Monday, February 25, 2013

Pollsters Just Don't Understand


I think the Fresh Prince said it best, "So to you all the kids all across the land.  Take it from me, Pollsters just don't understand!

Ok, I know he said parents don't understand but for this case I am creating it definitely works.

The college basketball regular season is winding down and the all mighty March Madness is creeping closer and closer.  The season has produced a great deal of really good teams and some pretty good teams but no real dominate team. 

This should make for a very interesting NCAA Tournament. 

This afternoon the AP Top 25 was released to some expected results and some very unexpected results.

The number one team in the country is again the Indiana Hoosiers.  Which by all accounts has proven itself to be worthy of this lofty spot in the college basketball world.  The certainly pass the eye test.  Those in charge of putting the mighty Hoosiers atop the rankings certainly understand the talent in Bloomington, IN. 

After the Hoosiers it gets very fuzzy instantly for me as the Gonzaga Bulldogs are ranked #2.  I get it they are currently sitting with a gaudy 27-2 record and have been easily handling teams in their conference.  But I also remember what happened to them at the Kennel in December against a certain team  that starts with a C and ends with hampaign.   

The Zags #1?  Not so fast my friend.

That middle of the road Big Ten Illini squad handled them by double digits and made them look slow and less athletic than what the Illini can put on the floor.  I have been critical of the Illini talent wise but I also know who is more athletic, long, and lean.  I watched Brandon Paul look like an All-American and make litttle David Stockon and Kevin Pangos look like kids playing a man's game.  These are lasting memories of a team everyone wants to be good and never delivers in March.

They have beaten teams this year from power conferences who just happen to be in down years.  West Virginia is horrible.  Clemson is horrible.  They beat Kansas State and Oklahoma out of a very weak Big 12.  They also lost to a good Butler team, on a tremendous steal and shot sequence, but Butler was without their best shooter/scorer in Rontei Clark.

I think everyone year in and year out gets so enamored with Gonzaga and the is-this-the-year they finally break through and reach the Final Four.  They are like the Chicago Cubs of college basketball.  Wait till next year.

They were much better that first run with Dan Monson in and under the radar that they were using the chip on their shoulder and taking out Goliaths.  Now they are expected to produce and it never happens. 

I really hope they end up a number one seed in the NCAA tournament and with their track record we might finally see a number one go down to 16 seed.  How awesome would that be?

In a power conference I see Gonzaga as a bubble team looking for quality wins against their conference.  Put them in the Big Ten and I see them fighting Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, etc...for seeding, in the Big Ten tournament. 

These polls are such a joke and those voting on teams are not taking the job seriously.

Gonzaga is just one example in this mess of a system.  The other is at the end of the poll. 

When I read the top 25 I thought man Louisiana State is in the top 25??? 

Then I realized it was Louisiana Tech!

LA Tech!?!  Seriously? 

This isn't women's basketball from the early 90's or last seasons football team.  It also isn't Karl Malone, right, posterizing opponents on their roster.  Ok great, they have an impressive 24-3 record.  But they haven't beaten anyone.  And they lost to the likes of Northwestern State, and McNeese State.  Unbelievable! 

That is Top 25 quality?  Man, if they had ACTUALLY put Louisiana State in the Top 25 it would have made more sense since they at least HAVE beaten Northwestern State and McNeese State.  And play better competition in conference. 

The conclusion:  Voters are idiots!

The ranking process is so stupid and ridiculous and it really is just for the fans.  It really has no bearing on NCAA tournament inclusion nor should it.

Take Illinois for instance, they are truly a pretty good team and have shown an ability to beat quality competition and they, in the early year, were ranked.  Now they are just getting votes and they are basically the same team.

If the rankings and those putting their Top 25 ballots out there would do some research, watch the teams play, and actually rank teams for how good they are now and not for what their record is currently, it would be a much better measurable tool.

Rather than just move a team into the rankings because they haven't lost in their conference to inferior competition.  How about looking at teams as a whole and compare and contrast.  Use the eye test. 

Do they look like a Top 25 team?  Also another pet peeve of mine is this scenario. 

Hypothetically, if #1 Indiana beats #17 Wisconsin then why in the next poll does Wisconsin fall even further down the poll when they lost to what the pollsters feel is a better team and the number one team at that?

  I can see a pollster, like Jeff Spicoli, answering that logic right now with a resounding, "I don't know?"   

Head scratcher for sure. 

These teams who have played a good nonconference schedule and are currently playing a murder's row of conference opponents are worthy of inclusion more than a team like Louisiana Tech who just is better than the rest of the WAC conference aren't they? 

It makes sense to me.  Again it doesn't mean anything in the grand scheme of college basketball.

What it does mean, though, is that you are now on ESPN Sportscenter and your highlights are being shown nightly.  It is something that can help in recruiting by selling your product as a Top 25 team.

Coaches use what ever form of marketing they can for their program.  It just seems to me we owe everyone out there a much better representation of what the "top" of the college basketball world is.  We are intelligent people and the pollsters need to show their intelligence more too.

Until something is done to correct this issue...

There's no need to argue, pollsters just don't understand.


Monday, February 11, 2013

Raise Your Hand...

Indiana v Illinois
courtesy Getty Images

For those of you out there who remember old commercial jingles I give you this one that fits the Illini basketball team currently.

"Confidence!  Confidence!  Dry and secure!  Raise your hand, Raise your hand if your Sure!"

And the Illini are pretty darn sure of themselves right now.

This past week has potentially changed and saved the season the John Groce's first team at Illinois.  They have knocked off the #1 team in the country Indiana and now went on the road and beat #18 Minnesota in The Barn.  What a difference a week can make.

The Illini were sitting at 2-7 in the B1G Ten and were on the verge of looking NIT and not the NCAA's.  They were very eratic in their play and not hitting shots.  They were coming off yet another disappointing loss and showing against a very disciplined Wisconsin Bagders club in Champaign.

Then the hated Hoosiers came to town.  It looked like the downward spiral the Illini had been experiencing would continue until the shots started falling.

It seems simple to say but when the Illini make shots they have shown the tendency to play with and beat good competition.  Their mental makeup has been put into question and their ability to handle adversity.

The confidence to keep taking shots and believe you are going to make them even when you are in a horrible 0-22 slump from three-point-land like Tyler Griffey, pictured above on his teammates shoulders.  He had been nonexistent in the previous handful of games and when in the game had been hesitant to take shots.

Early in the year he was just catching and shooting.  Split second reaction.  Instinctive. 

Then the misses piled up and so his confidence faded.  But all it took was for one shot to fall against Indiana and maybe, just maybe, it is contagious.

Hey, Mr. D.J.  Raise your hands!
Tyler has caught the bug and it seems he has passed it along to D.J. Richardson.  The two of them have blossomed after that last few minutes against Indiana.  D.J. caught fire and a nuclear amount of confidence by making an 8 point stretch of shots to pull Illinois tied and then ultimately set the stage for Tyler's ultra easy game winner. 

This oozing of confidence can be seen on their faces.  They are playing like they did early in the year.  I have been critical of the talent on the roster due to the recruiting efforts before Groce landed on campus.  I still feel this way.  However, if your confidence is high then it makes your talents that much better.  Keep the mind out of the gutter, so to speak, and just play hoops.

The effort against Minnesota looked bleak early but they stayed the course.  Illinois couldn't buy a basket and they weathered that storm.  Groce has a tremendously positive attitude and shows love for the kids he coaches.  They are playing for each other and if you stay together the better off you will be when times are hard.

They had the confidence in their ability to stay within the system and fight through poor shooting to take a lead before halftime due to great defense and D.J. hitting a three point shot in the heart of Gopher fans.

Onions, baby!

They used that confidence and momentum into halftime and parlayed that into yet another upset and on the road no less with big shots from guys like Sam McLuarin and that dagger by Tracy Abrams.  Two guys that have struggled and yet felt confident in themselves to take threes and make them.     

This is still the same team that lost eight of eleven games but they finally started hitting some shots.  They need to continue this new found confidence and take care of business at home Wednesday against a Purdue team they have struggled to beat for years. 

No contest in Champaign should be as tough as the one they thwarted in dramatic fashion against Indiana.  If the Illini can continue upward on this roller coaster of a season they just might find themselves dancing in March. 

The depth of the B1G Ten this season should allow the Illini with the quality of their nonconference wins (at Gonzaga, Butler in Maui) and the quality wins they have accumulated in conference play (Indiana, Ohio State, at Minnesota) and it will probably take no less than 8 conference wins to secure a spot in the Big Dance. 

They have "winnable" games upcoming, if they stay confident and make shots, with the likes of Purdue, at Northwestern, Penn State, Nebraska, and potentially at Iowa.  That would put Illinois with the "losses" left on their schedule at Michigan, and at Ohio State.

Illinois could finish at the good end 9-9 and at the bad end of 8-10.  The power this conference has produced, like I mentioned before, gives a league team under .500 a good shot at securing a berth. 

The bottom line is the confidence picked up after winning games against Indiana and Minnesota can either gain momentum like a boulder rolling down a hill or can sink like the Titanic if they let it.   

It depends on how Coach Groce keeps this teams head held high and motivates them to stay humble and hungry. 

Raise your hand, Raise your hand if your Sure...

Right now the whole Illini team has raised their hand!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Chopped...Super Bowl Edition

courtesy of

For those of you who have ever watched the Food Network program Chopped you will know the contestants must use strange and unorthodox ingredients to prepare restaurant quality dishes. 

They have high pressure timed rounds and they go through three levels of courses. 

Appetizer.  Entree.  Dessert. 

This is not unlike the different levels of the NFL Playoffs and the course of the game the teams must go through to reach their ultimate goal.

Each one of the teams representing their respective leagues, Baltimore and San Fran, have used some strange and unorthodox methods to go through their levels of play.  Like Baltimore amazingly scoring the game tying touchdown with 31 seconds left  in regulation against Denver or San Francisco benching their starting quarterback after injury in favor of an inexperienced athlete named Colin Kaepernick to run the show.
No matter what road you traverse anyone who reaches the Super Bowl belongs to be there.   

It was way back on August 23rd when I gave my predictions on how this year would go in the NFL.  I made a few bold predictions, some went wrong, and if you haven't noticed I was pretty accurate on one tiny tidbit.

Baltimore versus San Francisco in the the Super Bowl. 

Please, please, enough with the applause.  It is just what I do.

I have to believe this Super Bowl will be one for the ages due in part by the off-into-the-sunset story of Ray Lewis and the historical value of brothers John and Jim Harbaugh coaching against one another.  It sets up to be a classic.

I chose the Ravens to be this years champion and I am not changing my pick at this time either.  I felt in the beginning of the year, after last years all-to-close AFC loss, they had their eye on the prize and that Joe Flacco would silence his critics.

Flacco has the Ravens flying high this postseason.
He has shown through the season to be solid once again in all facets of the game.  He is never going to be mistaken for Tom Brady or Peyton Manning but he knows who he is.  He is confident in his abilities and super confident in his abilities in the playoffs.
Flacco (5) has increased his quarterback rating (QBR) from 87.7 in the regular season to a playoff best 114.7.  He has out dueled Manning and Brady this playoffs and should feel very good about how he has gone about doing it.  He has thrown 8 tds and thrown no picks.  Turnovers are the name of the game in this business.

And he has been as secure as Fort Knox in that department. 

He and his main man RB Ray Rice are doing a good job keeping the ball in their hands and not in the opponents hands.  Rice leads all running backs in rushing yards during the playoffs (247) and this is key when winning games in the postseason.  You need to be able to run the ball and eat clock.

Ray Lewis is pure emotion on and off the field.
You can't overlook the experience factor the Ravens have also.  This team is riding the Ray Lewis retirement train and it is on a crash course with destiny.  Lewis is arguably the greatest middle linebacker in NFL history.  He is unquestioned when it comes to motivating his teammates and maximizing their potential.  He missed a huge chunk of this season with a Triceps injury and the team struggled a bit until he returned. 

He just makes a difference not only on the field, with fellow future Hall of Famer Ed Reed, but off the field as well.  I just don't see him being denied that storybook ending to his career by a kid who has started only 9 games in his NFL life.

This kid I speak of is obviously QB Colin Keapernick, as mentioned before.  The young juggernaut who has captured this sport by storm.  He runs like a gazelle, as evidenced by the 180 yards he ran on Green Bay, and he throws like a pitcher, which makes sense due to the Chicago Cubs drafting him a few years ago.

He doesn't seem rattled by what goes on around him.  He has a very calming way about him and almost seems like he is just sitting on his couch playing Madden rather than running away from guys like Ray Lewis.

His coach should take a great deal of credit for his confidence.  Jim Harbaugh saw something in this kid and benched their former #1 draft choice, Alex Smith, for what everyone felt was a crazy decision.  It takes huge guts to make a decision like that, especially when you are in a position to potential win a Super Bowl.

Coach Harbaugh & QB Kaepernick
This is what separates coaches from legendary coaches.  The ability to make tough decisions and stick with your gut feeling.  To this point Jim Harbaugh should be playing all state lotteries because he is coming up magical.

I do feel that magic has to end sometime.  As good as Kaepernick has been the magnitude of the moment has to get to him sooner or later.  This Baltimore team just feels like a team of destiny.  Things happen for a reason and you don't escape Denver with a win like that without a little divine intervention.  I just feel like the pressure of the Ravens defense will rattle Kaepernick early and when he runs, which can be tough to handle, he will get hit over and over.  How he responds to these repeated hits on the worlds greatest stage will determine how this game ends.

I realize the 49ers defense, led by super stud Patrick Willis, has been tremendous.  They have a solid unit and have been good all year but I just feel it just isn't their time yet.  Their defensive front is great but their secondary is their weakest point.

Flacco has one of the strongest arms and prettiest deep balls in the game.  He should be able to stretch the defense and force San Fran to open up and this will allow Ray Rice to gain valuable yardage and move chains. 

The Harbaugh family will be celebrating a Super Bowl championship this Sunday after one of their sons will be chopped. 

The Ravens have the ingredients for the appetizer of throwing the ball deep to clear space.

The Ravens have the ingredients for the entree of running the ball to milk the clock. 

And finally the Ravens have the ingredients for the sweet dessert of claiming the Super Bowl Trophy.

Ravens 29 - 49ers- 26

MVP - Ray Lewis - 15 tackles, 1 forced fumble, 1 interception