needed to be great.  Kentucky was not so fortunate on the charity stripe.  They were 13/24 for 54%. 

In a game with a winning margin of 6 points if they make even three more then it is a one possession game and Kentucky had shown during their march to the Final Four they were lucky as hell in those situations. 
Even when they played Wisconsin they were able to capitalize on the only missed free throw the Badgers had to hit a game winning three.  Wisconsin goes 19/20 and it wasn't enough as Traevon Jackson's miss proved the difference in ultimately losing.

Missed free throws will kill you in this game.  They seem so simple and yet they are obviously so hard.

Coaches will tell you it is all repetition.  Do the same thing over and over and over.  Practice makes perfect.  For those of you out there who were coached by Jack Cowgill he would stress BEEF.  No not "Where's the Beef?" but B.E.E.F., Balance, Elbow, Extension, and Follow through. 

The visualization of putting the ball just over the front of the rim.  The psychological aspect to the free throw.

This is where the money players rise and the others fall.

The best free throw shooter by percentage in the NBA this year was New Orleans' Brian Roberts at 94%.  He missed 8 free throws all year.

The worst free throw shooter by percentage in the NBA this year was Detroit's Andre Drummand at 42%.  He missed 191.

courtesy blacksportsonlinecom

It is not shocking to be able to guess what positions these two players are.  Roberts being a point guard and Drummand a center. 

If you are going to have the ball in your hands as a point guard directing your team and making plays you better be able to put the ball in the basket during winning time.

The top ten best free throw shooters this year in the NBA were all guards except two of them.  The two who cracked the top ten future hall of fame players in PF Dirk Nowitzki and SF Kevin Durant.  The rest were point/shooting guards. 

Conversely the ten bottom feeders were dominated by centers and power forwards.  With one shooting guard, Tony Wroten Philadelphia 76ers who were historically bad this year, and one small forward, Josh Smith of Detroit Pistons fame who along with Mr. Drummond should have opened a masonry company with all the bricks they laid this year. 

Between the two of them they missed 332 foul shots. 

Seeing these stats must make old timer Rick Barry pull out what hair he has left on his head!  Do you remember Rick Barry?   Are you sure you remember Rick Barry?

Well let me refresh your memory.  He was the super accurate free throw shooter who just so happened to shoot his free throws underhanded.  Some might call it "granny style".  He didn't care what his shot looked like he just wanted to make it. 


And make them he did.  To the point of being elected to the Hall of Fame.  When  he retired his 90% career free-throw percentage was the best in NBA history. In 1978-79, he missed only 9 free-throw attempts the entire year.  He had 8 years of being the free throw percentage champion during the 1970's.

I like to use Rick Barry as my example when ever discussing free throws for two reasons.  One, he was 90% in his career.  Two, he shot them the way he did, underhanded. 

The amount of players who struggle so mightily at the line couldn't do any worse than to at least try this style of shot.  The problem with today's athlete is that this "style" wouldn't hold street cred with their homies or would make them less of a player. 

Who gives a chiz.  If it really came down to shooting a foul shot successfully like Rick Barry or shooting a foul shot like Shaq, career 53%, then who would you rather choose?

Hell teams used to "Hack a Shaq" for a reason.  They felt it was better to constantly foul him each time down the floor and take the percentage of him missing almost half the shots.  Getting 2pts compared to Shaq's 1pt sounded pretty good to just about every team in the league.


I don't know where the solution is but maybe some of these bottom feeding bricklayers should get a new style to their game.  If they want the reward they have to put in the time to either change or get better.

Like Pink Floyd said, "If you don't eat yer meat, you can't have any pudding."

Rick Barry had his pudding and it was served "granny style".

Monday, March 31, 2014

MLB 2014 Predictions


The season has begun and already my Chicago Cubs are in last place.  A walk off homer to open things up against the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Ouch!

I know, I know, wait till next year. 

That phrase will be used by plenty of Cubs fans everywhere this year.  The rest of the league, as I see it, will go as follows.

I am shaking my Magic 8 Ball and let the prognostications begin!

American League

East                             Wins  -  Losses
Tampa Bay Rays*      -    95          67
Boston Red Sox^       -    94          68
Baltimore Orioles       -    88          74
New York Yankees   -    87          75
Toronto Blue Jays      -    76          86

Central                        Wins  -   Losses
Kansas City Royals* -    90          72
Detroit Tigers^          -    89          73
Cleveland Indians      -    82          80
Chicago White Sox   -    64          98
Minnesota  Twins      -    60        102

West                           Wins   -  Losses
LA Angels*              -   91           71
Oakland Athletics     -   88           74
Texas Rangers          -   83           79
Seattle Mariners       -   71            91
Houston Astros        -   59          103

National League

East                             Wins   -   Losses
Washington Nationals*- 92           70
Atlanta Braves^          -  90           72
Philadelphia Phillies     -  82           80
Miami Marlins            -  74            88
New York Mets         -  69           93

Central                         Wins   -   Losses
St. Louis Cardinals*   -  94           68
Pittsburgh Pirates^     -  91            71
Cincinnati Reds          -  83            79
Chicago Cubs            -  70            92
Milwaukee Brewers   -  69            93

West                            Wins   -   Losses
LA Dodgers*             - 100          62
San Fransisco Giants  -   85          77
Arizona Diamondbacks- 82          80
San Diego Padres       -  70          92
Colorado Rockies       -  67         95

American League MVP - Mike Trout, LA Angels

National League MVP - Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals

American League Cy Young - David Price, Tampa Bay Rays

National League Cy Young - Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals

American League Playoffs

Wild Card Playoff Game
Detroit Tigers v Boston Red Sox

Detroit Tigers v Tampa Bay Rays
Kansas City Royals v LA Angels

LA Angels v Tampa Bay Rays

National League Playoffs

Wild Card Playoff Game
Atlanta Braves v Pittsburgh Pirates

Pittsburgh Pirates v LA Dodgers
Washington Nationals v St. Louis Cardinals

St. Louis Cardinals v LA Dodgers

Tampa Bay Rays v St. Louis Cardinals

St. Louis Cardinals

World Series MVP
Jhonny Peralta, St. Louis Cardinals

I will check back in October to see how accurate I am.

By the Magic 8 Ball never lets me down.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Make A Difference


I was planning on writing something in regards to the NCAA tournament and how amazing the first four days were.  I was going to couple that with some witty comments about a player or team and follow that up with my predictions on how the rest of the tournament might play out. 

That was the plan.

As we all know plans change. 

The reason plans change in our life are wide ranging.  It could be as simple as you have a flat tire on your car or as major as an emergency in your family. 

The latter of the two examples is where I changed my plans.

I was planning on checking my email like I do everyday.  I opened up the account and before I was to put in my password I came across the picture of Jim Kelly and his daughter.  He was lying in a hospital bed and she was clutching his arm lovingly. 

It hit me like a ton of bricks. 

As an emotional guy I am not afraid to say it brought a tear to my eye. 

As a father of two children it spoke to me of what is really important in life.  It isn't sports.  It is family.  It also reminded me that even though we put our sports heroes on a pedestal they are just as human as the rest of us.  They are not superheros.  They are people.  They are people with real lives.  They are people with kids.

Jim Kelly is battling cancer.  Jim Kelly is preparing for surgery.  This is as serious as it gets. 

He was a Hall of Fame quarterback that led the Buffalo Bills to four straight Super Bowls.  An amazing feat for an amazing person.  Although they lost those games and it was hard on him he got through it.  He will need to channel that bility to overcome and then some in his upcoming days. 

During his playing days he was used to being in control of his team and able to orchestrate their offense with ease. 

On the field he was in control of his own destiny. 

In life he is not.  He, like millions of families, is suffering from something he has no control of.   

He, and his family, are putting their faith and trust in the medical professionals to make him better.  Just as his teammates trusted him to make their team better. 

He has a great battle ahead of him. 

This will be nothing like trying to dodge a Lawrence Taylor pass rush or keeping his passes out of the sticky fingers of Deion Sanders. 

It is real life. 

We as fans and he as a player have used sports to keep our minds off of real life.  We use sports to escape the trials and tribulations we all go through on a daily basis.  We hope just for a few hours our minds can be shut off and just experience sports for the fun and excitement they bring. 

Mr. Kelly, and his family, are now needing to rely on the support from his fans and prayers from his fans to lift him up. 

He was there for you on Sundays to give you an outlet to blow off steam and escape your daily life. 

He now needs you to be there for him and his family. 

Like I stated before sports is great and I love it.  But I love my family more.  When I saw that picture it made me want to spend more time with my family.  It made me want to not get so frustrated when they leave the house a mess or don't put their dishes away. 

It also makes me want to do something to help others. 

We as humans need to look in the mirror and think what it is we can do to make the world a better place. 

There is enough sadness and heartache going on right now in the world from the missing Flight 370 to the mudslide in Washington. 

In Michael Jackson's song "Man in the Mirror" it said "I'm gonna make a change for once in my life, It's gonna feel real good, gonna make a difference, gonna make it right...If you wanna make the world a better place take a look at yourself and then make a change." 

Strong message. 

When you do things for others it does feel good.  It warms your heart. 

What I ask of you is to don't take sports so seriously.  Don't take life for granted.

Take a look at Jim and his daughter in that picture and think what would I do in this situation or what have I done in this situation.  I know what I am going to do.   

I am going to hug my family and go out and try to make a difference. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

March Madness 2014 The Holiday Road

"This is no longer a vacation.  It's a quest.  It's a quest for fun." - Clark Griswold, Vacation.

This is a perfect quote to describe this time of year.  March Madness is not only a quest for fun but a quest for a championship. 

The journey starts Tuesday night and the trip is a long and winding roller coaster of emotion a la "The Screemy Meemy".  Clark Griswold would agree that loading up the Wagon Queen Family Truckster on a trip cross country to Wally World isn't as exciting as three weeks of March Madness. 

It is unlike any other spectacle not even the worlds largest ball of mud can top it which you know is only a few short hours away. 

So the selections are made and we now set our GPS coordinates for Bracket World.  That wonderful amusement park where 68 teams all want to be.  Where you have to "watch those freeways" as you make your way from round to round.  Where each team hopes to take that last exit into the Final Four and possibly cut down the nets.

Are you ready for the thrill of your life?

Well, buckle up, get comfortable, and strap Aunt Edna down tight because this is going to be one hell of a ride!

I will again traverse through each region and list my power conference player to watch, mid major player to watch, a sleeper or slipper pick, potential upset special, my sweet sixteen, my elite eight, and my final four pick.

I will continue with this format and also add a little bit more for some interesting facts about each region.  Those fun tidbits like best player name but I will pick new names and retire those like UCLA's Sooren Derboghosian and Creighton's Mogboluwaga Oginni.  

And away we go!


Power Conference Player to Watch:  Andrew Wiggins, Kansas Jayhawks.

I usually have you track a player from the team I feel will make it through the region but this guys talent is off the charts good.  I also feel the reason you want to watch this kid play is two fold.  One he is an amazing talent and two he is going to be gone from college basketball after this tournament is over.  The days of superior talent staying on campus for their four years are long gone.  He is a one and done guaranteed.  He has silky smooth moves and an ability to fill up the stat sheet to the maximum.  Bill Self will rely heavily on his talent if they are to be able to last into the latter part of the tournament.  A key for this team since star center Joel Embiid is unhealthy in the middle of that paint.   

Mid Major Player to Watch:  David Brown, Western Michigan Broncos

What can Brown do for you?  He can pour in the points with the best of them.  The pride of Roscoe, IL is the leading scorer on this dangerous team out of the MAC.  He averages 19.4pts and is coming of a 32 point outburst in their conference championship game.  He never met a shot he didn't like.

The "Dirk Diggler Those are Great Names" Best Player Name in Bracket:  Wanaah Bail, UCLA Bruins.

The 6'9'' FR forward doesn't see much action on the court but roots his team on from the bench.  I am sure he and his teammates will attest they don't "wanna bail" out of this tournament too soon.  The way they are playing lately they just might stick around. 

Hey, Aren't you...?  Danny Manning, Head Coach, Tulsa Golden Hurricane

Yes, he is THAT Danny Manning.  The former NBA superstar and Kansas Jayhawk is now at the helm of the Tulsa Golden Hurricane.  He was an assistant coach under Bill Self at Kansas and is now directing his own group of student athletes.  He is hoping to hearken back to 1988 and his Danny and the Miracles run that he orchestrated to the national title.  Time will tell but the way this season has gone you can't rule any team out. 

Slipper Pick:  Stephen F. Ausin Lumberjacks

The champions from the Southland conference have won 28 games in a row and are riding an air of confidence that goes a long way in March.  They have balanced scoring led by guard Desmond Heymon and forward Jacob Parker.  The team is full of veteran leadership and they won't be rattled by the stage they will be on.     

Potential Upset Special:  #14 Western Michigan over #3 Syracuse

The latter portion of Syracuse's schedule they have been mediocre at best.  They flirted with losses while starting the season 25-0 and finally their luck ran out.  They are talented but in their last they are 2-5 and squeaked by three other games by a total of 5 points.  I would steer clear of the that Syracuse Orange Kool-Aid. 

Sweet Sixteen:  #1 Florida v. #4 UCLA , #6 Ohio State v. #2 Kansas

Elite Eight:  #1 Florida v. #6 Ohio State

Final Four:  #1 Florida


Power Conference Player to Watch:  Gary Harris, Jr., Michigan State Spartans

This do-everything guard has the highest ceiling of any player on the Spartans depth chart.  The NBA scouts are salivating on this kids decision at the end of the tournament as well.  They are finally healthy and have all their pieces back to where everyone thought they would be at the beginning of the season.  Harris will create havoc on defense and will attack the basket on offense.  Teams can try and stifle his game but good luck with that. 
Mid Major Player to Watch:  Devon Saddler, Davon Usher, and Jarvis Threatt, Delaware Fightin Blue Hens

I usually only pick one player to point out from a small school who is taking on the big boys but this team has a three headed monster that fuels their fire.  These three amigos average 19.7, 19.4, and 18.1 respectfully.  They like to push the ball and score in bunches.  Michigan State will have a battle on their hands but Tom Izzo is one to the best coaches during March Madness tournament time. 

The "Dirk Diggler Those are Great Names" Best Player Name in Bracket: Hippolyte Tsafack, Memphis Tigers

He isn't an active player, as he is redshirting, but he and the Tigers are Hungry, Hungry, Hungry for a long march run through this tournament. 
Hey, Aren't you...?  Fred Hoiberg, Head Coach, Iowa State Cyclones.

The "mayor" of Ames, IA he has rebuilt this team into one of the best teams in the country.  He, as a former Cyclone, has made it his mission to bring credibility and talent back to their campus.  He has former NBA experience as a player with the Chicago Bulls, amongst others, and has brought an air of professionalism to this team.  He has his team playing amazing basketball fresh off a Big 12 tournament championship.

Sleeper Pick:  #7 Connecticut Huskies

It is hard to grasp the concept that UCONN could be a sleeper but just look at their seeding and they are listed as a 7 seed.  They have one of the best players in the country in Shabazz Napier and he can single handily carry a team to a couple wins in this tournament.  The school has plenty of successful history in this tournament with a recent national championship by another talented Huskie, Kemba Walker.  I wouldn't be surprised to see UCONN playing on the second weekend.

Potential Upset Special:  #12 Harvard over # 5 Cincinnati

The brains versus the brawn.  I thought thats what Survivor was touting this season?  The Crimson are a senior laden team with a win in last seasons tournament to use as reference material.  They study hard and play even harder.  Their coach, Tommy Amaker, has made the Ivy League a true basketball threat.  This league has pulled its share of shockers in the past so if Harvard can calculate the proper algorithms then they could be moving on.

Sweet Sixteen:  #1 Virginia v. #4 Michigan State, #3 Iowa State v. #7 Connecticut

Elite Eight:  #4 Michigan State v. #3 Iowa State

Final Four:  #4 Michigan State



Power Conference Player to Watch:  Doug McDermott, Creighton Blue Jays

What a difference a year makes.  For the past three seasons he has been the best Mid Major player out there.  Now with the teams jump to the Big East he didn't disappoint.  He only ran away with, for my money, the national player of the year award.  Known as "Dougie McBuckets" he has once again led his Dad's club in scoring at 26.9pts per game and also grabs 7.0 rebounds per contest.  He has added to his game and is a threat to score from anywhere on the floor.  He shoots over 50% from the field and 45% from three.  He reminds me of Wally Szcerbiack who led Miami, OH to a Sweet Sixteen or Seth Curry who led Davidson to the Elite Eight.  One man shows that can score once they enter the gym.  If Dougie can stay fresh he and the rest of his Blue Jays could be heading to Anaheim, CA and the Elite Eight. 

Mid Major Player to Watch:  Xavier Thames, San Diego State Aztecs

The heart and soul to Steve Fisher's 29-4 club, Xavier, has his hands on the ball both offensively and defensively.  He averages nearly 2 steals a game which in a close game can mean winning and losing if you can create possessions for your team.  He isn't all that shabby scoring the basketball either.  He averages 16.8pts and if the game is close he will be at the free throw line to ice it with an 83% free throw touch.  This team is dangerous with a true road win against Kansas earlier in the season and virtually no one wins at "The Phog".

The "Dirk Diggler Those Are Great Names" Best Player Name in Bracket:  Yilret Yiljep, American Eagles

Y did I pick this guy?  Y not?  The little used Nigerian has logged 10.5 minutes this season and hasn't played since January.  He might be hurt or just not seeing action.  Either way he will be better off as this game should be a real Yawner. 

Hey, Aren't you...?  David Stockton, Gonzaga Bulldogs

The son of NBA Hall of Famer, John Stockton, he is doing his dad's legacy proud by leading his team in assists at 4.2.  The apple doesn't fall far from the tree when it comes to dishing out assists.  He sees the floor well and directs their offense like the veteran player he is.  This senior guard will hope to continue the run of tournaments Gonzaga has been to and try and once again wear that Cinderella slipper.  They ran into a "shockingly" good Wichita State team last year to end their Final Four hopes in the third round.  If they can get past Marcus Smart and OK. State who knows maybe they ruin Arizona's chances this year.  They have seemed to be better suited as underdogs than favorites.

Sleeper Pick:  #9 Oklahoma State

The Cowboys are a team that has experienced their share of ups and downs this past season.  They were a preseason favorite for many to push Kansas in the Big 12.  They have one of the best players in the country in guard Marcus Smart.  The uber talented Smart was a household name when he was suspended for three games after pushing a fan in the stands.  They went through some real soul searching and in the process lost game after game.  When he came back it was business as usual.  He led the team back to consideration for the NCAA tournament and are hot at the right time.  Believe me Arizona fans were not happy to see the Cowboys on their side of the bracket. 

Potential Upset Special:  #11 Nebraska over #6 Baylor

Coach Miles is a program builder and does so in quick fashion.  He lead Colorado State to the tournament before he took the job at Nebraska.  Formerly a football school he is trying hard to make Lincoln a basketball school.  They have a super player in Terran Pettaway and his 18.1pts per game helped Nebraska reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1998.  Baylor has plenty of talent as well but they tend to be up and down.  They started strong and faltered then have come back with a strong finish.  I just feel like they are due for a dud and what better team to oblige them than a Big Ten bunch.

Sweet Sixteen:  #1 Arizona v. #4 San Diego State, #3 Crieghton v. #2 Wisconsin

Elite Eight:  #1 Arizona v. #3 Creighton 

Final Four:  #1 Arizona


Power Conference Player to Watch:  Jabari Parker, Duke Blue Devils

The national freshman of the year has produced from the get go.  He is the pride of Simeon High School out of Chicago and has made that school proud.  He is one of the best college players to come around in some time.  He too will be a one and done player and make someone, maybe the tanking 76ers, a very happy franchise.  He has the size, strength, and agility to make all defenses crazy.  He can step out and stroke the three ball or bang inside with his wide frame.  Duke will lean heavily on this Windy City product as they roam out on the perimeter for open trifectas. 

Mid Major Player to Watch:  Langston Hall, Mercer Bears

This 6'4'' senior guard leads his team onto the court and not only is their primary scorer but most importantly he gets others involved with the best of them.  He averages 5.6 assists per game and his court vision allows him to find his teammates and whip the ball through the slimmest of openings.  He will need to bring his A game as the Duke Blue Devils are their opening round opponent.  Duke has past trouble with talented lead guards and the Bears will hope that trend continues.

The "Dirk Diggler Those are Great Names: Best Player Name in Bracket:  Indiana Faithfull, Wofford Terriers

This is my favorite name in the field.  It sounds like when you watch Cops and the perp gives a fake name.  The cop looks puzzled and he knows it can't be right but you sort of hope that it is.  Well in this case he is the real deal.  He comes from Australia and his parents must have wanted him to have a more American name and what better name than a state in middle America. 

Hey, Aren't you...?  Mike Davis, Head Coach, Texas Southern

Speaking of Indiana.  Yes, this is the same Mike Davis who coached Indiana University to the national championship game after Bobby Knight's departure.  He has now taken 3 teams to the NCAA tournament the other being UAB.  He has had a long and winding career and has shown an ability to get the most out of his players.  The stage was too big at Indiana and the sustainability of success at UAB was a long shot but being at Texas Southern has turned out to be a nice fit.  They will play in a first round match up against Cal Poly.  Win that and they will take on Wichita State.  Ouch!

Sleeper Pick:  #12 North Carolina State Wolfpack

The Wolfpack have been mentioned by media types as a surprise addition to this tournament.  They were obviously one of the last teams in with the first round match up again Xavier as the two #12 seeds.  They have been given reason after reason for them to not be in the tournament.  That is exactly what teams like this need to show why they belong.  We have seen the past few years teams on the first day VCU and LaSalle win and win after this start.  They have the ACC player of the year on their team in T.J. Warren and he is one of the best scorers in the country.  This says a great deal about his talent with a conference full of stars and good teams.  If you have a player of his caliber you always have a shot to move on in tournament play.

Potential Upset Special:  #11 Iowa over #11 Tennessee then over #6 UMASS

The Hawkeyes have been one of the most disappointing teams in the last few weeks of the season.  They have done nothing against Big Ten competition but give up on defense and lose games.  I think this team needs a shot in the arm and that remedy just might be teams from another conference.  They were very successful early in the year and after losing 6 of 7 no one is expecting them to advance.  Fran McCaffery is a great motivator and maybe he will fire up this stagnant bunch and have them ready.

Sweet Sixteen:  #1 Wichita State v. #4 Louisville , #3 Duke v. #2 Michigan

Elite Eight:  #1 Wichita State v. #3 Duke

Final Four:  #1 Wichita State


#1 Florida v. #4 Michigan State

#1 Arizona v. #1 Wichita State

National Championship Game:  #4 Michigan State v. #1 Wichita State

National Champion:  #4 Michigan State


The irony of this championship match up is that the last time an undefeated team out of the Missouri Valley Conference had to battle with the Michigan State Spartans.  That was 1979 and Magic and Larry were the focus of that epic night.  This wouldn't pit talents like those all time greats but it would put together one of the best examples of a team as has been seen since I think 2005 Illinois.  Wichita State has gone wire to wire and would be sitting 39-0 and facing history and perfection. 

In their way Tom Izzo's Michigan State Spartans and their finally health group of superior talent.  Wichita State was on the cusp of the final night last year when they lost a double digit lead against eventual champ Louisville and will want to finish the job this time.  As much as I like Wichita State and the team concept they play with it has to come to an end sometime and I just feel it will unfortunately end on championship Monday. 

As all others that have tried to finish a season undefeated it will be a close one but after the dust settles ultimately Michigan State will cut down the nets and give Tom Izzo his second national title. 

Then it will be time to clean and repair America's favorite family fun park!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

I've Got Your Back...Way Back

When I was younger one of my favorite activities was playing a Nintendo game called Tecmo Super Bowl. Now it is ok the feeling you are having right now is just that spark of nostalgia. It was the early 90's and my friends and I would play that game for days on end. I mean daaaaaaaays on end. You would play it at home hour after hour and like most games you would get really good at it and need to changes things to make it more challenging.

One of the ways I would give myself a different experience was to replace all the starting quarterbacks with back-up quarterbacks. For example, I would bench Troy Aikman in place of Babe Laufenburg. Or I would bench Joe Montana for Steve Young. Or I would bench Warren Moon for Cody Carlson.

At this point you get the idea.

The changes made would give me a much harder road to hoe in order to win games and ultimately win the Super Bowl. The differences for each back-up quarterback was extremely visible. Their ability to scramble and be fleet of foot was much slower. The zip on their passes were "lobbed" more than like a frozen rope.

The defenses were able to react quicker and the likelihood of throwing a touchdown was less and the likelihood of throwing an interception was much greater.

It made playing the game harder and much more stressful. It changed the entire ability of what you were used to and made you adjust to their strengths. Some teams had other skill players to compensate for this weakness and others didn't.

It was not much different than what is going on in the NFL right now.

I am not sure what team, you the reader, are a fan of but chances are you have sat through either a half, full game, or stretch of games with your starting quarterback holding the clipboard while the back up took the snaps on the field.

The problem with this is there really is only a few "elite" level quarterbacks in the league right now.

You can count them easily and they are Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, and Ben Rothlisberger. There are large group of good quarterbacks such as Philip Rivers, Joe Flacco, Andrew Luck, Matthew Stafford, Jay Cutler, Cam Newton, Russell Westbrook, Matt Ryan, Tony Romo, and Eli Manning.

The rest of the bunch are a group of quarterbacks that you can win with or lose badly with. Some of them you probably couldn't pick out of a line up. The Tecmo Super Bowl game had naming issue with some quarterbacks to not use their names such as QB Bills, QB Eagles, and QB Browns.

There are some teams that might as well use this same terminology to describe their QB. Because you might ask someone who is quarterbacking the Oakland Raiders these days and they would probably say, "I don't know somebody named McLovin?"

He is not "McLovin".

He is Matt McGloin!

Unfortunately not much different in their ability. He is just lucky he plays for a terrible Raidaz team and is able to see the field.

There is a plethora of below level talent that is roaming the sidelines these days which is an even bigger endorsement for how bad of a QB Tim Tebow was. Did anyone watch the Packers vs. Lions match up Thanksgiving Day? The Packers offense is abysmal without Aaron Rodgers. What patchwork/smoke and mirrors they have gotten away with by having an elite QB running the show.

With Aaron Rodgers out they have gone through Seneca Wallace, Scott Tolzien, and now bringing back Matt Flynn.

Yes that Matt Flynn. The Matt Flynn that cashed in on his couple game success a few years ago and Seattle thought he was the next coming of Aaron Rodgers and paid him bank.

Teams need to stop evaluating back-up quarterbacks by a couple of games of experience and remember what they were doing all the other weeks that made them not good enough to take the job outright without an injury to the starter.

It is nice to have a back-up that is capable of weathering the storm and then when the starter is fully healthy give the reigns back and let him do his thing.

The Chicago Bears are having that experience right now. Josh McCown is handling the situation very well and has stated to everyone he can come in contact with he is the back-up and Jay is the starter. He knows his role.

When there starts to be confusion with the starter and back-up or even in some cases the back-up's back-up then you ave what everyone seems to want a good old fashioned quarterback controversy. This does nothing but destroy teams and sends them quickly to "on the clock" status for the next NFL Draft.

This is a quarterbacks league.

There is a direct correlation between having an elite/good quarterback and having success in the NFL. If you look at the teams vying for playoff spots and that have a realistic chance to win a Super Bowl this season in the AFC they are as follows: New England Patriots (Tom Brady), Denver Broncos (Peyton Manning), Indianapolis Colts (Andrew Luck), Kansas City Chiefs (Alex Smith), and Cincinnati Bengals (Andy Dalton). In the NFC it goes as follows: Seattle Seahawks (Russell Wilson), New Orleans Saints (Drew Brees), Carolina Panthers (Cam Newton), Dallas Cowboys (Tony Romo), and Detroit Lions (Matthew Stafford).

The teams listed above have a select group of elite QB's and the rest are all good to very serviceable. If you have a quarterback that has elite to good ability then you will put yourself in position to have a very successful season and potentially win the Super Bowl.

Teams don't want to be in the discussion for WHO is going to be our quarterback. They all want to have someone in place with ability and confidence to lead their team to the promised land.

If they don't they all hope to have a back-up in place that can manage the game and not send them and their season spiraling out of control.

This was evident last season as the Washington Redskins did this when they drafted Robert Griffin III. That very same year they drafted Kirk Cousins as their back-up. They liked them both and felt they needed an upgrade at the quarterback position not only at starter but at back-up. It paid off as RGIII was injured during last season and Cousins managed the team in his stint and they ultimately made the playoffs.

So as I am writing this I am watching the Baltimore Ravens play the Pittsburgh Steelers. Flacco is leading the Ravens and Rothlisberger is leading the Steelers. The game is entertaining and business as usual but in the back of my mind I still think of my days playing Tecmo and what it would be like with the back-ups playing instead.

Imagine for a second if it was Baltimore led by Tyrod Taylor and Pittsburgh led by Bruce Gradkowski.

Doesn't sound as good in real life now does it?

So the next time your quarterback goes back to pass just pray he gets it off successfully and doesn't pull a hammy or get concussed by the defense because the alternative is a much lesser product than the original.

Teams have back-up plans for when things go south but unfortunately for some teams that plan doesn't bring them back from the dead it usually leaves them way back of the pack.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

What Does A Fan Say?


If you havn't been fortunate enough to hear the viral video and song of "What does the Fox Say?" by Ylvis.   Just take a few minutes out of your day and Youtube it sometime. 

Spoiler is supremely annoying.

Which brings me to this point. 

What does a fan say? 

In particular to when his favorite team is punked on national signing day.  Let me give you a hint. 

It starts with a d and rhymes with ram.

The past week Illini Nation took one on the chin with the announcement of Cliff Alexander and Quentin Snider ultimately choosing to continue their "education" elsewhere in 2014.

This happens year in and year out with schools and recruits.  Commitments and decommitments.  It just becomes commonplace for teenage athletes to try and make decisions that impact their lives forever without hurting someone in the process. 

It just sucks when it happens to involve the team for which your loyalties lie. 

The day started off like any other when the sun came up.  Illini fans everywhere were preparing for a celebration of the hard work John Groce has put in during the short time he has been on campus.  His time has been short but his efforts have been mighty. 

He and his staff worked the state of Illinois and city of Chicago diligently and respectfully.  They were classy in their approach to the kids they were recruiting.  They were building relationships that seemed to be genuine from all parties involved.

Then the first bomb dropped. 


Quentin Snider has recommitted to Illinois and has chosen to sign with Louisville. 

Damn #1.

The point guard of our future was giving us a sequel to the "Eric Gordon" fiasco.  At first I was upset and angry.  After an hour of fuming with other fans I took a step back and thought about being in his shoes.  He was from Louisville and had committed there initially and was committed for a few years until they had another point guard commit. 

He felt jilted and wanted to look elsewhere.  He decommitted and looked at his options outside of Louisville, Kentucky.  He decided upon Illinois and everything seemed headed in the right direction for him and Illini faithful. 

This changed when the point guard who committed then changed his mind and decommitted and opened his recruitment up.  Are you sensing a pattern here?

Teenage kids make decisions at times that make you scratch your head and then you remember what you were like as a kid and it becomes crystal clear. 

Snider loves where he is from and wanted to represent his state.  I can't fault him for that.  It is the same situation the University of Illinois wants for the players here.  We want our best players to stay home.  Represent their state.  Have a sense of pride for where you come from.  Not take your talents to another state and institution. 

I have to give Quentin credit for doing what he felt was right.  At least he did it now and not half way through next season if he was unhappy.  If her truly didn't want to be an Illini then better to say goodbye now rather than later.  

At the end of the day he didn't want to be at Illinois and Coach Groce has been very clear he wants good people and players that want to be at the University of Illinois. 

This brings me to Damn #2. 

The day had gone from culmination of hard work and reaping the rewards to a potential disaster if and only if Cliff would decide to sign with someone other than Illinois. 


That scenario became a reality when in front of a national television audience on ESPNU Cliff picked up that Illinois hat, then oh wait, I mean then picked up the Kansas hat and the proverbial shit hit the fan. 

I have a great deal of respect for Cliff and his talents.  He is a monster player and will be a high lottery pick in the NBA draft someday.  What I hope for him is during his year in college I hope he takes an ethics class and learns what is right and what is wrong.  I again go back to the fact he and his entourage thought this was a funny way to make the television experience better.  It is the Twitter and Facebook universe and these kids don't think before they act. 

Once you make a decision and put yourself out there it is out there forever.  There are no "do-overs" in life.  Eminem said it best, "You only get one shot do not miss your chance to blow because opportunity comes once in lifetime."

The battles in recruiting are as stressful on a coaching staff than anything they will do in their professional life.  It single handily gets coaches hired and fired for their ability to build relationships with teenage phenoms and their representatives.  The amount of time and effort put in on each and every player is mind boggling.

The lack of respect given to all the other coaches and institutions of higher learning by Cliff Alexander and this stunt by faking to pick up one hat for the other was asinine.  It was a low class move towards others and the feeling was felt throughout the Illinois Fighting Illini faithful.

Don't get me wrong here.  I am not a hypocrite.  Had Cliff chose Illinois and done that to another school I would have felt the same way.  I would have been elated he chose Illinois and thought of better times watching my favorite team but still you don't disrespect others on national TV like that. 

You certainly don't do it you your home state and where you come from.  You have to come back home eventually and his will only be after one year of college.

This is the hardest part for me to understand.  I guess that is just the "Chicago way". 

Coach Groce, as he has always been, handled the situation with class.  His press conference was inspiring and made Illini fans feel proud to be affiliated with this team and coaching staff.  He emphasized the additions made and not the subtractions from what was once considered a top 14 recruiting class.


Leron Black & Michael Finke. 

The 2014 Illini recruiting class.  We look forward to seeing these fine young men represent the Fighting Illini in the future. 

I wrote before that the train is coming.  This is still true.  There are just a few stops and starts along the way. 

So the question posed earlier was "What does a Fan say?"

They say, "I am proud to be an Illini fan and I will follow my team through thick and thin."

Yeah, that sounds pretty good to me.